Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aphorism IX

Reality is heteronormative.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"You can't legislate morality!"

What, then, if anything, can one legislate, pray tell?

Look, lets be clear here. The law both prescribes and proscribes human action. All human action is governed by morality. Thus, any legislature, by definition, is the legislation of morality in some way or another. The real question is whether or not it is the legislation of correct morality.

So let us hear no more of this "You can't legislate morality!" twaddle.

The Truth is Out There

Here's an interesting article on the X-Files:

"The Truth About 'The X-Files," by Tom Piatak.


I have recently participated in a discussion of the X-Files and Mr. Piatak's article over on Mark Shea's blog. The discussion is in the comments on this post. I have decided to repost my comment here, making some minor additions and edits.

The context: I am replying to a poster who thought Mr. Piatak overstated the Christian theme in the series ending and demonstrated nothing more than that the show was anti-government.

My comment: I suppose one could look at the closing lines of the X-Files and see a vague spiritualism instead of a pointer to Christianity. One could probably say the same about the following lines from T.S. Elliot's Four Quartets: "And what the dead had no speech for, when living,/They can tell you, being dead: the communication/Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." But to do so, I think, is to ignore both the context of the lines and the work as a whole.

I have always seen Mulder and Scully as two people who compliment each other. Mulder's openness to mystery helps keep Scully from falling too deeply into a narrow scientism, while Scully's Catholic faith--however poorly practiced--and her distaste for irrational or non-rational explanations helps reign in Mulder's sometimes naive credulity. As I have begun watching the series in a more systematic order through the DVDs, I have noticed that rarely are either Mulder or Scully completely correct in their initial assessment of a case, though both may have a part of the picture. Mulder must expand Scully's narrowness while she reigns in his openness before they reach a conclusion nearing the truth. In this way I think that Scully and Mulder's relationship is an example of what should exist in true spiritual friendship--or, for any "shippers" out there, of what should exist in a healthy marriage--which is two people helping each other overcome obstacles on the path towards truth, virtue and faith.

As for the X-Files being anti-government, I'm not sure it is that simple. After all, Mulder and Scully both work for the FBI for most of the series. That makes them government agents employed by the executive branch. What the X-Files opposed was the military-industrial complex, the secretive and self-perpetuating intelligence community and any other aspect of government that--through secrecy, size and power--becomes a law unto itself, unaccountable to the moral law, to the rule of law, or to the electorate. That may be anti-our-current-government. But it is not anti-government per se, nor is it contrary to the American political tradition. I would argue that neither is it contrary to the best of classical and medieval political thought, which forms part of the basis for the political thought of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Calvin & Hobbes

Since I have been accused of having some kind of particular devotion to John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes over the past few weeks, I thought I would take some time to clarify my position.

The only Calvin & Hobbes I have any particular devotion to were written and drawn by Bill Watterson. They filled my childhood and early teenage years with much joy and wonder. As for the bucket, Pawtucket.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

3rd (Tentative) Definition of Torture

Torture is any act that causes pain to another person where the agent has power over the subject and no relationship exists between the agent and the subject that would offer the subject a guaranty that the agent will not act towards harming the subject per se.

By "has power over" I mean that the subject is unable or unlikely to be able to prevent the agent from acting upon the subject.

By "harming... per se" I mean acting in such a way that the effect of the action is nothing other than harm in and of itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Probably the best description of my views on political philosophy as applied to the United States to date

(N.B This was originally a comment to a post over at Mark Shea's. I've done some minor editing.)

Patriotism has little to do with form of government and much to do with land, people, culture and tradition. But insofar as the historic culture and tradition of a people includes and is tied up in certain realities of government, these realities are owed our allegiance more so than others.

The Constitution is no more the cause of the American people than the monarchy was the cause of the French people. But the Constitution is a product of the American people just as the monarchy was the product of the French people. That's why the Vendée were better Frenchmen than any Jacobin.

I think it is more true to say that Patriotism has nothing to do with abstract principles separated from the historic and traditional life of a people. That is why I think that the preamble of the Declaration of Independence is at best a rhetorical tactic to gain support in Lockean Europe and at worst pseudo-philosophical bunk that demonstrates Jefferson's fascination with Enlightenment thought getting the better of his far nobler classical and agrarian republicanism.

The most important part of the Declaration is the section detailing the king's violation of the traditional and historical rights held by the colonists. These rights stem both from the American political tradition of deliberate consent of the governed, which had existed since the Mayflower Compact, and the traditional common law rights of Englishmen, held by the colonists as English citizens and subjects of the crown.

In my view it is erroneous to say that the United States is some grand experiment meant to be the laboratory of political philosophers. But it is just as much an error to say that the patriotism of American citizens can be completely divorced from our form of government. Both views ignore the organic tradition, as historically lived by Americans, which inform the Constitution of the United States.

P.S. One commenter says that he has the same problem celebrating Independence Day as he would have celebrating Bastille Day if he lived in France. This strikes me as an erroneous conflation of the American War for Independence and the French Revolution. Such a conflation is common, but that does not make it correct.

The French Revolution was the violent overthrow of historic and traditional French institutions in the name of abstract principles. The American War of Independence was the severing of political ties between England and the thirteen colonies due to the violation of traditional and historic rights that organically developed over time. One fought against tradition, history and organic society, the other in favor of it.

St. Thomas as originalist

According to St. Thomas, one should always render judgment according to the written law, insofar as the written law does not violate the natural law (ST, II-II, q. 60, a. 5).

