Friday, June 27, 2008

Rights, duties, relationships and justice

I hate talk of "rights" because it is so often void of content. Rights do not exist except as the result of duties, both of which exits only within the context of relationships, which are in turn governed by justice. If you do not speak about "rights" in connection with these other three things, then you are not speaking about anything at all.

A right is, by definition, something which a person is due from some other person, people or entity. If you are due something from someone, then they--again, by definition--have a duty to render to you that which you are due. So rights do not exist except where duties exist and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.

And neither can exist except within a relationship, since their very existence demands that a relationship exists. A relationship is, at its simplest, a reference to another. If I have a duty, it references the one I have the duty to by definition. The same is true with a right. The nature of the relationship that exists depends upon how the relationship came into existence and who the relationship is between. The relationship's nature governs what rights and duties are present within it.

Justice is the virtue of rendering to each what they are due. Someone is due something because he has a right to it and another has a duty to provide it for him. These rights and duties exist within the relationship and depend upon its nature. Thus justice rules what rights and duties exist within what relationships.

As such, rights are not the starting point in a discussion of ethics and politics. The starting point is what type of relationship exists and what justice says about it. For it is only from these that rights and duties can be derived.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On conservatism (and liberalism too)

This essay is going to be on the topic of, "What is conservatism?" Or, more accurately, this essay is going to be on the topic of, "What is conservatism as I understand it?" I make no claims to originality. In fact, this essay will be extremely derivative. It will be derived from the thoughts of many men, men who in turn derived their thoughts from many other men &c. But that is necessary and as it should be, as I hope will be clear in the end.

First and foremost, I tend to see the distinction between liberals and conservatives as a distinction between two views on man's summum bonum and the foundation of a just society. Liberals view freedom as man's greatest good and the foundation of a just society. Since freedom is primarily an attribute of the will, it follows that liberal views assert the will as man's highest power and assert the primacy of the will in the life of man.

Conservatism, on the other hand, views order as the greatest good and the foundation of a just society. And since it is reason that orders things, it follows that conservatives view reason or the intellect as man's highest power and assert the primacy of reason in the life of man.

Now, if we accept these preliminary definitions as true, it follows that most of the so-called conservatives in the United States are not conservatives at all, but rather liberals. Far too many of them drone on about freedom and the ability to have endless choices as if these were goods in themselves. They are not conservatives at all, but rather right-liberals.

Key to the liberal exaltation of the will and freedom is the idea of autonomy. The autonomous individual is a law unto himself. As long as he is not causing physical harm to others, there can be no legitimate rule or norm imposed from without to bind or limit his will. This does not simply include the freedom of being left alone so favored by pure laissez-faire capitalism, which holds that, as long as one party is not harming another party by violence, theft, breaking faith on a freely entered into contract &c., there is no reason for there to be any laws governing the trading of goods and services. It also includes the freedom, so favored by feminists, homosexuals, abortion supporters &c., which actively seeks to destroys any law, custom or norm that that seeks to limit the number of choices open to individuals through legal punishment, social scorn, cultural ostracism &c.

Conservatives, as previously stated, do not see freedom, but rather order as the foundation of a just society. This order is not, however, an arbitrary arrangement. The order conservatives favor is an order rooted in the natural law and in human nature, permanent truths and principles of what it means to be human.

This does not, however, mean that conservatism is founded upon pure abstractions. This is far from the truth. The truths of the natural law and human nature are arrived at not by beginning with the universal and trying to reason them out. Rather, they are found in the human experience as lived by particular individuals and observed across the centuries. It is through history, the memory not simply of an individual, but of a people, a race, a species, that we may find the experience necessary to discover how man should live, how he should not and the consequences of each.

Some may think that even though history and the particular deeds of particular men and particular societies are the source of our grasping the principles of the natural law, it follows from the fact of the universality of these principles that they have universal application. Such a view may be true or false, depending on the meaning of the "universal application." If it meas that the principles of the natural law are valid and binding on all men at all times, then this is true. But if it means that the application of the principles of the natural law must be the same for all men at all times, then it is false.

