Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ending abortion in the United States

I had previously argued--in the first note in this post--that we do not need to appoint judges to bring about a legal end to abortion in the United States. Rather, we would only need the Congress to strip all Federal courts of their jurisdiction over the issue. Then the battle could be fought on a state by state basis without worrying about any Federal courts overturning laws that eliminate abortion. But, on having rethought the issue, believe that there is an easier way to end abortion in the United States.

Amendment XIV, section 1 of the Constitution of the United States makes it the law of the land that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Now, the problem with this is that the term "person" is never defined within the amendment itself. Thus, we have the many and varied arguments over what constitutes a person, especially over what the legal definition of person should be with regard to Amendment XIV.

But Amendment XIV, section 5 states that "Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." It is obvious that if we are going to attempt to enforce the quoted part of Amendment XIV, section 1, we need a legal definition of "person" so we know who the quoted text in section 1 is referring to. But since it is Congress who has the authority to enforce Amendment XIV via legislation, it falls to Congress to so define the term necessary for said enforcement. Thus, Congress can simply pass a law defining all pre-born human beings as persons from the moment of conception and then outlaw abortion insofar as abortion deprives persons of life without due process.

If a Federal court were to strike down such a law, then the judges who rule as such should be impeached. This would be just because any judge who ruled the law unconstitutional would be setting themselves above the Constitution, since the manifest truth is that Congress has the authority to pass this law based upon Amendment XIV, section 5.

There is no need to fight out the abortion issue in the Federal courts, in the individual states, or with a constitutional amendment. The legislature has the authority to end abortion at any time they wish. All the people need to do is elect pro-life Congressmen and Senators who have the moral courage and strength of conviction to act on this authority.

See also: George W. Carey, In Defense of the Constitution and the review of the same by Edward B. McLean in the fall 1995 issue of the Intercollegiate Review.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The invalidity of an argument that stems from scientific materialism

Neurological research ha been done in which people's brains are observed while they undergo changes in their subjective internal states. By this I mean that they are told to try to bring about certain thoughts, ideas, emotions, intentions &c. The researchers can then correlate these internal states with the brain states that they observe. This tells them more about the structure of the brain and its relationship to our thoughts, emotions &c. Certainly a noble and interesting area of research, one that might be useful in the diagnosing and treating of certain physical and chemical disorders that might lead to mental and emotional problems.

But scientific materialist do more than recognize the measurable correlation between these subjective internal states and their correlating brain states. They argue that the cause of these subjective internal states are the correlating brain states. The argument goes as follows:

If a person is subject to some internal state, then their brain has a brain state that corresponds to that internal state.

A person's brain has a brain state that corresponds to some internal state.

Therefore the person is subject to that internal state.

This is an invalid argument. While the conditional statement is simply a restatement of the research data, the rest of the argument is an example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

It may be true that particular brain states are necessary for certain subjective internal states. But this is certainly not a problem for an Aristotelian or a Thomist, whose philosophical psychology and philosophical anthropology requires the activity of the internal senses for any kind of thought: "The Philosopher says (Metaph. i, 1; Poster. ii, 15) that the principle of knowledge is in the senses" (Summa Theologiae I, q. 84, a. 6 sed contra). It does not follow from the research, however, that particular brains states are a sufficient reason for certain subjective internal states. If scientific materialists are correct, at least insofar as human nature is concerned, they will have to do more than point to these kinds of studies to prove it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some more on voting

(This started out as a response to the a comment left on this post, but it grew long enough to become a post in itself.)

The point of the post was not to argue that people have a moral imperative to vote for a third party candidate. It was more to argue, contra what some bloggers and commentators seem to be arguing, that one has a duty to vote for John McCain.

I am of the opinion that it is very hard to commit a mortal sin by voting, at least for the President, since the electoral system is set up in such a way as to make every vote only remotely connected to the outcome. Unless one formally cooperates with evil by voting for a candidate with evil policies because you agree with these policies, I am doubtful that one can commit mortal sin by voting for a particular candidate.

But I think that one can still commit venial sin by voting. A venial sin is an act that "weakens charity" because "it manifests a disordered affection for created goods" (CCC 1863). I think that too often both Democrats and Republicans convince themselves, out of a disordered affection for their political party, that their candidate is so much better on one set of issues that their incorrect views on other issues are not relevant. I think the "lesser of two evils" approach is more likely to slowly make people comfortable with stomaching evil than it is to help people actually accomplish something good.

