Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Hermeneutic of Continuity

That's not just one of Benedict XVI's catch-phrases, it's also the name of a blog that I just found out about, run by Fr. Tim Finigan, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, UK. My attention was drawn to the blog by Dilexitprior at Letters From a Young Catholic, who links to Fr. Finigan's photographs of a Carthusian cell at St. Hugh's, Parkminster. Check out both sites!

Sing, Choirs of Angels--But In Your Own Voice

Teófilo at Vivificat! reports on an essay from George Weigel's syndicated column, The Catholic Difference, that is available at the Catholic Education Resource Center website. Weigel, it seems, dislikes the contemporary music sung in many Catholic parishes, not so much because most of it is schlocky drivel reminiscent of a late 70s incarnation of CCR sans John Fogerty, but because the lyrics can be (a) heretical; (b) written in persona Christi; and (c) over-used.

I certainly agree that some hymns have been over-used. Certainly the four hymns that my parish has been singing over and over and over again for the past 10 years could stand to be put on the shelf for a while. And some hymns do sound a little close to heresy when read a certain way. Weigel's own example, however, illustrates how iffy the charge is:
Then there's "For the Healing of the Nations," which, addressing God, deplores "Dogmas that obscure your plan." Say what? Dogma illuminates God's plan and liberates us in doing so. That, at least, is what the Catholic Church teaches. What's a text that flatly contradicts that teaching doing in hymnals published with official approval?
If the term "dogma" here is referring to the infallible teachings of the Magisterium, then of course this is a heretical claim. But if the term "dogma" is simply meant to refer to any old hide-bound rule-of-thumb that nobody has taken a close look at in a long time--and this is the way most people use the word--then the text is hardly heretical, it's just pointlessly obscure. But hey, that's poetry for you.

For the most part I tend to agree with Weigel. I don't like much about the music written for liturgical use in this country in the last 30 years. Give me Hyfrydol or Adoro te devote every time. But the complaint of his with which I have the least sympathy is his worry that some hymns are sung in persona Christi, such as "I am the Bread of Life" or "Come to the Water." Quoting from one such hymn, he writes:
"Love one another as I have loved you/Care for each other, I have cared for you/Bear each other's burdens, bind each other's wounds/and so you will know my return." Who's praying to whom here? And is the Lord's "return" to be confined to our doing of his will? St. John didn't think so.
Although hymns such as these often do a hatchet job on the texts, one must bear in mind that they almost always are just that: texts, that is, quotations from the Scriptures. It seems a little weird to complain that hymns use Scriptural texts for their lyrics. It's a little like complaining that the readings at Mass are all taken from the Bible. As Teófilo points out:
I love "I am the Bread of Life." To sing it is to sing Scripture. Just as a reader doesn't become Christ when s/he proclaims Scripture in the divine "first person," a cantor or a congregation is not at fault when they do the same. If the hymn proclaims Scripture in a sense that agrees with Tradition, I no longer care if it is in "the first person."
Except for the "I love 'I am the Bread of Life'" part, I agree with Teófilo completely here. He also notes that hymns in persona Christi are not uncommon in the Byzantine tradition.

De gustibus non disputandum est, but in general the closer it is to 13th century liturgical chant the better, in my view.

Mel Gibson Wants His Read in Latin, and Only At Traditionalist Masses

The Catholic News Service reports that Malgorzata Bednarek, the chief prosecutor in the Polish city of Bielsko-Biala, thinks that "the Catholic Church would be well suited" for publicizing cases of drunken driving: the names of offenders could be read aloud at Masses. According to the report, a spokesman for the Polish bishops' conference said that "church leaders" were actually going to consider doing this.

Father Piotr Brzakalik of Katowice, though, said that "the pulpit shouldn't be used for stigmatizing people." He did allow as how killing somebody while in a drunken stupor would be a violation of the Fifth Commendment, however. There is apparently something of a problem with DUI in Poland, where--at least according to CNS--the number of offenses increased between the years 2001 and 2005 "by about 46,000". That's even more than we've had here in Athens since hiring Frank Solich. CNS goes on to report that "up to 20,000 alcoholics took part in a special the Marian shrine in Lichen."

I hope they walked there.

The Centerpiece of our Worship

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I attend Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish whenever I'm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that I was excited to find that they had recently placed a new Tabernacle right behind the main altar. For your infotainment I've managed to find a photo of the setup that I thought I would share. It's from the parish website, and the photo credit is actually on the photo. As you can see, the parish is located in the lush rain forests of southeastern Michigan.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Strange New Affect(at)ion

There is a preternaturally bizarre item in the 4 September issue of The New Rpublic. It is an open letter from Edward O. Wilson, of sociobiology, consilience, and biophilia fame, "to an imagined Southern Baptist pastor". In this letter, Wilson rehearses all the usual crimes against nature that have been committed by evil old humankind, putting into vintage John Denver-era language all the damage that has been done to the "biosphere" and how only we can prevent forest fires, industrial pollution, mass extinctions, destruction of the ozone layer, global warming, etc. etc. etc. The alleged purpose of the "letter" is to enlist the support of "the larger evangelical community" in averting ecological disasters that would otherwise be certain to occur. An alliance between "scientists" and "evangelicals", however, would be equally certain to be helpful:
Religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today, and especially in the United States. If religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem might soon be solved.
You've got to love that reification of "science" and "religion", as if they are these monolithic entities that, once united in a Justice League-style alliance, will rule the world in peace and harmony. It's nice to know that a 77 year old Harvard biologist still has a little of the 15 year old in him.

There is certainly nothing new in a biologist wringing his hands over the environment--some might even say that it goes with the territory. What is surprising is the putative audience for this open letter. Although it is addressed "Dear Pastor", no serious reader can be expected to take that at face value. If Wilson had really wanted to enlist the support of evangelicals in his environmentalist crusade, he could quite easily have sent the letter to a genuine pastor, or dozens, if not hundres, of genuine pastors. Or he could have sent it to some newspapers in the Bible Belt, or to Christianity Today or any number of other, similar places. Instead he chose to send it to The New Republic, surely a journal that is not very high on your typical Southern Baptist Pastor's "must read" list. Add to this the fact that Wilson himself notes that the very audience he is presumably targetting with this letter has already "begun to move care of the Creation back into the mainstream" of political discourse, and that "this evangelical interest in the environment is part of a worldwide trend among religions". The religious folks, it would seem, are already with the program. So what is the real purpose of this letter? Perhaps without quite meaning to, Wilson himself tells us in rather Machiavellian terms:
It may seem far-fetched for a secular scientist to propose an alliance between science and religion. But the fact is that environmental activists cannot succeed without you and your followers as allies. The political process in American democracy, with rare exceptions, does not start at the top and work its way down to the voting masses. It proceeds in the opposite direction. Political leaders are compelled to calculate as precisely as they can what it will take to win the next election. The United States is an intensely religious nation. It is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian, with a powerful undercurrent of evangelism. We secularists must face reality.
I think you've got the real agenda right there in a nutshell. The phrase "we secularists" is beautifully ambiguous. Its deixis might be second person ("Unlike you religious folks, we secularists..."), which is presumably how it is meant to be taken on the surface. But since this letter is not likely really directed at a Southern Baptist pastor, one is tempted to take that phrase as having first person deixis, that is, one is tempted to say that this letter is really a political appeal to fellow liberal environmentalists. It's a letter that says "Look folks, if you can't beat them--and we found out in 2004 that we can't--then you'd better join them, or better yet, get them to join you". This is a letter of political advice to other like-minded environmentalists, explaining to them that the best policy, in terms of accomplishing an environmentalist agenda, is one of appeasement. If you can at least act like you share some values with evangelical Christians, you will find that together you will have the political base to get things done.