The application of universal principles to particular situations requires particularity. It requires the use of prudence, or practical reason, to discern what the universals principles of the natural law require in these particular circumstances. The primacy of reason in the foundation of a just society is the primacy of prudence, for it is prudence that allows for the universal norms of the natural law--as discovered through human nature lived out historically--to be applied to the particular and concrete circumstances each society faces.

Prudence forces us to realize that in many things, especially the form of government that a society adopts, there is not necessarily a single, universally applicable solution. What is best for one society may heavily depend upon their specific circumstances. Trying to force other societies, especially ones with completely different historical and cultural circumstances, to fit the mold of our own is the height of folly. A conservative in a democratic society would feel no need to try to eliminate another societies monarchy, for he would realize that either form of government is capable of establishing and sustaining a rightly ordered society.

The primacy of prudence also favors the more particular over the less particular, the more local over the less local. Or, to put it another way, solutions should not be further removed from problems than they must be. This is because particulars differ in their circumstances, and thus sometimes differ in how one should properly apply the universal norms of the natural law. This is not to say that we can never treat things as members of a species or type rather than particulars, or that laws can never be passed on a level higher than the most local. It only means that one should not do this if it is not necessary. If something is a problem for a town rather than for the country, then there is no reason to pass laws at the national level rather than the local. If an action is not objectively evil in its species, then it must be dealt with according to the particulars of intent and circumstances.

The favoring of the local and particular does not simply mean that, all thing considered, laws should be passed by local communities rather than at a higher level. It means that non-governmental, non-legal organizations should be respected and can be forces that stabilize society and enforce moral norms without the need to pass laws and prosecute people. Societal pressure, backed by the support of local religious communities, civic organizations, commonly accepted morality &c., can be influential and effective in supporting the common good.

The primacy of prudence is also demands respect and deference to tradition and custom. For tradition and custom are nothing less than the prudence of our ancestors. They are decisions made to apply the universal principles of the natural law to the particular circumstances of our society that have been found to stand the test of time. This does not mean that traditions and customs can never change. If circumstances change, then it may be necessary that they change also. But in changing traditions and customs it is important for the change to happen gradually and organically. For if we are mistaken about the need for change or about what kind of change is necessary we may find that radical change--change that cuts off tradition and custom at their roots--causes more evils than it cures. Gradual and organic change allows us to observe the effects the change is having as it is being made, as well as allowing us to alter or abandon the changes we have decided upon if it appears they are not for the best.

It should be obvious, then, that conservatism is not revolutionary, at least not insofar as "revolutionary" means "in favor of overthrowing the current order in order to institute a new, better and more just order." Such an idea is antithetical to conservatism. Overthrowing the current order cuts a people of from its history and traditions, i.e. from its memory and its attempts to prudently apply the natural law to its concrete circumstances. Such a loss makes the further application of prudence towards the implementation of the principles of the natural law incredibly difficult, if not impossible. More importantly, the total overthrow of traditional political and social norms is foolish in the extreme, for it destroys the good as well as the bad, making it more likely that a greater evil will arise than the evils that the revolution attempts to abolish.

In another sense, however, conservatism is revolutionary. For insofar as "revolution" means "a returning, a turning back," conservatism is inherently revolutionary. For conservatism has a constant impetuous to return to the principles of the natural law, to return to history as the place where these principles are discovered and clarified through the concrete actions of particular men, to tradition as the prudent application of these principles to the particular circumstances of a people &c.

It follows, then, that where a revolution in the first sense has been successful and destroyed the organic traditions of a people it becomes the conservative's job to bring about a revolution in the second sense, a counter-revolution. The conservative has the duty to follow the reactionary imperative that the situation demands. He must do all that he can restore that which has been senselessly destroyed and to stay true to those truths that have been betrayed.

It must be remembered, however, that the power of conservatism does not come through force of arms. A conservative does not shy away from war when it is prudent or necessary. He does, however, realize that war is primarily the means of the revolutionary, for war is inherently destructive. War may be prudent, necessary and just when no other means will be successful in defending the traditions and order of society, and when the evils of not fighting will be greater than the evils brought about by war. But war is always to be a last resort.