For example, why do people stomach the Republicans simply because they say they will appoint pro-life judges? The current Supreme Court is consists almost entirely of Republican appointed justices. Should Roe v Wade not have been overturned by now? And why was Ron Paul's H.R. 300: We the People Act killed by being sent to committee? The Congress of the United States has the Constitutional authority to limit the Federal courts' jurisdiction. Why have the Republicans not fought to do so for important life issues? Is partisanship for the GOP really the answer? Or does it do nothing more than habituate people to voting for the GOP no matter what their candidate believes? Why do some pro-life groups recommend voting for GOP candidates over Democratic candidates even when both are pro-abortion? Perhaps, just perhaps, pro-lifers have been sold a bill of goods, or at least told that our issue is more important than it seems to be when our elected officials are done canvassing for votes and are ready to get down to the business of actually governing.

So, at least for me, the question does not come down to "what is not mortally sinful?" but rather to "what is virtuous?" I do not think I can virtuously vote for John McCain. It is true, of course, that politics is often "the art of the possible." But it is also true that prudence is the guiding virtue of the active life, and thus it is the guiding virtue of the political life. I am currently of the opinion that I cannot prudently vote for John McCain for the same reason that I could not have voted for many of the other GOP candidates. They were not all that bad. Not great mind you, but on many of the issues I care about they were not all that bad (the exceptions being Rudy Giuliani, who was horrible, and Ron Paul, who was great). But this is exactly the problem. I have been willing to make the concession of voting for a "not great" candidate before, and all it did was make me more attached to the party and the candidate. I would react viscerally against any criticism leveled against them, even if said criticism was something I knew to be true and was delivered without malice by people I had reason to trust. This is not virtuous. I still have problems with this, even though I am, at least intellectually, thoroughly disenchanted with the GOP. This is not virtuous. It is not acting in accord with right reason. It is acting in accord with irrational emotions born from a disordered affection towards a political party. If I were to continue voting for Republican presidential candidates because they were "good enough" or "better than the alternative" I would simply keep habituating myself to the same kind of disordered affection.

For this reason I made the choice a few years ago to only vote for candidates whom I believe to be the best choice, regardless of how likely they are to win. Only by doing this can I do my part to work for justice and the common good without being in danger of damaging the supernatural virtue of charity by developing disordered affection for a political party that does not do everything it can to make a difference on the issues that are of supreme importance. If nothing else, my vote can register as a protest against the way the two-party system currently operates. It may only be a drop in the bucket so far as notice goes, but it was only a drop in the bucket anyway.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On the justice of the current war in Iraq

If a war is to be considered just, then it must be declared by legitimate authority (ST II-II, q. 40, a. 1c; CCC 2309).

In the United States of America the authority to declare war is given to Congress (Constitution of the United States, article I, section 8).

But the current war in Iraq was not declared by Congress.

Therefore the current war in Iraq was not declared by legitimate authority; and from this conclusion it follows that the current war in Iraq is not a just war.

A prayer request

Could anyone who reads this please offer a quick prayer for one of my parish's RCIA candidates who is going through a very difficult time? It would be much appreciated.

Some thoughts on the two creation stories in Genesis

It seems that many people hold that there are two creation stories in the book of Genesis, viz. Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. I've been thinking about theses a little over the past few weeks, in part because we discussed them in the RCIA class that I help to teach at my parish. For whatever they are worth, here are my reflections on the two stories.

The two stories, if we must in fact read them as two stories*, are not contradictory. Rather, they are complimentary. The first story of creation gives us an ontological understanding of the physical world, while the second story of creation gives us a teleological understanding of the physical world.

The first story of creation leads us up the great chain of beings insofar as it is discernible in the physical world. It begins with that which is formless, moves up through the elements and non-living things, to vegetative life, to animal life, and finally to man, who is the highest physical being because he is both body and spirit. Each of these things God pronounces as good, since each of them in some way shares in the divine essence through the limited participation that gives them existence. The whole together is very good because God has rendered it a properly ordered whole through the relationship of its diverse modes of being and its diverse number and types of species. Finally, God rests, showing us that He is whole and perfect in Himself, having no need for that which He has created. Yet He also blesses and sanctifies the seventh day, showing us that He loves that which He freely chose to create out of His gratuitous love.