This might seem like a rather cynical reading of a letter that ends with the cordial "Warmly and respectfully, Edward O. Wilson." But this is the same Edward O. Wilson who wrote in Consilience:
To share reverence is not to surrender the precious self and obscure the true nature of the human race. We should not foget who we are. Our strength is in truth and knowledge and character, under whatever sign. Judaeo-Christians are told by Holy Scripture that pride goeth before destruction. I disagree; it's the reverse: Destruction goet before pride. Empiricism has turned everything around in the formula. It has destroyed the giddying theory that we are special beings placed by a deity in the center of the universe inorder to serve as the summit of Creation for the glory of the gods. We can be proud as a species because, having discovered that we are alone, we owe the gods very little. Humility is better shown to our fellow humans and the rest of life on this planet, on whom all hope really depends.
Wilson is obviously one of those rather old fashioned scientists who still thinks that there is an uncrossable divide between science and religion. This comes across rather embarrassingly in his letter, since he seems to think it important to stress how different his worldview is from that of a Southern Baptist pastor. Much of what he says in this regard betrays a rather weak grasp of the relationship between science and religion, and it would be disastrous to say such things to a real pastor, but it is probably just the right sort of thing to say to other secular humanists.

Consider, for example, the following:
I do not see how the difference in worldview between these two great productions of human striving [science and religion] can be closed. But, for the purposes of saving the Creation, I am not sure that it needs to be. To make the point in good gospel manner, let me tell the story of a young man, newly trained for the ministry and so fixed in his Christian faith that he referred all questions of morality to readings from the Bible. When he visited the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil, he saw the manifest hand of God, and in his notebook he wrote, "It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind." That was Charles Darwin in 1832, early into the voyage of the HMS Beagle, before he had given any thought to evolution. And here is Darwin, concluding On the Origin of Species in 1859, having first abandoned Christian dogma and then, with his newfound intellectual freedom, formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection: "There is grandeur in this view of life..." Darwin's reverence for life remained the same as he crossed the seismic divide that separated his religious phase and his scientific one. And so it can be for the divide that, today, separates mainstream religion and scientific humanism. And that separates you and me.
This is clearly directed at others like Wilson, for you would never say to a Southern Baptist pastor that Christianity is to be characterized as dogmatic and contrasted with the "intellectual freedom" of science. That's something that you say to the morons who think that science disproves religion, and that if you would just open your mind and use it for a change you would see how obvious it is that religion is a virus infecting the minds of the weak. I'm sure Richard Dawkins would approve. The real purpose of a paragraph like this is to persuade not evangelicals but other environmentalists that one must be willing to be, well, not condescending, exactly, but at least benignly silent on certain questions "for the purposes of saving the Creation." Sure, we all know that "science says that, as far as verifiable evidence tells us, we are alone," but why not keep that to ourselves when we're hanging our with our Christian buddies, at least until the votes are all counted.

One phrase that is conspicuous by its absence in most of Wilson's essay is "the religious right". Clearly a liberal like Wilson is not going to want to toss that term around too much in an essay that is putatively directed at, well, the pastors of "the religious right". But he just can't contain his enthusiasm:
To be sure, some leaders of the religious right are reluctant to support biological conservation, an opposition sufficient to create a wedge within the evangelical movement....For decades, conservatives have defined environmentalism as a movement bent on strangling the United States with regulations and bureaucratic power. This canard has doged the U.S. environmental movement and helped to keep it off the agenda of the past two presidential campaigns.
If that sounds a little testy, don't be surprised, since the real audience for this letter is going to be in complete agreement, and this will really get them fired up. We can divide and conquer if we can work with those elements of the evangelical community who are not hidebound ideologues about Big Government. We must build up a coalition based on those Christians who care about "Creation", and we can marginalize the rest.

That this is really Wilson's purpose is made manifest again and again in the "letter" as he praises the virtues of science and condescendingly treats religion as a quaint reminder of our roots. This is also the Wilson who compared Christian belief to Aztec sacrifices of children to Tlaloc and the beliefs of medieval astronomers, and who wrote, again in Consilience:
Great ceremonies summon the history of a people in solemn remembrance. They showcase the sacred symbols. That is the enduring value of ceremony, which in all high civilizations has historically assumed a mostly religious form. Sacred symbols infiltrate the very bones of culture. they will take centuries to replace, if ever.

So I may surprise you be granting this much: It would be a sorry day if we abandoned our venerated sacral traditions. It would be a tragic misreading of history to expunge under God from the American Pledge of Allegiance. Whether atheists or true believers, let oaths be taken with hand on the Bible, and we may continue to hear So help me God. Call upon priests and ministers and rabbis to bless civil ceremony with prayers, and by all means let us bow our heads in communal respect. Recgonize that when introits and invocations prickle the skin we are in the presence of poetry, and the soul of the tribe, something that will outlive the particularities of sectarian belief, and perhaps belief in God itself.
In short, it is OK for the serious empiricist to attempt to pass, as they say, since there's nothing wrong with playing along just so long as you can inwardly interpret what you're doing in whatever way suits your own subjective experience and makes your action "authentic" in some way.

I don't imagine very many people will be fooled by this "open letter"--certainly not evangelical pastors, and probably not many "scientific humanists". The attitude on display in this little morsel is very much on the wane. More and more scientists and humanists are coming to realize that the alleged conflict between science and religion is an invention of the ideologues. Indeed, the idea that the two are in conflict at all is a perfect (though ironic) instantiation of what Nietzsche called the Will to Truth--the desire of the psychologically craven to coerce others to view the world in a certain way by means of belittling and dismissive analyses of the beliefs of those to be converted. There are still a few such folks about--Richard Dawkins is everyone's favorite example, but there are others--but they are being increasingly marginalized by humanistically sensitive scientists such as Robert Pollack, Michael Ruse and John Polkinghorne, on the one hand, and by scientifically astute humanists, such as Keith Ward, David Knight, and David Bartholomew on the other. These folks realize that the allegedly vast gulf that Wilson thinks separates him from religious believers is a mirage, an ideological, a priori metaphysical assumption that drives everything before it.

