Monday, May 26, 2008

A bit on the last things

The source of the chill might have been an understanding that our only choice is pyre or pyre, that we live and breath to be consumed by fire or fire, not just now and at St. Bartholomew's, but always and anywhere. Consumed or purified by fire. ~Dean Koontz, Brother Odd, c.5
I've been thinking about the four last things a bit lately. I remembered the preceding quote from Dean Koontz's Brother Odd, and since I had written it down in my notebook market "Quodlibet," which is currently sitting on my desk, I thought I'd use it as a place to begin.

I think, when you get right down to it, that our only real choice is how to burn. Will we burn like great saints, full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, the tongues of flame that fell on the Apostles and Our Lady at Pentecost? Will we burn with the fire of the Fathers, the Doctors, the Martyrs and all the other great saints whose learning, mysticism and, most importantly, love of God and faithfulness to Christ Jesus the Church holds up to us as examples to follow?

Will we burn in the purifying fires? Will we burn with a mixture of pain and joy? Pain from our purification, but joy from the knowledge that every moment of this pain brings us that much closer to seeing God face to face.

Or we will burn forever, in the fire set aside for the devil and his angels, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched?

In the end, this is what all our choices in this life boil down to: how will we burn? Will it be with the fire of eternal life, the fire of sanctity and purification, the fire of the Holy Spirit and the burning bush, the fire of divine love, the Flame Imperishable? Or will we burn with the fire of eternal death, the death of joy, the death of hope, the death of love, the fire that consumes every illusion we thought was good and leaves us only with pain and the knowledge that we have freely chosen it?

How will we burn? For burn we surely shall.

On weird fiction

I've been reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and related mythos tales lately. It's fun to sit down and begin a story with a thought like, "Such quaint prose!" and end it with the heebie-jeebies. I've realized, however, that Lovecraft's stories aren't as scary if I try to adopt his own philosophical presuppositions when reading them.

Lovecraft was, as far as I can tell through my limited research into the matter, a materialist. Well fine. But if this is true, then Cthulhu is nothing more than a squid-headed dragon-man from another planet. He may have an unknown physiology. He may even be composed of unknown elements. But he is still simply a material being, nothing more, nothing less. Thus killing him involves nothing more than applying the proper amount of force to the proper place in the proper way.

Now, weapons technology has, for better or for worse, increased in leaps and bound throughout the twentieth century. How long until we can turn great Cthulhu into little more than cosmic dust and sink R'lyeh forever? How many nuclear bombs does one think it would take to reduce the mountains of madness to the plane of glass? Or to seal the deep ones forever in their undersea trenches? Demons are scary because they cannot be defeated by force of arms. But aliens can be. It's just a matter of discovering, stealing, building and/or modifying the right technology. Heck, large dogs could wound and kill the fungi from Yuggoth, how scary can they really be once one gets over their unfamiliar appearance? Pluto's not even a planet anymore, why should Terra fear its inhabitants?

Contra a poor argument

This is essentially a comment I posted in response to a comment on this post over at the Touchstone Magazine blog, Mere Comments.

I was responding to an argument which stated that any kind of natural law argument against homosexual "marriage" is bound to fail, since people who make such arguments do not refuse to acknowledge marriages between couples who are infertile due to certain medical conditions or to age.

I responded as such:

[This argument is] False.

The definition of marriage does not include the essence of each particular conjugal act, but rather the essence of the conjugal act in view of the marital union as a whole. The union between a man and a woman is essentially fertile. That some particular privation may render some particular conjugal acts infertile does not change this any more than the roof of my house changes the essence of the helium in a balloon simply because it gets in the way of the helium finding its natural level.

Homosexual acts are essentially infertile rather than being rendered infertile by some privation. It is impossible for two men or two women to produce children. Homosexual acts are different in kind from the conjugal act, and thus homosexual unions are different in kind from the marital union. That the law should recognize this is a matter of justice, since justice involves treating similar things similarly and different things differently.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On the use of the term "person"

The the term "person" and what it signifies, as it has been handed down to Western civilization through the Christological and Trinitarian deliberation of the early Ecumenical Councils, is primarily an ontological term that signifies a specific mode of being. A person is an individual substance of an intellectual nature. Or, to make more explicit what it means to be a person, we can say that a person: (1) possesses a substantial existence, not an accidental existence; (2) possesses a complete nature; (3) exists per se, possessing the fullness of its existence, its nature, and all its powers and acts; (4) separate from others, meaning that the primary sense of the term "person" refers to a specific individual rather than something universal, though we can use the term analogically to include all types of beings whose nature and mode of being render the individuals of said nature persons; (5) possessing an intellectual nature, i.e. possessing intellect and will.

Any use of the term person that does not fall under this specific definition is analogically related. For example, a legal person is treated as is it possessed a separate, substantial existence, possessing an intellect and will and being the full and sole possessor of all its powers and actions. A corporation, for example, does not possess any of the attributes of a person, but it is treated as such for the purpose of the law. This can be fine and necessary for a well running legal system (though I am myself opposed to corporate personhood). But if we loose site of the primary meaning of the term "person," the one from which any and all analogical uses stem, then we have lost sight of something very important to the proper understanding of human nature and the reality of the world.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And now they call it "marriage"

California's top court overturns gay marriage ban, Lisa Leff, Associated Press Writer.

