Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why Not My Moral Code?



"Why are you trying to impose your values on the rest of us?'... [T]he underlying premise is that a democartic society may be constructed upon values and beliefs found in the books of Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, Betty Friedman, and Alfred Kinsey, but not upon values and belifs [found elsewhere]. To accept that argument is to permit ourselves to be driven permanently from the public square.

Someone's values are going to prevail. Why not ours? Whose country is it, anyway?"

Patrick J. Buchanan, Right From the Beginning, page 342

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good quote.

Maureen

Rodak said...

To accept that argument is to permit ourselves to be driven permanently from the public square.

This quote is meaningless to me without know to whom Buchanan is referring as "ourselves." What list of names would he substitute for those of Carson, Nader, Friedman (sic), and Kinsey?
Maybe those of the WWWtW crew?

Civis said...

Rodak,

I like to take things one step at a time. Before we consider which code, we should agree that somebody's morals are going to have to be used.

After that, I think we can see that there is a lot we can all agree on with regard to an objective code.

I would argue that for the most part, Americans do have a common moral code. There are some differences in some areas and that is where we may need a thorny debate and, for better or worse, the tyranny of the majority may prevail.

The differences we see are often different applications of the same moral code, or misapplications due to self-interest or miscalculation.

Aside, this is another reason that I think relativism is stupid. Although relativists support thier position by arguing that we can't/don't agree, and although it does not itself prove the point....people do in fact agree on morality to a great extent.

Rodak said...

T]he underlying premise is that a democartic society may be constructed upon values and beliefs found in the books of Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, Betty Friedman, and Alfred Kinsey, but not upon values and belifs [found elsewhere].

This, of course, is a false statement. The underlying premise is that, so long as what I do doesn't prevent you from doing what you do, both my discourse and yours are tolerated, if not welcomed, in the public square. None of the people Buchanan lists ever tried to silence anybody else; each of them merely published that which he or she found to be true and relevant.
Buchanan, in the quote you supply, is merely rabble-rousing in support of a conservative agenda-- apparently successfully.

Civis said...

Rodak,

Did you read my last comment?

Rodak said...

the tyranny of the majority may prevail.

In a democracy, the term "tyranny of the majority" is oxymoronic. The proper term would be "the will of the majority."
Thus, for instance, if it is the will of the majority that abortion be legal, so it is. That does not, however, force the dissenting minority to utilize abortion services. That is not "tyranny."
In short, I did read your last comment. That people agree on morality for the most part is fairly obvious. And it doesn't matter WHY they agree, so long as they do. What is at issue in asking the question "Why not my moral code?" is whether or not your moral code would allow for dissent, within statute law, where there is no agreement.

Rodak said...

I'm also not clear on how your last comment relates to the Buchanan quote.

Civis said...

The point of the Buchanan quote is that the secular moral code has no better claim. That being true, we ought to discard moral relativism and the idea that a moral code with relgious roots is per se impermissible. Then we ought to sit down and talk reasonably about what is right and what is wrong.

The right to abortion is not tyrannical? What happened to all of your big talk about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Babies are denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have a feeling you would find it pretty tyrannical if someone suctioned you over razor blades or disolved your body in a saline solution, or smashed your head with forecepts.

Rodak said...

we ought to discard moral relativism and the idea that a moral code with relgious roots is per se impermissible.

It's not impermissable "per se"; it's impermissable because of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. You keep saying that you understand that, and then demonstrating that you don't.

Babies are denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If the unborn are given rights as "persons" through an amendment to the Constitution, then abortion will be illegal, as murder. As it stands, this is not the case. That's why I've said elsewhere that neither Reagan, nor Bush, has made any serious attempt to ban abortion, while calling themselves "pro-choice." Neither of them has used his presidency to lead a serious movement to amend the Constitution. Appointing judges to the SCOTUS ain't gonna do it, because the next generation of judges can overturn what this generation decides.
As things stand now, how can you tell a woman who's an atheist that she can't have an abortion (which she sees as a medical procedure) because you think that a first trimester embryo has a soul and she thinks it's not a person until it can live outside of her body?

Civis said...

RE the establishment clause: The purpose of the EC is to prevent government interference in religion, not religious interference in government. You turn the EC on it's head. You can say what you want, and I know you will have plenty to say, but facts are stubborn things.

Let's see if you are capable of consistency:

"If [black people] are given rights as "persons" through an amendment to the Constitution, then [slavery] will be illegal, as [an infringment on the right to liberty]. As it stands, this is not the case...As things stand now, how can you tell a [plantation owner] who's an atheist that [he] can't have [a slave] (which [he] sees as a [piece of property]) because you think that a [black person] has a soul and [he] thinks it's not a person [unless its white]?"

Did we need an amendment to the constitution to know that slavery was wrong? Did we need it for slavery to be against the constitution?

If personhood depends on the state saying what it means (i.e. if it means anything besides being a living human being) then the constitution offers no protection to anyone and all your talk about the constitution is worthless.

Rodak said...

Did we need an amendment to the constitution to know that slavery was wrong? Did we need it for slavery to be against the constitution?

The answer to that is: Yes.

And it did offer protection to people who were previously enslaved.

Rodak said...

If personhood depends on the state saying what it means (i.e. if it means anything besides being a living human being) then the constitution offers no protection to anyone and all your talk about the constitution is worthless.