Earlier, in discussing the question of whether or not one must always act according to the letter of the law, St. Thomas argues that one can sometimes ignore what appears to be the letter of the law in favor of the intention of the lawgiver. Now, one objection states that only he who made the law can interpret it, the obvious reason being that he knows his own mind on the matter and what he meant when he wrote the law (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6 ob. 2).

In responding to this objection, St. Thomas argues that one who acts according to the intention of the law does not interpret it simply. That is to say, they are neither giving the law its meaning nor interpreting it for themselves. Rather, they are acting according to its meaning and interpreting it in light of the meaning intended by the legislator (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6 ad 2).

Now, the discussion of the letter of the law was focused on those who live under the law and do not have the authority to make or judge laws for the community. Yet this discussion points to two important points. First, interpreting the law is not just a matter of the letter of the law, but also of the intentions behind the letter. Second, when necessity does not demand immediate action in the face of certain risk, the interpretation of the law and judgment on whether or not a dispensation is in order is not something that can be done by any citizen, but only by those to whom the authority is given (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6c).

How, then, are those in authority to interpret the law? First, they must judge by the written law. Second, the written law is not simply the text, but also the intention behind the text. Thus one who has the authority to interpret the law and render judgment according to the law must seek to understand the intentions of those who wrote and promulgated it. Now, I am no great legal scholar, but this seems to be the very definition of originalism. Thus it would seem that St. Thomas position on interpreting and judging according to the law is the originalist position.

So apparently...

... a socialist is worried about blogs.

I wonder who gets to decide who the "less principled people" are and what constitutes "misinformation and malicious intent?" The socialists, I guess? After all, they may be the only ones qualified to discern what's doubleplusungood crimethink and what's doubleplusgood goodthink.

And blogs might "considerably pollute cyberspace." Why do I see a "save the e-vironment" campaign in our future? And worse, why do I have the sinking feeling that it will be successful.

A tip of the hat to Orwell's Picnic.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A word I hate

I hate the word "sentient." Though, to be honest, it's not so much the word I hate as the way it's used. "Sentient" is often used to describe beings that possess intelligence, reason, intellect &c. But "sentient" is derived from the Latin sentire, which means "to feel." "Sentient" can still be found in modern dictionaries defined as "having sense perception" and "experiencing sensation or feeling." A better word for a being possessing intellect would be "sapient," i.e. a being that possesses or is capable of possessing wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge of the highest and most universal cause and it is the intellect that allows one to know the universal. Sense perception only allows one to know the particular.

A belated post for Independence Day

I did not post anything on Independence Day. Partially because I spent most of the day away from the computer with my family, and partially because my thoughts on the Declaration of Independence are complicated. But I found the following poem by Robert Frost and thought it said something important about my native country, the land that I love, these United States.
The Gift Outright

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

A tip of the hat to the Faith & Reason Institute's new web-journal, The Catholic Thing.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The one, true love story

The one, true love story is the story of the love that exists between God and the soul. All other love stories are reflections or distortions of this one.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Resisting evil

"But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other" (Matthew V, 39).

Is the preceding quote from the Sermon on the Mount a universal moral precept? It would seem not. Commenting on John XVIII, 22-3--"And when he had said these things, one of the servants standing by, gave Jesus a blow, saying: Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?"--St. Thomas Aquinas says the following:
So Sacred Scripture is to be understood according to all that Christ and the saints have kept. Christ did not offer His other cheek, nor Paul either (Acts XVI, 22ff). Thus it is not to be understood that Christ has commanded everyone to literally offer the physical other cheek to he that strikes someone; but this ought to be understood as preparation of the soul, that if it will be necessary, one ought therefore to be disposed to not be disturbed in soul facing a beating, but let one be prepared for the like and to put up with more besides. And this the Lord kept, whereby He offered his body at the fit time. So therefore this action of the Lord is useful for our instruction.1
The passage in Acts that St. Thomas references is when Paul and Silas were unjustly beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. When they were to be released the next day, Paul refused until the magistrates came and released them personally, for Paul and Silas were Roman citizens who had been beaten and imprisoned unlawfully. The Douay-Rheims commentary on Matthew V, 39 also references Acts XXIII, where Paul, upon hearing that some Jews were planing to kill him, sends the witness who brought him this information to the tribune, who in turn called for soldiers to protect Paul from the attack.

Thus, the meaning of the passage in Matthew cannot be that we can never resist evil, and instead always suffer in silence. Christ Himself rebukes injustice rather than offer His other cheek for striking. Paul utilized his full legal rights, as a citizen of Rome, to protect himself from evil and to rebuke those who unjustly did evil to him. Rather, the verses encourage the Christian to bear evils he cannot avoid or defend against with patience and love, praying for the good of those who harm them rather than hating them and wishing evil upon them. But if a Christian can morally defend himself and others against evil, he may do so. Nothing about defending against evil requires hatred or bitterness instead of love. Love and resistance to evil are not mutually exclusive.

1 Super Evangelium S. Ioannis, cap. 18, l. 4: "Sic sacra Scriptura intelligenda est secundum quod Christus et alii sancti servaverunt. Christus autem non praebuit isti aliam maxillam: nec Paulus, Act. XVI, 22 ss. Unde non est intelligendum quod Christus mandasset quod praeberent maxillam aliam corporalem ad litteram ei qui percutit unam; sed hoc debet intelligi quantum ad praeparationem animi, quod si necesse fuerit, ita debet esse dispositus ut non turbetur animo contra percutientem, sed paratus sit simile et etiam amplius sustinere. Et hoc dominus servavit, qui corpus suum praebuit occisioni. Sic ergo excusatio domini utilis fuit ad nostram instructionem."