There is no rational reason to suppose that science precludes rational religious belief or that religious belief makes the scientific endeavor either impossible or even difficult. Wilson rightly notes that "we are products of a civilization that rose from both religion and" science. He doesn't put it quite like that, acutally. What he says is that our civilization arose "from both religion and the science-based Enlightenment", but that is a rather serious misreading of our intellectual history. Our scientific worldview has its roots not in the Enlightenment, but in the skeptics and natural philosophers of ancient Greece. It's true that Wilson's brand of science has its roots in the Enlightenment, but that is an intellectually bankrupt kind of science, grounded as it is in ideology rather than reason. The rest of us can, like many, many others before us, take an interest in the natural world, investigate its physical, material properties, and draw inferences about the regular operations of mechanistic systems, while having a firm and robust knowledge about matters that are not discoverable by empirical means. People were doing the same long before the so-called Enlightenment, and they will continue to do so long after the ideologues have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Michael Walzer on Fighting the Middle East War(s)

Michael Walzer is known principally among philosophers and other moral theorists for his work on just war theory. His 1977 book, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York, Basic Books; second edition 1992; third edition 2000) was widely heralded as "one of the remarkably few books of lasting significance to have emerged out of the Vietnam War and its aftermath" (according to Thomas Pangle of Yale University). The book, while condemning the Vietnam War, argues in favor of the possibility of an ethically waged, just war. He explicitly draws upon the work of such writers as Maimonides, Aquinas, Vitoria, Suarez, and Hugo Grotius while working hard to keep political theory in the realm of the particular rather than the merely abstract. It is fair to say that his own politics are on the left: he is the co-editor of Dissent and a contributing editor of The New Republic.

In light of his politics, two recent articles of his are of note. One of them, "Regime Change and Just War", appeared in the Summer 2006 number of Dissent (available online here). The other, "War Fair", appeared in the 31 July issue of The New Republic (available here only by subscription). The Dissent piece is taken from the newest (2006) edition of Just and Unjust Wars and argues that the U. S. intervention in Iraq is a mistaken policy and that the use of what he calls "force-short-of-war" or "indirect approaches to regime change" would have been preferable to full-fledged war.

In light of this, the position he stakes out in "War Fair" is rather interesting. The topic in that piece is not the U. S. intervention in Iraq, but the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Walzer notes that the situation in that conflict is of a different nature than most situations involving just war analysis:
Israel is now at war with an enemy whose hostility is extreme, explicit, unrestrained, and driven by an ideology of religious hatred. But this is an enemy that does not field an army; that has no institutional structure and no visible chain of command; that does not recognize the legal and moral principle of noncombatant immunity; and that does not, indeed, acknowledge any rules of engagement. How do you--how does anyone--fight an enemy like that?
Well, presumably the quickest answer to that question is: "Within the bounds of the moral law", which means that "there cannot be any direct attacks on civilian targets (even if the enemy doesn't believe in the existence of civilians)".

This includes attacks on the economic infrastructure, and Walzer notes that the case for avoiding such attacks is "prudential as well as moral":
Reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low, is intended to put pressure on whoever is politically responsible for the inhabitants of Gaza--and then these responsible people, it is hoped, will take action against the shadowy forces attacking Israel. The same logic has been applied in Lebanon, where the forces are not so shadowy. But no one is responsible in either of these cases, or, better, those people who might take responsibility long ago chose not to. The leaders of the soveriegn state of Lebanon insist that they have no control over the southern part of their country--and, more amazingly, no obligation to take control. Still, Palestinian civilians are not likely to hold anyone responsible for their fate except the Israelis, and, while the Lebanese will be more discriminating, Israel will still bear the larger burden of blame. Hamas and Hezbollah feed on the suffering their own activity brings about, and an Israeli response that increases the suffering only intensifies the feeding.
This leaves Israel in a precarious position. Just war theory, Walzer points out, rules out many ways of fighting but does not rule out fighting itself. The proportionality of Israel's reaction, he says,
must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.
Both groups have made it quite clear that "what they are trying to do" is destroy the state of Israel. That may be an unrealistic goal--I doubt very much that either of them, alone or together, could ever hope to accomplish such a thing without the complicity of rogue states such as Iran--but given the fact that they have access to powerful weaponry and the financial support to put together a remarkable public relations campaign, what they say they are trying to do must be taken fairly seriously.

For Walzer, writing, it must be pointed out, in mid-July, there is a pragmatic side to Israel's response.
The most important Israeli goal in both the north and the south is to prevent rocket attacks on its civilian population, and, here, its response clearly meets the requirements of necessity. The first purpose of any state is to defend the lives of its citizens; no state can tolerate random rocket attacks on its cities and towns. Some 700 rockets have been fired from northern Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal a year ago--imagine the U.S. response if a similar number were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man's-land. It doesn't matter that, so far, the Gazan rockets have done minimal damage; the intention every time one is fired is to hit a home or a school, and, sooner or later, that intention will be realized.
As Walzer points out, Israel has waited a long time for the Palestinian Authority and the government of Lebanon to do the right thing with regards to these rocket attacks, and nothing has happened--the attacks continue. Even a Security Council resolution calling for the disarming of Hezbollah has been ignored, and one wonders what Israel is supposed to do about this situation.
The crucial argument is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields. Academic philosophers have written at great length about "innocent shields," since these radically exploited (but sometimes, perhaps, compliant) men and women pose a dilemma that tests the philosophers' dialectical skills. Israeli soldiers are not required to have dialectical skills, but, on the one hand, they are expected to do wverything they can to prevent civilian deaths, and, on the other hand, they are expected to fight against an enemy that hides behind civilians. So (to quote a famous line from Trotsky), they may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in them.
The difference in the intentions of the Israelis and their enemies is significant: no Israeli soldier, one presumes, deliberately targets civilians without justification or, at the very least, if it were discovered that he did, that person would be removed from service and punished. Among the fighters of Hamas and Hezbollah, by contrast, such targeting is deliberate and indiscriminate. It does not matter so much that the partisans of Hezbollah are lousy shots--if they had better weapons and better training, they would be killing more Israeli civilians than anyone could imagine, since that is their stated goal. The israelis, who do not intend to kill civilians, do so principally by accidents caused by the willful negligence and malicious behavior of their enemies.
[The use of civilian shields] works, because it is both morally right and politically intelligent for the Israelis to minimize--and to be seen trying to minimize--civilian casualties. Still, minimizing does not mean avoiding entirely: civilians will suffer so long as no one on the Palestinian side (or the Lebanese side) takes action to stop rocket attacks. From that side, though not from the Israeli side, what needs to be done could probably be done without harm to civilians.