The second story of creation shows us how the physical world is ordered towards its end. God first creates man, breathing into him the breath of His spirit. Man is thus a rational, spiritual and embodied soul who is ordered to God as his end. This being ordered to God is later reinforced by the fact that God lays down certain rules for the man.

God then creates the world for man, who is given authority over it and the duty to keep it, and creates animals which he brings to man. Man names these animals as another sign of his authority over creation. This creation of other things after man and placing them in his authority shows that they are ordered towards God through being ordered towards the use of man for his survival, licit enjoyment and use in the worship and praise of God.

Finally, God says that it is not good for man to be alone, showing us how friendship and community are necessary for properly living and ordering our lives towards God. Woman is created last for two reasons. First, to show us that the complementary relationship that exists between the sexes is special and unique from the relationship man has with any other created thing. Second, to show us that we can achieve our end of union with God either through a life that is chaste--viz. religious life, celibate priesthood &c.--or through a life of properly ordered sexual love--viz. permanent marriage. And man and woman were naked and unashamed because they still lived in innocence and possessed their original justice and grace.

So we an see that the second story shows us how creation is ordered towards God as its end. Man is ordered to God Himself, and it follows from this that we owe obedience to Him and His commands. In being ordered to God we are also ordered in our relationship to the physical world. With regard to our fellow men we are called to friendship and community. Insofar as we are sexual beings we are ordered towards complementarity union with the opposite sex, and insofar as this union may itself be sexual we are ordered towards permanency. The rest of creation is ordered towards God through being ordered towards the our use, and as such is put under our authority. But this authority must be used for stewardship, not for despotism.

* Because it seems perfectly possible to read what is called the second story of creation as simply a more detailed look at the creation of man, followed by forming the Paradise for him by God and followed by him being invested with his authority of stewardship over creation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tolerance is not a virtue

Virtue is a good habit which participates in reason, which is the principle of good actions, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us, without us. This is the definition of virtue that one can derive from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae I-II.55.4c. It is derived from St. Augustine's definition of virtue, found in De Libero Arbitrio ii, 19. (Properly speaking, of course, this is the definition of infused virtues, of which God is the efficient cause, but if we remove the phrase, "which God works in us, without us," then it is true of all virtues, both infused and acquired.1)

The habit of tolerance, as it seems to be defined today, is the habit of taking a permissive attitude towards evil. By a permissive attitude is meant a disposition which allows that which one is disposed towards to happen without interference or protest. As to what this permissive attitude is directed towards, it cannot be the good. This is because the good is that which is desired and sought out, not what is simply allowed. That this permissive attitude is directed towards evil follows necessarily.2

This should be sufficient to show that tolerance is not a virtue. A virtue is the principle of good actions. But tolerance is the principle of not acting against some evil. But to not act against evil that one has a duty to act against is to do evil. Thus tolerance can be the principle of doing evil and so cannot be a virtue.3


1. Technically speaking, God is the efficient cause of all virtues on the metaphysical level, since habits are beings, if only per accidens. But on the physical level we are the cause of acquired virtues, while God is the cause of infused virtues. See St. Thomas' reply to objection 6 in the above mentioned article.

2. Some would argue that since we are primarily talking about a permissive attitude towards actions there is the option of neutral in addition to good and evil. I disagree. Actions, like habits, are beings, if only per accidens. An action either posses the fullness of being that an action should posses, or it does not posses said fullness of being because of some defect in form (the object of the action, what John Paul II calls the proximate end in Veritatis Splendor), accidents (the circumstances of the action) or cause (the intention of the agent, what St. Thomas calls the end and what John Paul II calls the remote end in in Veritatis Splendor). Thus, an action is either good or bad. It seems to me that acts which many call neutral are ones which either posses only a small degree of being in their fullness or have only a slight defect.