No, the primary power of conservatism is the cultural and spiritual capital inherent in the traditions of a people. It must be remembered that the revolutionary has no true understanding of human nature, and thus the way of life the revolution tries to enforce upon people is non-human. The conservative brings about the counter-revolution by cultivating the truly human way of life found in the cultural and spiritual traditions of his people. He cultivates these in his own life, the life of his family, the life of his community &c. In-so-doing he concretely expresses and demonstrates the superiority of these traditions.

What, then, should be the prospects for conservatives today? I can speak with no authority other than what little I have as a man who seeks to know the truth about reality and to live in accord with this truth through prudent action. But I would suggest the following: Believe in God, go to Church, live your faith. Pass it on to your children. Stay true to the traditions of your family, your town, your state and your country (in that order). Teach your children to do the same. If you can or must, home-school your children. Keep your garden. Do what you can to support your town, especially local businesses. Work to keep it self-sufficient rather than tied to uncaring corporate giants on the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world. Seek the true and ordered liberty that comes when every man walks in the name of the Lord, and sits under his vine, and his own fig tree, and there is nothing to make any afraid (Micheas IV.i-v).

Now, there are some who will say that this is nothing but a retreat. They will argue that it is required that we engage the culture. But "to engage" can mean "to enter into battle with." And the culture is poison. What enters into battle with poison? Nothing but its antidote. Living such a life is nothing less than becoming an antidote to the poison of modern culture. And as long as poison and its antidote are together, either in the same blood stream or the same society, they are engaged by definition.

As I said in the beginning of this essay, there is most likely nothing original in it. And this is as it should be, since I am a member of a tradition of better and wiser men than myself, who have gone before me and shown me the way. If I can show others the path they have shown to me, then that is enough. And, if by some chance I have said something that is both original and true, if I have gone further down the path they uncovered, it is only because they showed me the path and taught me how to walk it.

This is one of the ironies of conservatism. Trying to shake off the past in an attempt to be original destroys piety while simply repeating old errors. Staying true to the past out of reverence and piety, on the other hand, is the only true source of originality. May I never seek to be original and may I always seek to be pious.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

An important book

I want to take a moment to bring to everyone's attention a book that I believe to be a major work of philosophy: Phenomenology of the Human Person by Msgr. Robert Sokolowski. I had the pleasure of reading an earlier draft of this book during a course I took with Msgr. Sokolowski last year at CUA. The book is well worth our time.

A review post by Hierothee at Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex.

A review by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J published on Ignatius Insight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008


This blog is normally lucky to average 10 or so unique hits a day. Then Mark Shea links a post and I get 245 unique hits (and still counting).

To any new visitors: If you like what you see, feel free to return. Substantive posts as time and duties allow, less substantive posts as whim warrants.

Future offerings are likely to include: why St. Thomas' much-bandied-about views on woman are both correct and, in the scheme of things, no big deal; St. Thomas as originalist; and a post on Dungeons & Dragons.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Maybe it's not as broken as I thought

Perhaps the Constitution isn't dead yet.

Aphorism VIII

"Equality" means that every member of society can have the aristocratic vices of Imperial Rome.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Yep, it's broken

(Why? Because I'm feeling rather pessimistic today.)

Whose Presidency will leave us with a better country in four to eight years, Barack Obama or John McCain?

The fact that people are seriously asking and trying to answer this question is proof that the American Constitutional system is horribly broken, possibly beyond repair. The President should have little or no power to do anything that would so drastically affect the situation in our country.

Congress is the preeminent branch of the federal government. The President and the Courts are bound by the laws of Congress as well as the Constitution, since the Executive exists to enforce the laws passed by the Legislature and the Judiciary exists to rule on whether or not particular instances of governmental activity or state and local law violate the laws passed by the Legislature. Congress is bound only by itself and the Constitution (since the Constitution grants it its powers, since it is in charge of its own internal laws and since it is in charge of trying impeachments).

Moreover, the scope of the power and authority of the federal government is itself proscribed by the Constitution. The federal government has only those powers explicitly given to it. The States have all powers except those explicitly denied to them. The States are sovereign in all areas but those areas where they gave up sovereignty to enter into union under the Constitution. So not only should Congress have a greater effect on the country than either the President or the Supreme Court, but State and local officials should have a greater effect on the life of their citizens than any federal official should.