Tiro Strikes Back

You know you've hit the big time when you become both an object of derision and a paradigm of philosophical obtuseness in the international blogging scene. That's what has happened to me, albeit both references are restricted to the Italian blog Cantor, one of the few blogs to get even less traffic than An Examined Life. I'm not sure what the name "Cantor" is supposed to conjure up, although after reading around in it I'm fairly certain it's not Georg, whose reasoning skills were markedly better. I will say this, however: I looked long and hard for something to make fun of as payback, but in the end I found myself agreeing with much of what is written there. Maybe if my Italian were better I would have had better luck, but them's the breaks....

I suppose the problem might be that this Stephano fellow, who appears to be the owner of the blog, is something of a conservative/classical liberal, and so our politics tend to run fairly close. But there is a trend among some classical liberals to look at issues such as abortion, human cloning, stem cell research, and other issues connected to medical ethics and scientific research, in a markedly utilitarian way. Regular readers of An Examined Life are already familiar with my views about utilitarianism, but I'm happy to admit that many conservatives are also utilitarians, as are many Libertarians and other classical liberals, and I make it a point not to judge the intentions of such folks. Indeed, in some ways utilitarianism seems quite apt for the classical liberal approach to things, and one can't expect everyone to have the same respect for the posizioni dogmatiche di filosofi, especially in a country where the last genuine philosopher was Cicero.

In the spirit of international cooperation, I've decided to include Cantor in my blogroll, if for no other reason than to make it easier to keep an eye on him.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Robert Lanza Has (Human) Egg on His Face

An update to my Wednesday post on stem cell research: CNS is carrying a story that claims that, in point of fact, the method announced in the journal Nature does not avoid the destruction of the embryo in most cases--and this is in addition to several other problems still associated with the procedure. Check out the full story here.

Must Be Running For Office

A story at CNS reports that Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna thinks that his OpEd piece in the New York Times last year may have been "too much crafted with a hatchet." It turns out that, in his opinion, "the church does not support creationism", and "the church teaches that the first page of the Book of Genesis is not a page of science." He now says that his article "might have been more nuanced."

While this is a salutary development--it's good to know that prominent Church leaders are not Silly Persons--one still wonders just how nuanced the Cardinal's position could get. On the one hand, he wants to claim that there is a distinction to be drawn between what he calls "the science of Darwin" and "ideological Darwinism", but on the other hand he criticizes those who ignore what he claims is the "overwhelming [scientific] evidence for design in biology" and goes so far as to propose "a metaphorical image: Darwin's scientific ladder of rising evolutionary development on one hand, and on the other the biblical Jacob's ladder, from which angels descended from heaven to earth."

It is difficult to see how one could further nuance such manifest ignorance of the nature of evolutionary theory, but I suppose it's a step in the right direction: he at least admits that "Darwinian theory and the faith can coexist". But scientific evidence of design in biology? Rising evolutionary development? Come on.

One almost gets the impression that the Cardinal's remarks were somehow a response to certain kinds of criticisms from certain quarters.

According to the CNS story,
The cardinal was one of several scholars invited to join Pope Benedict XVI at his summer villa in early September for a private two-day symposium on "Creation and Evolution." The encounter is an annual one in which the pope meets with his former doctoral students from his teaching years in Germany.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No Rational Reason to Take Robert Lanza Seriously

The New York Times reports today that there is now a method for utilizing stem cells that avoids destroying embryos. According to the author of the story, "if confirmed in other laboratories, [the research method] would seem to remove the principal objection to stem cell research." That is, it would seem to avoid the destruction of the embryo. And get this:
“There is no rational reason left to oppose this research,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology and leader of a team that reported the new method in an article published online by the journal Nature.
Nothing like attempting the old end-run. What a surprise to find someone who probably didn't think that the earlier objection was rational now saying that there are no rational objections left!

The principle difficulty before, obviously, was that the destruction of a human embryo is the unjustified killing of an innocent human. Even with the removal of that objection, however, plenty of "rational" objections remain, including the standard objection to the use of humans in scientific research without their consent. That is an objection that is not only rational, but it is one that cannot possibly be overcome in the case of stem cell taken from human embryos, and that is why stem cells derived from embryos can never be used in scientific research.

Stem cells for scientific research ought to be taken only from umbilical cords in cases where parents can give consent. Present data suggest that this is a far richer and more promising source for such materials anyway.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Freedom and Human Dignity

In another very interesting post, Chris Blosser takes issue with Mark Shea's claim that neoconservatives subscribe to a kind of idolatry of democracy. Blosser quotes Irving Kristol at some length in rebuttal of Shea's idea, and one paragraph in particular stood out for me as especially thought-provoking:
There is, however, an older idea of democracy - one which was fairly common until the beginning of this century - for which the conception of the quality of public life is absolutely crucial. The idea starts from the proposition that democracy is a form of self-government, and that if you want it to be a meritorious policy, you have to care about what kind of people govern it. Indeed, it puts the matter more strongly and declares that if you want self-government, you are only entitled to it if that "self" is worthy of governing. There is no inherent right to self-government if it means that such government is vicious, mean, squalid, and debased. Only a dogmatist and a fanatic, an idolater of the democratic machinery, could approve of self-government under such conditions.
The idea that Kristol is opposing here is something that he characterizes as "the liberal idea of democracy par excellence", namely, the idea that majority rule as such is itself the central value in any morally acceptable polity. What he proposes in its place is the idea that self-governance is a value whose moral acceptability is a direct function of the value of the persons proposing to govern themselves.

In some ways I find this way of looking at things rather congenial--at least, it appeals very strongly to the Aristotelian in me. There does not seem to be any particularly compelling reason, for example, to defend a society (such as the one that Jim Tucker is always defending) that enslaves a significant proportion of its own population merely because the majority is willing to do so, and yet this is precisely what one commits oneself to if one regards majority rule as per se the central political principle in any morally acceptable polity. In fact, it is precisely the morally base nature of such a society that some regard as sufficient justification for interference in the local practices. Similaryly, even if Nazi Germany had not first attacked the Allied nations, there may have been sufficient moral justification for a military incursion grounded in the objective of liberating the groups who were being exterminated.

There is another side to this, however. When it is suggested that the moral acceptability of a polity is a function of the value of the persons constituting that polity, it immediately raises the question of how one is to evaluate the value of the persons in question. In the examples I cited--the ante-bellum South, Nazi Germany--it is tempting to confuse the value of the persons with the values expressed by the moral choices of the persons. It is morally wretched to choose to hold people in slavery or to externimate entire groups, but the persons who make such morally wretched choices are themselves as morally valuable as anyone else. One wishes that they weren't so craven, perhaps, but that is a separate matter. Without necessarily fully endorsing Socratic intellectualism I am nevertheless drawn to the idea that vicious behavior--even the criminally vicious behavior of the Nazis--is due principally to a kind of headstrong ignorance, the kind of invincible ignorance that one is sometimes required to constrain simply in order to protect oneself.