3. It is true that individual acts of toleration may not be evil. It would not be evil to tolerate the evil of the law allowing a criminal to avoid punishment, since an individual citizen does not have the authority to act in the place of the state in such a situation unless the state has deputized him to do so. In general, an act of toleration is a good thing when you do not have the authority to stop the evil or when acting or openly protesting against the evil would result in greater evil and disorder than refraining from acting or openly protesting the evil would. But the virtues that would govern these individual acts of toleration would be justice--which would govern whether or not you have the authority to act--and prudence--which would govern whether or not acting would lead to a greater evil than not acting.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

On the Necessity of Voting for the Candidate Who is the "Lesser of Two Evils"

Edits: A few small edits for clarity and the addition of two paragraphs before the concluding one. (And an edit to this disclaimer so I could clarify which two paragraphs were the ones I added.)

In the current race for the next President of the United States it is almost certain that John McCain will be the Republican candidate, while it is certain that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate. I will not vote for any of these candidates. I do not believe that any of them will do what is necessary to protect the unborn. (McCain supports some forms of embryonic stem cell research and I do not trust him to appoint the kind of judges necessary.1 The problems with both Democratic candidates are, I trust, obvious.) I think all three candidates will use their influence and authority over foreign policy in imprudent and unjust ways. I think all three candidates will use their influence and authority over domestic policy in imprudent and unjust ways.

Now, some would argue that I have a duty to vote for McCain because he is the "lesser of two evils." I think this is false. I think it would be false even if we could adequately agree on a way to quantify the evil of the positions of all three candidates--and I am not at all certain that this is possible. To examine this, let us examine how my vote can effect the outcome of the election

1) Not voting for McCain is not the same thing as voting for the Democrat. If I vote for McCain, I add one vote to his total. If I vote for the Democrat I add one vote to his total. If I vote for neither candidate, I do not add a vote to either candidate's total. Thus, if I do not vote, then neither McCain nor the Democrat's lead or lack thereof is effected in any way. This is not the same outcome as my voting for the Democrat. If I voted for the Democrat, then I would lessen McCain's lead or increase McCain's trailing by one vote.

2) If my vote is the vote that costs McCain the election, then it is impossible for my vote to have been the one to give him the election. If my vote were the single vote that cost McCain the election, then it would be necessary for McCain to have the lost by only one vote. If this is so, then voting for McCain would not give him victory but would only give him a tie with the Democrat. In the same way, if my vote would have won the election for McCain, then my not voting for him will not result in a Democratic victory. It will instead result in a tie. In either case the tie would have to be broken in accordance with the law, something that may or may not be in McCain's favor for any number of reasons. Moreover, the likelihood of such a situation is extremely improbable. It is extremely improbable that my vote will be either the one that failed to give McCain victory or the one that allowed him to be defeated.

3) The national popular vote is not what matters anyway. In truth, the worst my not voting for McCain could do is give the Democratic candidate Pennsylvania's Electoral votes. Pennsylvania currently has 21 votes in the Electoral College. This is certainly not a completely insignificant number, as it is one of the largest number of Electoral votes for a state. But neither does the loss of Pennsylvania mean the loss of the Electoral vote. President Bush failed to win Pennsylvania in both his successful Presidential elections. Thus, everything I said in point 2 still holds, but for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania rather than for the country as a whole.2 For my vote to be responsible for McCain's loss of the Presidential election, it would not only have to be true that McCain lost Pennsylvania by only one vote--which, again, is completely improbable--but you would have to prove that is was specifically Pennsylvania's Electoral votes that cost him the Electoral College. But this would seem to be impossible to do, since all the Electors vote at the same time and it is no guarantee that any of the Electors will be faithful. The best chance you would have for arguing that Pennsylvania's Electoral votes were the deciding ones would be if the Democrat won Pennsylvania and won the Electoral College by 21 votes. But for the strongest case, the Democrat would also have to not win any other states whose total electoral votes can be added up to 21. This would include, first and foremost, losing Illinois, which also has 21 electoral votes. And the Democrats have won Illinois in the last two Presidential elections.

Now, since nothing about my choosing to vote for a third party candidate, a write-in candidate or to abstain from voting would require that I will the victory of the Democratic Presidential candidate, let alone require that I will said candidate's evil policy, there is no way that it is formal cooperation with evil. I can, in fact, guarantee that it will not be formal cooperation with evil, since I will not will the victory of the Democratic Presidential candidate--let alone their evil policies--for any reason. Thus, I cannot be said to formally cooperate with evil.