The whole thing is upside-down and bass-ackwards. The only positive is that it will almost certainly fall apart sooner rather than later. The continental United States is far too large to be so centralized and survive. Its all a matter of scale.

On abortion and "extremism"

There is no moderate position on abortion. The questions involve do not admit to it. They are binary questions, and as such they must be answered in either the affirmative or the negative.

Does a new human being come into existence at the moment of conception? The answer can only be yes or no. Any attempt to speak of acquiring humanity over a period of time is bunkum. Substance does not admit to degrees. There can be no almost-human or kinda-human. There is only human and non-human.

If it is a human life then it is either innocent or it isn't. There can be no hemming and hawing about this. Either the new life is culpably guilty of crimes that justify executing it or it isn't. But if you think it is, then you had better explain what crimes it is guilty of and how it possesses culpability.

This is what it comes down to: Human or non-human. Guilty or innocent. Refusing to choose isn't being "moderate" or "conciliatory." It's simply ignoring the principle of non-contradiction.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why being in favor of the capital punishment is not in opposition to being pro-life

It would seem that: No one who is in favor of capital punishment can be called pro-life, for "pro-life" means that one is in favor of protecting the life of all men, but being in favor of the use of capital punishment means that one is in favor of the death of some men. But the premises "no man should be killed" and "some men should be killed" are in contradictory opposition to each other, and thus if one is true, the other must be false; and conversely, if one is false, the other must be true. Therefore it is impossible to be both pro-life and in favor of the use of capital punishment.

Sed contra: The relationship between contradictory opposites follows from the principle of non-contradiction, for if both premises in a contradictory relationship were either true or false, then something would both be and not-be at the same time and in the same respect. But from this it must also be admitted that two premises are only in contradictory opposition if holding both would violate the principle of non-contradiction. And this is not necessarily the case with regards to those who are both pro-life and in favor the use of capital punishment. To wit, the premises are not held to both be true in the same respect.

For this to be properly understood, one must first consider the difference between the antecedent and the consequent will. As the Angelic Doctor explains when discussing how the divine will is always fulfilled against the objection that Scripture teaches that God wills all to be saved, yet Scripture and the holy Fathers also teach that not all will be saved (Summa theologiae, I, q. 19, a. 6 ad 1), their is a difference between the antecedent will and the consequent will. This difference is not in the will itself, but in respect to the things willed. That is, a thing may we good or evil in its primary sense and when considered absolutely, and yet after some additional qualities or attributes are consequently considered it may be that the contrary is true.

Absolutely speaking, antecedent to any circumstances, that a man live is good and that he be killed is evil. But consequently to certain qualities or attributes it may be good that some man be executed insofar as it is necessary for the preservation of the commonweal. Thus it may be said that it is possible to have a general willingness that all men live insofar as they are men, and yet will simply that particular men be executed, when this is a just and necessary punishment, and that capital punishment thus be kept legal for this purpose.

Thus it is obvious how one can be both pro-life and in favor of the use of capital punishment. To be pro-life is to have a general willingness that all men live and to will simply opposition to those act or species of acts that unjustly take human life. But to be in favor in favor of capital punishment is to will simply in favor of those acts that justly take human life. And insofar as this is done for the purpose of the protection of the commonweal it is consonant with the general willingness that all men live, since those guilty of capital crimes and justly executed are those who are a danger to the commonweal because they are, by their own choice, a danger to the lives of other citizens.

2nd (Tentative) Definition of Torture

Torture is any act that causes pain to the subject where no relationship exists between the agent and the subject that would guaranty the subject protection from grave or lasting harm.

"Harm" is to be understood as including physical, mental and spiritual harm.

"Grave harm" is to be understood as any harm that could threaten the subject's life.

"Lasting harm" is to be understood as any harm that could threaten the subject with permanent injury or disability.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Join me now for 'Nonsense on stilts,' or 'Let's slander the Domincans!'

Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers! ~Akathist Hymn to the Virgin Mary

In which we examine the following article:

"The Death of Conscience," by Shadia B. Drury.

Article © either its author or the Council for Secular Humanism, quoted under fair use for purposes of review and critique.

It would seem that: "In 1232, Pope Gregory IX established a system of 'legal' investigations to stamp out heresy. The Dominicans (Domini Canes, or Hounds of the Lord) were granted the exclusive 'privilege' of conducting the Inquisition."