From a religious perspective it is this freedom to choose even the criminally vicious path that makes us imagines Dei, though obviously the Proper Good for humans is not the criminally vicious but the perfectly good. Independently of religion, it is the the principle of reason that makes morality possible in the first place and, hence, is the ultimate standard by which we must measure the value of the persons in a polity. Since the rational faculty is the same in everyone (though, obviously, that faculty is not developed to the same extent in everyone) we must treat everyone as equally valuable, whether or not we like their choices.

Anyone who looks at the matter in this way will have to take a slight exception to Kristol's claim that "if you want self-government, you are only entitled to it if that "self" is worthy of governing." It may depend upon what, precisely, he means by "self", but at least the way it is put here the claim is rather banal, since all "selves" are equal, regardless of the manner of life they choose to live. A person can choose a way of life that is objectively "vicious, mean, squalid, and debased" and still be as deserving as anyone else of treatment befitting his full human dignity. It may not be possible to treat him that way, since his own behavior may work against it (think of the difficulty of bringing self-rule to certain parts of the Middle East, for example), yet he is still deserving of such treatment. So instead of saying, with Kristol, that the vicious and base do not "deserve" self-government, I would say that the vicious and base make it very difficult for the rest of us to treat them as they deserve, and it is not all that clear that our obligation to treat them as they deserve should go very far beyond treating them in the way that they appear to desire, since to treat them as they deserve is always going to be reducible to treating them as free persons. This is further complicated by the fact that I noted in the posts on torture, that it is quite possible for folks to be mistaken about what they desire, if we equate what is desirable with what is objectively best for us in the long run. We may make one sort of decision with regard to the extermination of whole groups of people, or with regard to societies that hold slaves, while we make an entirely different sort of decision with regard to a society that is not self-ruling. In one we may choose to intervene, in the other not. Or we may choose to intervene not in the one but the other, or in both, or in neither. The decision to intervene, however, must always be grounded in a desire to treat the other as a fully free person, deserving of the same respect that I would ask for my own person.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Pacifist Pope?

Chris Blosser offers an extremely helpful assessment of the situation at Against the Grain in this post. The answer, it would seem, is a qualified "no".

Against Pointless Reduction

Theoretical reduction--the reducing of one theory to the postulates and theorems of some other theory from which it can be logically derived--is possible in lots of areas, but it is not always advisable. Biology, for example, can be reduced to particle physics, but it is not clear what the motivation would be for translating talk of cells and DNA molecules into talk of muons and quarks. Surely that kind of thing would not make biology more accessible. One could refer to me as the great-great-great grandson of Walter Carson, but why do that when it is simpler just to refer to me by my own name? Indeed, there are certain kinds of cases where reduction is not merely pointless, it is downright mistaken. In biology proper, for example, we may insist that the unit of selection is anything from the allele to the herd, but if we choose the wrong level we will exclude possible explanations for phenomena such as altruistic behavior.

In ethics, too, reduction is often a temptation that ought to be avoided on pain of mistaken analysis. In an interesting post at Waka Waka Waka, Malcolm Pollack responds to my post on torture with this:
although Carson’s post is intended as a critique of the prevalence of the conventional utilitarian view these days, it seems to me that all he is doing is substituting different variables into the same utilitarian formula – the spiritual wound suffered by the torturer outweighs, in his equation, the merely physical suffering of those we would seek to protect by a coercive interrogation. He is certainly entitled to his belief. But is it appropriate as government policy, when the first job of government is to defend the people, many of whom do not agree with this religious perspective?
This is an interesting idea, that my view is ultimately just utilitarianism in disguise. But there are three problems with this analysis, each of them, I'm afraid, severe enough to vitiate the analysis.

Let me begin with a relatively benign problem. Pollack appears to attribute my position to an essentially religious sentiment, but that is quite mistaken. While it is true that the position I have staked out is consistent with my religious views, it is not the case that the position I have staked out follows from my, or any, religious point of view. The view that I stake out is essentially the Socratic/Platonic one, as I indicated in my post. Neither Socrates nor Plato was motivated by primarily religious considerations. The idea is that there is a highest good for humans, and that this highest good is connected to objective human flourishing, not to any particular religious dogma. Further, this objective human flourishing is not to be identified with physical or material well being. The idea that human flourishing is identical with physical well being or even pleasure is more closely associated with hedonism than utilitarianism, but certainly utilitarians are friends of the so-called pleasure principle, another point that I made in my first post.

Secondly, suppose, for the sake of argument, that my view was essentially grounded in my religious view. It is telling that Pollack finds this possibility worrisome on the grounds that not everyone in a particular polity will share the same religious views. That alone appears to make the view unsuitable as grounds for policy as far as Pollack is concerned. And yet such a starting point is entirely unreasonable. Suppose a particular polity were to adopt the utilitarian approach to solving questions such as this. Not everyone in the polity will share utilitarian sentiments either, so why should that kind of theoretical underpinning be grounds for policy? The fact of the matter is that all of politics is a matter of coercion in a certain sense, because it is always a matter of obtaining some degree of consensus and the process of obtaining consensus almost always involves somebody somewhere along the line compromising some aspect of their deeply held convictions. There is no reason to think that religious convictions are not on the same level as non-religious convictions in this regard. Just so long as I can provide an argument in favor of my policy that does not require that everyone subscribe to my religion--that is, as long as my arguments are grounded in theologically neutral starting points, starting points that any rational person could accept in principle--then there is no reason to suppose that having a religious reason for holding the view is a violation of the Constitution. To take a rather silly example, the Constitution mandates democracy; I might myself thing that God also mandates democracy, but it is not a violation of Constitutional principles if I advocate democracy using theologically neutral arguments even though I personally accept it for religious reasons. (Some people make a similar mistake when they assert that opponents of abortion are attempting to mandate conformity to their religious views; a person may oppose abortion for religious reasons but that does not mean that there are not perfectly good, non-religious arguments against abortion that a religious person can appeal to.)

The third problem with Pollack's analysis is much more serious. The third problem is that he mistakenly assumes that the moral position I stake out is essentially reducible to a kind of utilitarianism, in which the central value is a certain spiritual relationship with God. Putting aside for a moment the fact that this problem is closely related to the first problem, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Pollack is right. The difficulty now is that every moral theory is essentially a variety of utilitarianism, and that seems highly implausible. For example, if Pollack were right, then even Kantianism, the anti-utilitarian moral theory par excellence, would actually be a variety of utilitarianism in which the central value is conformity with a formal principle of reasoning.