It is also true that my action cannot be said to be immediate material cooperation with evil. For it to be immediate material cooperation evil I would have to act in a way that is necessary for the implementation of the Democratic candidates evil policies. But even if McCain loses Pennsylvania's Electoral votes by one popular vote, and loses the vote in the Electoral College by 21 votes, and the situation is such that it is only Pennsylvania's Electoral votes could be responsible for McCain's loss in the Electoral College, it would still not be true that it is my vote specifically that was necessary for the victory of the Democratic candidate and thus responsible for the implementation of their evil policies. This is because the situation that exists during an election is fluid and one where no particular voter can know all circumstances and variables at the time of his vote, so his vote, when it is cast, cannot be called the exact vote that necessitates the victory of one candidate or the other. But to say that my vote was the one that gave victory to the Democratic candidate would be to treat all other votes as a static existing situation that I can know, which would be false. Moreover, even in the improbable situation outlined above, it would be just as true to say that one of the people who voted for the Democratic candidate was the one whose vote necessitated said candidates victory. And which one would this be? The last one to vote in the entire state? How could any voter know if that was the situation? Thus there is no way to say that my vote or any vote could be immediate material cooperation with evil.

Thus, my vote--or any vote were the voter does not will both the election of the candidate they vote for and the candidates evil policies--can at worst be considered remote material cooperation with evil. And remote material cooperation can be licit if there is a proportionately serious reason for the cooperation, and the importance of the reason for cooperation is proportionate to the causal proximity of the cooperator’s action to the action of the principal agent and there is no danger of scandal. As to the first, I am seeking to avoid the grave evils I believe the other candidates will commit by not supporting them with a vote and--in the case of voting for a third party or write-in candidate--by voting for a candidate who I believe will not be responsible for any evil policies, but will rather work to end of evil policies that are already in place and work to implement policies that will work in favor of the common good. As to the second, with all that has previously been stated it should be obvious that my particular vote is causally remote from the actual election of any particular candidate. As to the third, no one has a right to know how I voted and in talking about it here I have stated explicitly that I will in no way be willing the evil policies of any Presidential candidate when I cast my vote. I do not will any of their immoral policies on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexual "marriage" and adoption, waging an unjust war &c. Because of this, I cannot see how my vote would cause the danger of scandal--inciting or tempting another to commit a morally wrongful act--since I in no way make any excuses for the only action that can be considered immoral and sinful without a doubt, viz. formally cooperating with evil by willing the implementation of a candidates evil policies.

All these considerations have been in light of my understanding of the principles involved in determining whether or not an act is formal or material cooperation with evil. My conclusion is especially influenced by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's 2004 letter to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick on the general principles involved in determining whether or not a Catholic is worthy to receive Holy Communion under canon 915. In a final note, former Cardinal Ratzinger state the following:
A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
If a Catholic can vote for a candidate with such serious flaws and not be considered to have committed a grave evil as long as they did so with proportionate reasons, then one should be able to vote for a good candidate who seems unlikely to win or to abstain from voting for either candidate and not be guilty of committing a grave evil for the same reasons. In fact, since the reasons for remote material cooperation have to be proportionate to the evil one is cooperating with, one would be less likely to be guilty of a grave evil by voting for a good candidate who seems unlikely to win or to abstain from voting for either candidate than one would be if one voted for a candidate with evil policies without willing the implementation of said policies.

Keeping all that in mind, I do not think that voting for a third party/write-in candidate or abstaining from voting can even be considered remote material cooperation with evil. Here is why. Those who argue that one who votes or a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting is cooperating with evil say that one is doing this because by one's action one divides the vote for the candidate who is the "lesser of two evils." In so doing, the one who votes for a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting makes it easier for the worse candidate to win. But this argument assumes that one has the duty to vote for the "lesser of two evils" in the first place. Thus, those who argue that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who us the "lesser of two evils" assume as a premise the point they are arguing for. This is the fallacy of begging the question. And indeed, to even set up an election as a choice between only two candidates--which is what is assumed by anyone who argues that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who us the "lesser of two evil"--is to be guilty of the fallacy of the false dilemma. This should be obvious, since those arguing that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who is the "lesser of two evil" are, at least in part, arguing against those who would vote for a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting. Thus the argument is fallacious from the very beginning.