Sed contra: The scare quotes around the word "legal" are not an argument. Rather, they are a piece of empty rhetoric. And Pope Gregory actually had the authority to establish the system he so established.

Moreover, to say that the name "Dominicans" (Latin, "Dominicani") literally means "Hounds of the Lord" (Latin, "Domini Canes") is an error. The history of calling the Dominicans the Hounds of the Lord is more complicated. To wit:

St. Dominic founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Latin, "Ordo Fratrum Praedicatorum") or, more simply, the Order of Preachers (Latin "Ordo Praedicatorum"). This is why Dominican religious have the abbreviation "O.P." after their names. The order was and is commonly referred to as the Dominican Order, or simply the Dominicans, after their founder.

Now, St. Dominic was a faithful son of the Church who preached against heresy, converting and returning many souls to the Church. His order took after his example, thus becoming known for their excellent preaching and learning, as well as their orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Church. Since they were faithful to the Church, as a good dog is faithful to its master, a pun was made out of the name they were commonly called, viz. "Dominicani." E.g.: "Dominicani? Domini Canes! Hahahahaha!!"

However the story behind the pun is yet more complicated. For St. Dominic's mother, Blessed Joan, experienced a vision while pregnant with him. In this vision she saw a faithful dog who lit the world afire with a torch in his mouth. From which she realized that her son would be a faithful son of the Church who would set the word afire with his preaching. And so she named him Dominic. From which follows his order being commonly referred to as the Dominicans. From which we get the pun on the Latin for "Hounds of the Lord." So it is difficult to say whether the pun came about due to Blessed Joan's vision, or whether it simply developed from the name, and was thus only founded in the vision because it was from the vision that St. Dominic, and thus his order, was named.

If, however, you do not believe the story of Blessed Joan's vision, then you have no ground for saying that the name of the order is in any way derived from the Latin "Domini Canes" as the article does.

It would seem that: "If you heard a knock on your door in the middle of the night and you opened it to find a Dominican friar, the chief of police, and a few armed guards, then you were doomed."

Sed contra: I suppose this may have happened, somewhere, at some point, maybe. But I once read a medievalist who said that, for most people, the Inquisition coming to town meant a Dominican would preach a sermon against heresy and settle down to hear confessions. Hardly the same as the Gestapo or a Stalinist purge.

It would seem that: "When the Inquisitors arrived in a town, the local people were given a period of time to confess or inform on their neighbors. The informers were assured total anonymity. This presented a golden opportunity for grudge informers, scoundrels, and villains of every stripe.... Witnesses for the defense were prohibited; only witnesses for the prosecution were allowed. You could not have legal representation. You had no right to ask what the charge was and no opportunity to discover the identity of your accusers."

Sed contra: The attempt to judge the Inquisition by the rules of modern liberal jurisprudence is invalid, since modern liberal jurisprudence is not the only way to to have a just trial. It is true that one did not get to know the identity of one's accusers. It is equally true that the testimony of anyone the accused named as an enemy was thrown out, and that it took more than one accusation to bring a person to trial. This could be considered in some ways superior to modern liberal jurisprudence, in which an enemy of the accused could give testimony against them, and whether or not they were lying would have to be determined by the judge or jury based upon the demeanor of the witness and the examination skills of the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

It would seem that: "Hooded Dominicans were prosecutors, judge, and jury."

Sed contra: As opposed to hooded Franciscans or hooded Benedictines? The hood is a standard part of the religious habit of many orders of monks and friars. Mentioning it to make the friars seem like scary, scary men is an empty bit of rhetoric.

Moreover, there is nothing necessarily unjust about these men all being from the same order. Today many prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges have attended the same law schools, worked together at some time or another, are friendly in their off hours &c. This does not necessarily make them unable to do their job without conspiring together.

It would seem that: "If you did not confess at first, you were tortured. If the torture did not make you confess, you were deemed to have the assistance of the Devil—and that was also proof of your guilt."