A quote from the majority decision written by Chief Justice Ron George:
Our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation...
What this means, in effect, is that the state of California now recognizes error as truth and the law of the land.

To begin with, one's ability "to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person" is indeed dependent upon "sexual orientation," if by "a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person" one means a relationship with a sexual aspect. This is because to love someone is to will their good for their own sake. If you are willing to enter into some type of sexual congress with a member of the same sex, then you also will that they enter into sexual congress with you. But such an act is contrary to the nature of the sexual act, since the sexual act is by nature ordered towards procreation and sexual acts between two persons of the same sex are, in their essence, not ordered towards procreation. Thus these sexual acts are evil. And following from that, if you will another to enter into such an act with you, then you are willing them evil. Thus, insofar as you are willing to enter into some warped form of sexual congress with another member of the same sex, you are not loving them. This is necessarily true.

Second, one's ability "to care for and raise children" is also dependent on "sexual orientation," at least insofar as we are talking about the people caring for and raising children being in a sexual relationship with one another. This is because the caring for and raising of children includes not only their material needs, but also their moral and spiritual needs. The very existence of a same-sex sexual relationship between those in charge of the caring for and raising of children presents a moral and spiritual danger to said children. This is because such a relationship teaches children that acts and inclinations that are objectively disordered are instead rightly ordered. The very existence of a same-sex sexual relationship between those charged with the raising of children is a moral and spiritual poison that will lead the children to believe that a lie is the truth and that an evil is a good. Which, I suppose, is par for the course in the modern world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On objectively evil acts

"Objectively evil" does not mean "really extra super bad." "Objectively evil" is a category distinction. The object of an action is what gives it its species, since the object defines an act as the form of a thing defines its species. Objectively evil acts are acts that can never be good because their species renders them incapable of it.

Acts that are not objectively evil can be rendered evil by the ends intended by the agent and the circumstances surrounding the action. A prudential judgment is involved in deciding whether or not particular circumstances render a particular action--one that is neither objectively evil nor done with the intention of achieving evil means--good or evil.

The point being that a person who is not in favor of some objectively evil act is not immediately morally better than a person who is in favor of some objectively evil act if they are in favor of some particular evil act or acts. It would depend upon how grave the objectively evil act was in comparison to the particular evil act or acts, as well as how prevalent the particular occurrences of the objectively evil act are.

This is not to say that one can vote for, say, a pro-abortion candidate because they are against an unjust war. But it is to say that arguing against this position is more complicated than saying, "abortion is objectively evil; war isn't." It depends on the gravity of abortion versus the gravity of the unjust war or wars. And this is without factoring in other important issues, like calling sodomy a basis for "marriage", torture &c.

The point is that "prudential judgment" is not a "get out of evil free" card. There is a prudential judgment involved in deciding whether or not executing certain criminals is necessary for the defense of the common good. This does not mean a regime can indiscriminately execute people and hide behind the idea of "prudential judgment" as a shield. The fact that a certain action is not evil in species does not render it acceptable to commit a number of particularly evil actions of this type.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fairy-stories, the Good and the Beautiful

(N.B. This post is a slight expansion of a comment I left on this post over at The Sci Fi Catholic.)

The use of "beautiful = good" and "ugly = evil" is a standard fairy-story trope. This is why the spoiled prince gets turned into a hideous beast--since his soul is hideous--and only gets restored to his true form after he falls in love with a good woman who inspires him to be a better man. His outer appearance is made to match his inner disposition. It's the same reason that wicked enchanters may have pleasing appearances at the beginning of stories, but by the end they are usually stripped of this appearance and revealed to be hideous.

This is not simply a trope that makes stories easier for children to understand, but a fundamental understanding of the nature of reality. At the deepest level the Good and the Beautiful are transcendental properties of Being, along the the True and the One. They are interchangeable and differ only in notion. The equating of goodness and beauty is good metaphysics. Problems only arise if we make category errors, such as equating a beautiful appearance (category: quality, sub-category: shape) with a beautiful character (category: quality, sub-category: habit or disposition) and beautiful actions (category: action). But the possibility of category errors on our part does not a bad story make.

In his essay "On Fairy-stories," JRR Tolkien said the following:
Even fairy-stories as a whole have three faces: the Mystical towards the Supernatural; the Magical towards Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man. The essential face of Faerie is the middle one, the Magical. But the degree in which the others appear (if at all) is variable, and may be decided by the individual story-teller. The Magical, the fairy-story, may be used as a Mirour de l'Omme; and it may (but not so easily) be made a vehicle of Mystery.
The equating of good characters with beauty and evil characters with ugliness, as well as the transformation of characters' shapes and appearances to match their inner dispositions is part of a fairy-story's use of magic to reveal to the reader something about nature.

Art is revelatory of being and this trope reveals the ontological unity of goodness and beauty. This is true even if such revelation is not something the author necessarily intended. Good characters are not good because they are beautiful, they are beautiful because they are good and fairy-stories often match inner disposition to outer appearance. Insofar as transformations are used to cause outer appearances to match inner dispositions, the trope shows that we should move past appearances to get to the truth. The evil enchantress may appear beautiful, but she is truly ugly. This ugliness is later revealed and made explicit by the lifting of a glamour, or by her transforming into a monster to battle the hero, or some other use of magic that reveals her true character through a change in her appearance.