The central thesis, however, not only of Kantianism but of the position that I staked out, is that there are certain things that ought not to be done regardless of the consequences that follow upon not doing the things in question. Utilitarianism is essentially consequentialist: torture is morally justified just in case better consequences result from doing it than from not doing it. What I am saying is that it is better to refrain from torture even if we could obtain better consequences from using it. There is no way the two positions can be reconciled. Similarly, Kantianism explicitly says that consequences have nothing whatsoever to do with the moral rightness or wrongness of our actions and, indeed, goes so far as to say that moral goodness is independent of our passions and desires. According to both Kant and Plato, it is entirely possible that we may be mistaken about what the good is and even about what we truly desire; this is not possible according to the utilitarian who, famously, actually defines desirability in terms of what is actually desired. It should only take a moment of rather straightforward reflection to see what is wrong with this. Suppose I am addicted to cigarettes. I have an actual desire, right now, to smoke one; but only a moron would say that it is desirable in a Socratic sense to smoke cigarettes. What is desirable according to the utilitarian is not always what is desirable according to the Platonist.

So it is not merely pointless to reduce my view to a variety of utilitarianism: it is a theoretical mistake of the first order. All moral views are not logically compatible and, hence, are not theoretically reducible to some single explanatory account.

Friday, August 18, 2006

When Pontificating is a Good Thing

Fr. Kimel has an excellent post up at Pontifications about Jonathan Bonomo's account of the Calvinist view of the Real Presence. As usual, the writing is clear, concise, thoughtful, charitable, and orthodox. I would say that, in general, Pontifications is one of the best religious blogs I have seen.

Adding to the overall value of the blog is the generally high quality of the comments posted there (with the exception of the one or two hounds I put up over there myself). I know of several clergy and philosophers who comment there regularly. I am sometimes at a loss as to what to make of all the activity in the blogosphere--sometimes it seems more than a little self-indulgent. But in the long run I think we are all better off, if we are willing and able to read with a critical eye, thanks to folks like Fr. Kimel, Mike Liccione, Fr. Freeman, and the others who contribute to Pontifications in one way or another. They also steadfastly refuse to blogroll me as further proof of their good sense.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Oasis

When we returned from our vacation in Holland, Michigan, to Ann Arbor, I attended Mass for the Assumption at the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle. It is a lovely old church, completed in 1899 and lacking the kitchy art of many 19th century churches. Instead it has tasteful stained glass windows, beautiful Italian marble columns marking off side aisles, and a large sanctuary with a striking alabaster altar.

They also have something new since the last time I visited: a (relatively) gigantic new tabernacle right behind the main altar. The tabernacle used to be in a little alcove off the to the side, as in many churches of traditional design after Vatican II. Since the true aggionamento of Benedict XVI, however, the faithful are beginning to dare to hope that Catholic Churches will look a little more, well, Catholic. I remember when I first converted in 1983 my parish church, St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, still had statues of Mary and Joseph right there in the sanctuary, but within two years they had been moved to the "gathering space" just inside the front door, and then, only three years later, they were in the basement. Not long after they were moved again, and I had no idea where they had gone until a friend of mine in the Legion of Mary told me of finding the statue of Mary in the women's bathroom. They weren't exactly high art, but they weren't hideous, either.

The tabernacle at St. Thomas the Apostle also is not spectacularly beautiful as far as its artistic execution, but it is remarkable beautiful in what it is: an in-your-face statement that we are not ashamed of the doctrine of the Real Presence or of the Catholic understanding of the nature of the Incarnation. We do not think it a distraction to have this statement behind the main altar: we are grownups, and during a Mass we can focus on the altar without drifting into puerile reveries about That Big Thing behind Father. It was an insult from the start to make such an assumption in the first place.

Don't even get me started on ad orientem. The better parishes have already returned to it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Our Utilitarian Times

In James Taranto's blog, Best of the Web Today, there is a story from the London Guardian regarding the probable use of torture to thwart last week's terror plot in the UK (Taranto's piece; the Guardian piece). Taranto agrees that "the claim of torture seems at least plausible" and raises the question
it is possible that thousands of air passengers were saved from murder because British officials acted on information the Pakistanis obtained using brutal methods that would not have been acceptable in Britain or the U.S.

Assuming for the sake of argument that this is so, should those thousands of innocents have been sacrificed so as to spare the British government whatever moral taint came with the Pakistani information?
His answer is brutally honest:
t strikes us that the murders of thousands of civilians would be a far worse "form of defeat" than the moral compromise in which the British government is alleged to have engaged.
Although one would like to hear more about exactly how and why Taranto orders his own moral values in this way, we are not treated to such an exposition--he drifts off, instead, into a screed against Andrew Sullivan, saying of the torture issue only that "these are questions about which reasonable people can differ, and over which reasonable people are necessarily going to have to argue."

It is a remarkably interesting question, however. The Nazis, rather infamously, used all sorts of regrettable methods for abstracting information from tight places. In particular, they learned a great deal about hypothermia by subjecting Jews and other prisoners to freezing temperatures and watching what happened. The data that they collected was very valuable to them at the time, as they were fighting in the freezing temperatures of the Russian tundra at the time, but the same data were eagerly sought by researchers in more recent times who simply wanted to find ways to help victims of hypothermia. There was something of a debate over the moral propriety of using data taken from human subjects against their will: is it really the case that all knowledge is worth whatever cost must be paid to obtain it? This is the question that is also at the heart of the fetal stem cell debate: what sort of a society are we, that we are willing to take steps that will lead to an increase in abortions merely on the off chance that doing so will give us a few insights into the curing of a few diseases? Why are we so quick to take these steps when we don't even know for sure that we will gain the knowledge sought, nor do we know for sure that fetal stem cells are better for this research than umbilical cord stem cells.

The question of the moral status of torture is rather similar. We want some information, and we want it right now. What are we willing to do to get that information? Let us grant, for a moment, that the Jews in World War II and the aborted fetuses enjoy a different moral status from terrorist prisoners. The Jews and the fetuses are, presumably, guilty of no crime and deserving of no suffering, so to torture or kill them is in no way justified. A terrorist prisoner, by contrast, is presumably guilty at the very least of what British Common Law once called "prisoning treason", that is, of knowing about some Very Bad Thing and keeping that knowledge private (in a mental prison, as it were). Indeed, if they weren't guilty of "prisoning treason" we wouldn't be contemplating the use of torture on them in the first place. I've recently finished reading Antonia Fraser's excellent book, The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605, the history of the so-called "Powder Treason" of 5 November 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and others planned to blow up Parliament, along with King James I and his family, as a blow against the unjust oppression of the Roman Catholic religion. Many Catholic martyrs suffered torture and death at the hands of the authorities because they were suspected of "prisoning treason" when, in fact, they had no knowledge of the plot (see, for example, the life of St. Thomas Garnet, a Jesuit who was falsely accused of complicity in the plot and who went to the gallows for refusing the break the seal of the confessional).