Sed contra: I am certain that this--i.e. guilty if you confessed, guilty if you didn't--is a malicious falsehood. If it is true I will need more evidence than the word of an obviously hostile opponent. In an Inquisitorial court, the author could have been named as an enemy and her testimony would be thrown out. So I suppose an Inquisitorial court had higher standards of justice than the court of public opinion or the editors of the Council for Secular Humanism's website.

On torture: I am opposed to torture. I reject the current policy of the U.S. government towards water-boarding &c. That said, it seems that for the sake of moral clarity a proper definition of torture is needed.

Now, most people agree that there is a difference between performing the physical action of water-boarding on a willing trainee, who placed himself in the care of the instructors who are going to perform the physical actions on him, and performing the physical action of water-boarding on a prisoner who has done no such thing. It must be kept in mind that the object of an act must be considered from the point of view of the agent. Also keep in mind that certain relationships between people are not simply circumstances, but are part of the object of the act. An example that should be obvious to my fellow Catholics: If a man has sex with his betrothed on the night before the wedding, they have committed an objectively evil act of fornication. If he has sex with his wife the night after the wedding, they have committed an objectively good act of marital love. Yet the only thing that has changed is the relationship that exists between them. Thus at least some relationships affect the objects of human actions.

Now, keeping that in mind, I have defined torture as such: Torture is any act that causes pain to the subject of the action where no relationship exists between the agent and the subject that would guaranty the subject protection from per se harm.

Now, assuming that my definition is adequate, the question before us is this: "Do the physical interrogation techniques applied by the Inquisition count as torture?" I will be honest in saying that I do not know for certain. They might have at some time or for some people and not at other times for other people. I will, however, note that many criminals being held by the secular courts would openly blaspheme and make heretical statements with the hope of being transferred to the Inquisitorial courts. This is because the Inquisition, unlike the secular courts, had a strict limit on the amount of physical interrogation that could be applied at any one time, as well as the number of times it could be applied. Whether or not this meets the criteria of "a relationship that exists between the agent and the subject that guaranties the subject protection from per se harm" is something I will have to think about.

It would seem that: "If you were obstinate, your children could be tortured until they became witnesses against you."

Sed contra: Again, I will need more evidence than the word of an obviously hostile witness with an ax to grind before I believe this.

It would seem that: "In 1252, Pope Innocent IV made torture an official policy of the Catholic Church in his bull, 'Ad extirpanda.'"

Sed contra: This bull also limited its use. And, for reasons stated above, it is possible that the physical interrogation techniques used did not count as torture per se.

It would seem that: "The Inquisitors were allowed to torture boys of fourteen and girls of twelve years of age."

Sed contra: Assuming this is true, one must note the fact that said boys and girls were well on their way to being considered adults at the time, if they weren't considered so already. They had adult responsibilities. They were capable of bearing children and were thus capable of marriage (Cf. Summa theologiae, Suppl., q. 58, a. 5c). The fact that in the modern world people of such ages are so immature as to be considered children does not make it so for all times and all places.

It would seem that: "The Hounds of the Lord were so totally shameless that they saw no reason to conceal their crimes. They were doing the work of God and 'his Holiness.' As a result, 'trials' and burnings were done in broad daylight."

Sed contra: This is just foolish. The scare quotes around the word "trial" are another piece of empty rhetoric. As for having public trials, many trials are public even today. The complaint that executions were public ignores the fact that most all execution were public in those days. And I can think of no reason why public executions should be considered objectively immoral. That they offend modern liberal sensibilities isn't enough.

It would seem that: "Not surprisingly, the Dominicans were reviled by ordinary people whose consciences were not destroyed by the propaganda of the Catholic Church. In 1253, one of the pope’s Inquisitors was torn to pieces by a mob in northern Italy. One year after his death, the victim was canonized as St. Peter of Verona."

Sed contra: St. Peter of Verona was not killed by a mob. He was killed by assassins hired by Cathars who were angered by the effectiveness of his preaching. His assassin later converted to the Catholic faith and became a Dominican himself.

It would seem that: "Thomas Aquinas was fully aware of the hostility of the people toward his fellow Dominicans. When Aquinas arrived in Paris in 1245, the friars could hardly venture out of their monastery for fear of insults and assault. The royal troops of King Louis IX (St. Louis) had to guard the monastery at St. Jacques, where Aquinas was staying."