As a final thought, it has been my experience that all those who argue that one must vote for McCain as the "lesser of two evils" do so because "he is better than either of the two possible Democratic candidates and he is the only viable alternative." This is the same kind of thinking that got us John McCain as the (almost certain) Republican Presidential candidate in the first place. Viability is bullplop. If you listen to the talking heads of the media and the punditry and vote for the "only viable candidate," then you are the one who helps make him the only viable candidate by voting for him instead of another candidate who you actually favor. Vote for the person you think is best for the job, even if they are from a third party or need to be written in. If more people did that, then perhaps we would get better elected officials.


1. As an aside, the cry of "The judges! We need the judges!" as necessitating pro-lifers to rally around the Republican party is laughable. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. A Republican Congress could easily remove the Court's jurisdiction to rule on cases of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, &c. This would leave us with the same situation that we would be left with if Roe v Wade were overturned: fighting out the legality of abortion on a state by state basis. If you don't think the pro-life cause would win a number of important victories, I can only say I believe that you are mistaken. And nothing about such a solution would require pro-lifers to stop attempting to get an amendment respecting the personhood and right to life of human embryos added to the Constitution.

The fact that the Republican's have not tried strenuously to pass such legislation leads my to believe that they are either incompetent or they do not take the pro-life cause as seriously as they seem to imply they so. Such legislation has been put forward: HR 300, sponsored by Congressman Ron Paul. He also sponsored HR 1094, which would define life as beginning at conception. For more on Ron Paul on life, go here.

2. If there is a tie in the Electoral College or no candidate has a majority, then the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. I have been unable to find any information on what the law is in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the case of a tie in the Presidential popular vote.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

St. Casimir

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine or to express his passion for justice, his exercise of moderation, his gift of prudence, his fundamental spiritual courage and stability, especially in a most permissive age, when men tended to be headstrong and by their very natures inclined to sin. ~from the Office of Readings on the Commemoration of St. Casimir (emphasis added)
St. Casimir was the son of the King of Poland. He died in 1484. Apparently he lived in "a most permissive age." Don't we all? Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow St. Casimir's example and develop a strong devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Virgin Mary.

Gracious God and Father, like St. Casimir, we too live in a most permissive age. Grant us that we may follow his example in resisting the spirit of the age and that we may instead be filled with the Holy Spirit. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Some scattered thoughts towards a philosophical understanding of the importance of tradition

St. Thomas considers memory to be a part of prudence. This is because prudence deals with contingent things, and so it does not focus on what is true always but rather on what is true in most cases. But to know what is true in most cases requires experience, and what is experience if not the memory of many things?

Now, prudence and the moral virtues are related. The moral virtues cannot be without prudence, since living in accord with the moral virtues requires more than just being directed towards their ends. It also requires that we make the correct choices necessary to achieve these ends, and it is the virtue of prudence that directs these choices. Yet it is also true that prudence cannot exist without the moral virtues, since the making of correct choices requires that there first be a proper end that we are trying to achieve, and it is the moral virtues habituate man's actions towards a proper end.

Now, following Cicero, St. Thomas classifies memory as a part of prudence (ST II-II, 48, 1 corpus). This is because prudence comes from both experience and time, and we acquire experience through memory (ST II-II, 49, 1 corpus).

Now, politics is a species of ethics. It is a practical science aimed at directing the actions of men, insofar as they act as and are members of a community. And practical sciences require practical wisdom, or prudence.

Now, as previously stated, prudence requires memory. But a community may be hundreds of years old, even if those in charge of governing it are not. Now, if those in charge of governing the community rely only on there own memories to guide their actions, they may repeat many mistakes that the community has already suffered and try to solve problems that have already been solved.

This is were tradition comes in. Tradition, which is the sum of the way things have been done in a community and the stories behind why these things have been done the way they have, is like the community's memory. Tradition shows those who govern the community how the community responded to certain situations previously, and what the outcomes of those situations were.

Now, this does not imply that those who govern a community must act exactly as the tradition says. Memory is a part of prudence, but it is not all of prudence. There are many reasons that the tradition may have to be modified. Perhaps the situation that the tradition has previously worked well in has changed. Perhaps the tradition did not meet the needs of the common good as well as it needed too. In such cases the prudent option would be to modify the tradition as seems necessary.

Tradition, however, must develop organically. The natural virtues are means between the extremes of too much and too little. If we miss the mark, prudence is the virtue that allows us to modify our actions so that the next time we act we will be closer to the mean that is the virtue. Memory gives prudence the necessary experience needed to correctly modify our actions.