The case of the English Jesuits, all of whom opposed the use of violence to achieve political ends but all of whom were suspected of plotting the violent overthrow of the Crown and, hence, were often tortured, killed, or exiled, raises an interesting parallel. Torture was commonly used in the 17th century to extract confessions and information from prisoners. Sometimes prisoners were merely shown the rack, sometimes they were worked on it, but these are finial distinctions in practice, since both are cases where the state used the either the threat or the reality of severe physical harm to get what it wanted. When this is done by persons who do not represent the state it is called terrorism. Nowadays we have a category that did not exist in the 17th century: "state sponsored terrorism," which blurs distinctions previously clear.

The Gunpowder Treason, as well as other plots against the English government of the 16th and 17th centuries, was discovered in part through the routine use of torture of private individuals by the state. In the case of many Jesuits, the torture was applied to innocent persons, but the argument was sometimes made, just as it is sometimes made now in defense of the death penalty, that the sacrifice of one or two innocent persons is justifiable in pursuit of the common good, particularly when such sacrifices wind up saving many other innocent lives. There is an old chestnut in moral philosophy, a thought experiment in which we are supposed to imagine a sherrif in a small town where a woman has been raped. The townspeople are growing restless as the perp remains at large, and they want justice done quickly. The sherrif realizes that if he does not catch the rapist soon there will be rioting in the streets. We are supposed to imagine that he knows with a high degree of certainty that this rioting will occur, and that it will result in many deaths and serious injuries. We are then asked whether it would be "worth it" for the sherrif to just pick some itinerant stranger at random and frame him for the crime, thus providing a nice show trial for the townspeople and avoiding all the mayhem. Our intuitions are on trial here: on the one hand, we value justice, which says it is unacceptable to punish an innocent person for a crime he did not commit. On the other hand, some folks urge us to make utilitarian calculations like this all the time: if it will result in a better payoff, why not do it?

That is what is being urged in the contemporary debate over torture. On the one hand, our intuitions tell us that torture is wrong. Not merely because we may wind up torturing innocent persons, just as the English crown tortured innocent Jesuits, but because torture is per se an affront to human dignity in so far as it objectifies persons and renders them instrumentally rather than intrinsically valuable. For the Kantian or the Socratic, there is no way to justify the use of torture. For the utilitarian, however, there may be. The utilitarian can point to the possibility of a very favorable outcome, just as James Taranto points to the possibility of saving hundreds of lives by torturing a few terrorists. As utilitarians, we also have available the possibility of ranking the value of innocent persons above and in some cases way beyond the value of terrorists, thus making the calculations even easier.

The fact that so many people are comfortable with this sort of reasoning, and with the reasoning in favor of stem cell research, demonstrates that we live in remarkably utilitarian times. If we are utilitarians, questions about the value of knowledge become easier to answer. The value of knowledge lies in the amount of happiness it produces in the long run. Suppose, for example, we could forever eradicate heart disease from the human condition, but only after three years of research on aborted fetuses. That would be roughly three million abortions, but if we are talking about forever eradicating one of the biggest killers on the planet, then we're talking about saving many, many millions of lives over the long run. The utilitarian says "Go for it". What if, instead of fetuses, the research required the sort of research that the Nazis did to obtain their hypothermia data? Again, the utilitarian might find justification for saying "go for it". To be fair, not all utilitarians would reason this way. Some would say that "human dignity" is also a value that is important to safeguard, and they would claim that this value must be put into the calculations of what ought to be done. It is hard to see, however, how the short term suffering of a certain number of people can seriously be weighed against the long term benefits, which would presumably last for thousands of years. Folks who support fetal stem cell research have no principled reason to oppose the use of unwilling human subjects in scientific experiments, even if those subjects are bound to die, just so long as the research promises something as astonishingly helpful as the eradication of heart disease.

Fortunately for the rest of us, no scientific program could ever hope to promise such a thing. Indeed, there is very little that it can promise, even on a very modest scale. That doesn't prevent shills like Nancy Reagan going around making political hay out of opposition to fetal stem cell testing, however, because many folks these days have a utilitarian streak as wide as their own egos.

In the case of torture, there is a tendency to think about the possibility of the loss of innocent life as outweighing by far the temporary suffering of a few despicable human beings. We are not the 17th century British, after all: we aren't talking about putting people on the rack, ruining them for good and basically ending their meaningful human existence. We're talking about sterile needles under the fingernails, or sleepless questioning for days on end, or sodium pentathol. Isn't that a price we're willing to pay?

If you're a utilitarian, it is difficult to find any justification for saying "no" to torture. If you're tempted to say that humans are per se valuable and that torture is an affront to that value, you are still trapped, since the killing of the innocent persons that the torture is intended to prevent is also an affront to that value, and the latter affront is a far greater one than the former.

Why should we resist this line of reasoning? Why should we not all be utilitarians about torture? There are many ways to approach this question, and mine is a highly personal one; I suspect that it will not be shared by very many others. My response lies in a rejection of the "pleasure principle", the foundation of much utilitarian thinking. This principles holds that human happiness consists fundamentally in an affective state that is directly related to the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. On this account, martyrdom as such is morally bad, since it involves the willing sacrifice of one's own life in pursuit of a putatively higher principle. St. Thomas Garnet chose to go to Tyburn rather than break the seal of the confessional, and if human happiness consists in an affective state directly related to his physical well being then he purposely chose pain over pleasure, which, according to utilitarianism, is morally wrong. Clearly a Thomist cannot endorse anything like this kind of principle, since Thomists are in a theoretical line that goes through Augustine to Aristotle to Plato to Socrates when they claim that the good for human beings is independent of their physical well being. Socrates famously held that even a man on the rack can be happy, just so long as he understands the Form of the Good, because on his account that's what happiness consists in (that is, human happiness just is understanding the Form of the Good). Aristotle found that rather hard to swallow, but endorsed a modified version of it in the tenth book of his Nicomachean Ethics, and both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that human happiness depends upon a rational relationship with God rather than on material flourishing.

If you thought, however, that I was saying all of this by way of suggesting that torture, being the mere physical affliction that it is, cannot interfere with a person's "true happiness" and, thus, is justified, then you are seriously mistaken. The idea is quite the opposite: when we torture evil people, we become like them in using violence to obtain what we want, and while that may certainly harm the evil people in a physical way it harms us in a fundamentally more important way--it harms our own human condition by being an act that is contrary to the Form of the Good. This ought to be obvious, since we regard terrorists as evil precisely because of the fact that they are willing to use violence to achieve their ends even when non-violent means are available to them. As good persons, we cannot rationally justify the use of torture to obtain what we want, even if the refusal to utilize torture results in the physical suffering--or even death--of innocent persons. The Thomist is committed to the possibility that the avoidance of physical suffering does not necessarily justify literally anything, since the Thomist does not believe that physical well being is the foundation for human happiness.