Sed contra: I can find no information about supposed fear of attacks or the need for King St. Louis IX to provide troops to protect the friars. I have read nothing about this in any of the many biographical studies on St. Thomas that I have read. But assuming it is true, hostility in Paris had little or nothing to do with the Inquisition. The secular masters of Art and Theology at the University of Paris were hostile to both the Dominicans and the Franciscans both because the mendicant orders were new and different and, more importantly, because the members of said orders were simply better at reasoning and argument than the secular masters were. It was a matter of the distrust of the new mixed with professional jealousy. See St. Thomas' defense of the rule of his order and its comparison to other ways of life in Summa theologiae, II-II, qq. 179-89.

It would seem that: "Nevertheless, Aquinas was a vociferous defender of the Inquisition. He thought that it was absolutely necessary and that its activities were morally right. He compared heretics with germs that infect the community of the faithful and threaten their salvation. He quoted St. Paul, saying, 'Know you not that a little leaven corrupts the whole lump?' He did not think that it was enough to kick the heretics out of the Church. He insisted that they must be 'severed from the world by death' (Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 11, A. 3). He quotes Saint Jerome: 'Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die.'"

Sed contra: I do not deny that he said this, I simply deny that it is objectively evil or unjust. Moreover, this quote is pertinent, and yet skipped for some reason:
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.
I will note two things: first, death was not the punishment for heretics who did not prove themselves to pernicious and unrepentant. Second, the penalty leveled by the Inquisition was not death, but rather excommunication. It was the a "secular tribunal," i.e. the state, that executed the heretic. But read the treatment in Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 11, a. 3 for yourself.

If one wants to argue that this is a distinction without a difference, since the state and the Church were one in the Middle Ages, I can only reply that such a remark can only be made by some one who is almost completely ignorant of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages had plenty of strife between the authority of Church and state over any number of things. See, for example, the Investiture Controversy.

Moreover, the state punished heresy as it punished any other act of minor treason. Major treason was a direct attack on the authority of the state. Minor treason was an indirect attack on the authority of the state, viz. an attack on another authoritative institution, which was considered to encourage lack of respect for any authority whatsoever. For example, killing the head of one's household was an act of minor treason because it was an attack on the authority of the family and the household.

It would seem that: "Aquinas lost sight of the fact that the heretics were innocent people who were good neighbors and law-abiding citizens."

Sed contra: False. Heresy was a minor treason against the commonweal, since it endangered the souls of citizens and the stability of society. Unrepentant, pernicious heretics were and are worse than murderers, since a murderer can only kill what is lesser and passive in man, i.e. his body, which will be restored to him on the day of the resurrection anyway. A heretic kills what is higher and active in man, i.e. his soul, which once lost will never be restored. If lawful authority can justly execute a murderer, it can certainly justly execute a heretic.

It would seem that: "They harmed no one, were pale with fasting, had an intimate knowledge of the Bible, and were often better Christians than the pope."

Sed contra: This is a false picture of the Cathars. They were not modern day hippies or liberals. Even assuming that the truth of the matter falls somewhere in between statements like this and some of the more strident Catholic descriptions, the truth of the matter is that Cathar doctrine, in itself, was a danger to the state, especially their doctrine of cult suicide.

Moreover, the Cathars can in no way be considered "better Christians than the pope." Cathars were dualists, and as such were not only heretics but also apostates and non-Christians. Christianity is, by definition, non-dualist.

It would seem that: "In defending the Inquisition, Aquinas was defending the killing of innocents—with a clear conscience."

Sed contra: Heretics are not innocent, as was demonstrated above. Moreover, the Inquisition was not the body that executed heretics, as was also stated above. This statement is thus incorrect on at least two points.

It would seem that: "Catholic apologists shrug off the Inquisition by saying that every age has its atrocities."

Sed contra: I refuse to shrug it off. I believe that in general the Inquisition was just. That there were particular instances of injustice no more makes the Inquisition illegitimate than particular injustices in the U.S. legal system make it illegitimate.

It would seem that: "Every age does indeed have its atrocities, but no other age was blessed with a philosopher who was morally blind enough to defend its crimes."

Sed contra: Carl Schmitt.

It would seem that: "The moral blindness of Aquinas and his fellow Inquisitors transcends the callousness of the most spectacular secular criminals."