If we throw out tradition, rather than adjust it as necessary to the community's current circumstances, it will have the same effect on the community as the loss of memory would have on an individual. The community would no longer have the necessary experience to act with prudence, and will instead be forced to try to acquire it all over again.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Thought on the Second Greatest Commandment

"And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew xxii.39).

"And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner" (Luke vi.32).

The second greatest commandment, after "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind" (Matthew xxii.37), is the first quote at the beginning of this entry. The second quote is another statement of it, which, in this formulation, is often called the Golden Rule. I have been thinking about this commandment a bit.

Today people often toss his commandment around very haphazardly. You often hear it when you state the importance of passing laws to buttress certain moral principles and outlaw certain grave evils, or when you speak of the justice of a punishment. The implication is that if you were the person who wanted to do the immoral acts or who was going to receive the punishment, you would not want these acts proscribed or this punishment to be administered.

The error in this is the fact that the commandment is not simply subjective. It cannot be, for Jesus Christ is God, Who is the ultimate foundation of the true, the good and the beautiful. He is the way, the truth and the life (John xiv.6). He would not give a commandment that would lead to relativism. Rather, we must apply the commandment in accord with right reason.

This is why those I have previously mentioned argue falsely when they try to argue using this commandment. Because if the person whose acts are being proscribed or the person who is being justly punished were to view their situation with right reason, they would want the the help the law offered in overcoming their vice, they would want to be justly punished so as to expiate the evil their actions have caused.

If we want to be subjective about it, I can only look at my own life. There were a number of times those with authority over me placed restraints upon my actions or punished me for things I had done. At the time, of course, I would have said that I did not want these things to happen to me. But looking back now, when I am a little less of a fool--not much less certainly, but a little--I can see that these restraints and punishments helped in some way to discourage me of vice and form me, little by little, in the path of virtue. As such, if I ever have others under my authority in such circumstances, then I will do my best to prudently and justly restrain and punish those who need it. Because that is what I, insofar as I am thinking in accord with right reason, want others to do for me.

On Democracy

If the political life is a subset of the active life, which it is, then it is governed by the 4 cardinal virtues. The ruling cardinal virtue is prudence. Without prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance are not possible.

Prudence deals with particulars, including the particular of "which type of regime can best govern this particular group of people at this time." The answer to this question is not limited to "democracy." The idea that a monarchy or an aristocracy is inferior to a democracy on principle is not grounded in reality. Better in practice for some communities? Certainly. Better in practice for many communities that exist today? Maybe. Better always and everywhere on principle? No.

It is an error to turn the prudential judgment of "this type of regime is the one best suited to govern this people at this time" into the universal principle of "this type of regime is superior to all other types of regimes that exist, have existed, or will exist." This error has its roots in the sin of pride. This pride ignores all circumstances and particulars and believes your people and your regime to be the universal form for the just society and the common good. To do this is to replace reality with an illusion. It is an offense against right reason and the truth of things.

Catholics and Immigration

A few articles that argue for border security, tighter immigration laws and related from a Catholic perspective:

Chilton Williamson Jr., A Christmas Meditation: St. Augustine on the National Question.

Idem, Rediscovered: The Nation-State In The Western Tradition.

John Zmirak, Christmas Meditation 2002: Christ, The "Other", And Counterfeit Citizens.

Idem, The Brogue Wears Off: Why The Catholic Church Is Addicted To Immigration.

Idem, Christmas Meditation 2003: This Royal Night.

Idem, The Virgin on the Border: A Christmas Meditation.

A Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Personhood

Section 1. All human embryos are considered persons from the moment of their conception and are granted all protections and rights due to persons by the laws of the United States and the laws of any state.

Section 2. Conception is the fertilization of an ovum by a spermatozoon.

Section 3. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

On the Use of Language as a Sign of Rationality

Here is a paper on the difference between the use of language by human beings and what appears to be the use of language by apes:

Dennis Bonnette, A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies.

See also:

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

Idem, The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do With the Other.

Robert Sokolowski, Phenomenology of the Human Person.

The last book has not yet been released, but I was fortunate enough to take a graduate class with Msgr. Sokolowski where we used an earlier draft of it as our text.

Further references on the topic would be appreciated.