In short, the rejection of torture requires a deep theoretical committment that many people are not prepared to make, if only because they are not fully aware of the theoretical underpinnings of their own moral psychology. A large number of people are what we might call "folk utilitarians", that is, they have an intuition that the pursuit of happiness is not such a bad idea, and that happiness is nothing if not an affective state. For such people there is little more that needs to be said about the matter and, indeed, I suspect that even reading tons of Plato would not change their minds. In particular, it is difficult to get people to see that one can regard the pursuit of happiness as essential while rejecting the idea that happiness consists in physical well being or in an affective state related to physical well being.

So I remain unconvinced that the case for torture is clear and obvious in these dark days. It is particularly difficult for me, a Catholic, to endorse the use of torture, in light of the suffering of the English Catholics at the hands of a cruel police state, but even apart from that I have to think that there is something that separates me from the terrorists, and it is not merely the fact that I don't know how to make an IED out of fertilizer. The difference lies in the fact that there are certain things that I will not do in order to achieve my own ends; terrorists, especially suicide bombers, seem to be willing to do literally whatever it takes to achieve their ends, because they, like many of those who oppose them, are utilitarians at heart: the end justifies the means.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ignoratio elenchi

That's a fancy Latin slogan that means, basically, not knowing what the question at issue is when having an argument. I'm reminded of the slogan by an interesting post at Maverick Philosopher on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. Bill writes:
Not every armed conflict is a war. The 'war' against Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations is more like armed conflict between legitimate law enforcement agencies within legitimate states and criminal organizations. Hezbollah is sometimes described as a state within a state. This is loose talk. Hezbollah is better described as a criminal parasite organization hosted by a legitimate state that lacks the power or the will to suppress it.

If this is right, then talk of a 'cease-fire' between Israel and Hezbollah is as obtuse as talk of a 'cease-fire' between law enforcement and a criminal gang like MS-13.
We have known, since 11 September 2001, that many of the time-honored principles of warfare generally, and of just war theory in particular, simply do not apply to the present set of conflicts in which we find ourselves. Our enemies do not always wear uniforms; they often masquerade as civilians when not merely hiding behind civilians; they almost always depend upon manipulating the media and the application of terror to achieve their political ends. This does not excuse us--or anyone else--from acting in conformity with the logic of morality, but we may find that what the logic of morality compels us to do in defense of self and of the helpless will not seem as pristine and noble as some idealists would like. It is salutary to remember that all forms of violence, even those that are undertaken in self defense, are ugly. There is no such thing, really, as a "noble" fight to the death--one must simply, sometimes, fight against those who would kill you. If those who are trying to kill you without justification wind up getting their noses bloodied--or if it is rather the noses of their friends that get bloodied--it might behoove one's enemies to cease and desist unilaterally.

In fact, that might be the closest thing to a noble act that certain kinds of enemy can ever achieve--to admit that they were wrong to have attacked you in the first place.

The More Things Change...

There's a rather famous essay by Richard Cartwright called "On the Logical Problem of the Trinity" (available online here). In it, Cartwright argues that the doctrine of the Trinity as enunciated in the Athanasian Creed cannot be made sense of using ordinary intuitions about identity and difference, genus and species. The Maverick Philosopher gave the essay a rather charitable interpretation in a post from a year and a half ago, but I'm inclined to think that Cartwright, like David Hume, knows what follows of logical necessity and what does not, and so leaves tell-tale cigarette butts all over the house hoping that his roommates will assume that he is a smoker.

I've been spending much of my summer vacation (what little of it there is) working on a paper on Anselm's De processione Spiritus Sancti, which starts from precisely the same beginning as Cartwright but which draws an entirely different conclusion. Anselm is writing, ostensibly, for the benefit of the Greeks who deny the propriety of inserting the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed, and, in the end, he draws the inference that one must accept that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son, that this, indeed, follows by logical necessity from the concepts and relations involved in the Most Holy Trinity.

This is a rather startling difference: one person argues that the whole setup is logical nonsense, the other that it leads inexorably to a sure and certain conclusion that is perfectly logically coherent. The difference lies in the way the two conceive of the notions of identity and difference, and one cannot help but recall, as one reads through these essays, the monumental amount of work Plato put into the deciphering of just these two properties in such works as the Parmenides, the Sophist, and other dialogues. Independently of whether human reason can grasp something like the Trinity, it is interesting to find that Plato, 2350 years ago, was already on to what is centrally important to philosophy and human experience. It turns out to be things about which we already have lively intuitions but which, upon closer examination, prove to be more stubborn in their explication than we had ever imagined.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fr. Kimel on Justification

There's a great post up at Pontifications on the problem of justification. Joe Bob says check it out.

But He Is A Really Nice Guy

From a 9 July Los Angeles Times column by Charlotte Allen:
As if to one-up the Presbyterians in jettisoning age-old elements of Christian belief, the Episcopalians at Columbus overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord. When a Christian church cannot bring itself to endorse a bedrock Christian theological statement repeatedly found in the New Testament, it is not a serious Christian church. It's a Church of What's Happening Now, conferring a feel-good imprimatur on whatever the liberal elements of secular society deem permissible or politically correct.
Ouch. That's going to leave a mark.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Si quaeris paeninsulam amoenam, circumspice

I'm taking a little time off for R&R in Holland, Michigan, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. The weather here has been beautiful, with clear, sunny skies and temperatures just right to make you want to go jump in a lake. This particular lake has enough of a microclimate that there's wind blowing moderately large breakers that you can actually surf on. The kids are deliriously happy, and I'm not far behind.

Driving in from the eastern part of the state one begins to notice more and more Lutheran and Calvinist churches. There's only one Catholic church here in town and guess what it's called? That's right, Our Lady of the Lake. You can recognize it pretty easily, because it's a lot uglier than the other churches. I haven't been inside yet, but I'm sure it will be lovely.

Holland is home to Hope College, also Calvinist, at least by background. I'm not familiar enough with things here to know whether it has the same sort of affiliation with the Calvinist religion as Duke has with the Methodist, but one hopes not--even Calvinism is better than sheer debauchery. I think.

It's not hard to find WiFi access here, but it is rather difficult to find it on the beach, and it's even more difficult to find time to get away from the beach, so probably blogging will be even lighter than it has been of late. On the other hand, when one is on vacation one does tend to ruminate, and I suppose I will find at least a little time for some of the usual vapidity that my readers have grown accustomed to.