Sed contra: This is so utterly and obviously false that one cannot find the words to respond.

It would seem that: "Unlike Aquinas and his fellow Dominican Inquisitors, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the leader of the Russian Revolution, retained his moral sensibilities and did not display the same callous disregard for the killing of the innocent. Unlike Aquinas and the Catholic Church, Lenin recognized his actions as crimes; he had to make a conscious effort to harden his heart so he could carry them out.... He had no illusions about the wicked means involved in his project of world transformation. He recognized his crimes for what they were."

Sed contra: Putting aside the fact that St. Thomas' moral sensibilities were not only retained but correct, this is still an unbelievable statement. The idea that one who knowingly does evil is in any way the moral superior of one who does evil unknowingly strikes me as completely repugnant. The latter is mistaken, and so can possibly be argued out of his actions and lead towards virtue. The former has knowingly confirmed himself in vice by his own choices.

It would seem that: "Lenin loved listening to Beethoven’s Appassionata, but he did not allow himself this pleasure too often because the beauty of the music made him feel like patting everyone’s head."

Sed contra: And St. Thomas composed some of the most beautiful Catholic hymns ever when he composed the hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi. How is this at all relevant? Empty rhetoric again.

I am going to skip the next two paragraphs, as they argue that the Dominicans were also worse than the Nazis. I will simply note that the Nazi and Communist regimes, if we add up the people killed in the concentration camps, the people who died in the gulags, the people who were starved to death by engineered famine, the people who disappeared down the memory hole of Communist purges &c., then we have more people killed by secular regimes in the twentieth century than have ever been killed by Christians in the entire 2000 year history of Christianity. Thus to say, "in lethal doses, religion creates ogres that are greater than either Lenin or Himmler," is obviously false.

It would seem that: "Like the Islamic jihadists of our time, the Inquisitors were as self-righteous as they were callous and insensible. This leads me to conclude that in lethal doses, religion creates ogres that are greater than either Lenin or Himmler. It causes irreparable damage to the rational faculty and leads to the total death of conscience and the horrors it implies."

Sed contra: First, since St. Thomas' judgments were correct, as demonstrated above, his rational faculties were obviously working properly. Second, I deny that one can lay blame on the category of religion as a whole for the acts of a particular religion. The actions of jihadis are of an entirely different species than the actions of the Inquisition, most obviously because the latter were, in general, just while the former are not.

It would seem that: "When coupled with the powers of modern technology, the death of conscience is a menace that we cannot afford to ignore in this age of religious revival."

Sed contra: I agree completely with the sentiment that the death of conscience, when coupled with modern technology, is a menace that cannot be ignored. But said menace comes from both jihadis--with there terrorism--and secularist--with their false beliefs in "personal autonomy" that allow and encourage abominations such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexual "marriage" &c.--not religion qua religion.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

On the term "fair"

What does it mean to say that something is "fair"? Standard usages seems to imply that something is considered fair if it is equal. For example, children almost always consider it unfair if their siblings get a bigger piece of cake, get to stay up later &c. If this is an accurate definition, then I have to wonder whether fairness is worth all the trouble people put into it.

Justice is giving another what they are due. Now, insofar as two people are equally due something, said thing should be given to them in equal amounts or shares. But insofar as people are not equally due something, it would seem to follow that there is no injustice if they are given said thing in unequal or unfair amounts or shares.

Thus, there is no injustice to be found in the unfair examples previously give. If the cake is being given to the children as a gift, then it is entirely gratuitous rather than something owed. There is no cause for complaint if you are given an undeserved gift in a smaller quantity than another is given an undeserved gift. And even if the situation were one where it could be conceivably said that cake was due to the children, such as a birthday party, it might still be due to them in different proportions. A younger child might be due less cake than his older sibling simply because he cannot eat as much. Similarly, a younger child might be due an earlier bedtime than his older sibling simply because he needs more sleep.

How much luck you would have in presenting these arguments to a young child I cannot say. But it is depressing that many modern adults argue like little children, thinking that if they do not get some equal share or some similar benefit they have in some way been treated with injustice. Think of many of the arguments in favor of abortion, homosexual "marriage" &c.