It is the function of the state to protect (among other things) personhood. If you want the state to protect the unborn, then you have to give the state the legal basis to do so. That means, in the case of abortion, amending the Constitution. Anything short of that is merely symbolic. It's just carrying a placard and chanting slogans. I'm sure that these symbolic acts make people feel real good about their righteous selves, but it does not effect fundamental change.
Republican politicians depend on this. They give lip-service support to the chanting placard-carriers, get their votes, and then do basically nothing to change the law. Oh, but they throw in a war and a recession as additional diversions. Only Republican voters could have been holding Republican pols' feet to the fire over these things; but they've been too busy chanting and being "Ditto-heads."
Ditto-heads! What a strange term. To call oneself that is to confess pride in being caught up in Groupthink; to being a rubber stamp; to being in lockstep; to having no mind of one's own; to being, in short, a "good German."

EdMcGon said...

In the case of the Buchanan quote, I agree with Civis to an extent.

Where the people disagree about whether something should be legal or illegal, then the default status should be legality. Neither the conservatives nor the liberals should be allowed to dominate the "public square". Where there is no agreement, the rights of the individual to decide should be paramount.

The problem with the abortion argument in this discussion is that abortion's legality was NOT determined by the "will of the majority". It was determined, as Rodak has correctly pointed out, by an interpretation of the Constitution, which does not explicitly state when life begins.

The proper solution to this issue is a Constitutional Amendment which grants the states the right to decide when life begins. Ironically, this will never happen because the absolutists on both sides of the issue would never agree to it.

Civis said...

Rodak,

I think you are going off track. I am concerned here with what the law OUGHT to be, not with what it is, or are you arguing for legal positivism?

I don't think you mean to say that we needed an amendment to the constitution to know that slavery in America was wrong.

Civis said...

Ed,

Thanks for weighing in.

"Where the people disagree about whether something should be legal or illegal, then the default status should be legality."

You cannot mean that. There are people, a rather power faction in fact, that is pushing to strike down all child sodomy laws. Are we going to go with the default since certain people think it is permissible to have sex with little boys?

Rodak said...

I don't think you mean to say that we needed an amendment to the constitution to know that slavery in America was wrong.

You are mixing categories: right and wrong is private; legal and illegal is public. Once it was made illegal, you couldn't do it, whether you thought it was wrong, or not. It's the same with abortion.
Not until the 13th Amendment was passed was slavery illegal everywhere. The emancipation proclamation didn't do that, and it could have been reversed by fiat, just as it was passed by fiat. Ditto, abortion. If you want to end it, once and for all, a constitutional amendment is the only way to go.

Civis said...

Rodak,

I am talking about right and wrong as a basis for law. You may not like or agree with what I suggest, but that is what I'm for. It is also what you have been arguing for over the past few weeks, though for some reason you don't think you are.

Rodak said...

Civis--
Right and wrong are not legal terms. Laws have to do with the protection of the rights of the individual or the group.
Right and wrong have to do with the individual's conscience and sometimes with his standing in the eyes of his community. There are many things that are wrong, but legal, and vice-versa. As I said before, you're trying mix categories based on your emotional reaction to certain things. The law doesn't take our likes and dislikes into account.

Civis said...

All of your above question begging and straw man arguments aside, my position is that law must be based on morality.

What is your position vis-a-vis what law must be based upon?

Rodak said...

Law is based on morality, but it is not a universal morality, but a morality that is based upon a cultural history. It has never been lawful, for instance, in our culture for a dead man's wife to be expected to jump on his funeral pyre and die. It has never been lawful for unwanted girl babies to be killed, etc.
Any given culture's laws are based on that culture's traditions and religion.
Because American "culture" started from scratch and was a mix of different peoples from the git-go, a secular constitution was written. It was not a document that cataloged organically-generated laws based on tradition and a shared cultural experience, but rather it was a document that would apply equally to any person living in America, no matter what his origin and ethnicity. It is an Enlightenment document, based in part on the precedent of Roman law, in part on British law, and also in part on the genius of its authors.

Civis said...

You are thowing in a new term: "universal morality." What is YOUR definition of this term.

Rodak said...

What is YOUR definition of this term.

I don't have a definition for the term, because my argument is that it doesn't exist.
I would guess that Ryan would promote the idea of "Natural Law" as allegedly the basis for a "universal morality"--but I don't see the evidence for it.

Civis said...

Rodak,

Okay, let me get this straight. You are using a word that has a definition that does not exist?

Civis said...

I respond as follows:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.




`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Dick said...

To go back to the original Buchanan quote, why is it wrong for those who have the power, political or otherwise, to impose their values on the rest of us?

Rodak said...

Dick--
Because, in our society, the term "those in power" should refer to the people, through their elected representatives. It is "leadership"--not power--that those "public servants" have been elected to demonstrate.

Civis said...

Dick,

Thanks for stopping in. In general, I think we should be a nation of laws not of men, laws that recognize certain basic rights of men and limitations on government. That is something that we are becoming less and less.

For sure, if we believe that the majority should prevail (Ed suggests the tyranny of the majority is the best we can hope for) there is nothing wrong with that.

Dick said...

Rodak wrote: "Because, in our society, the term 'those in power' should refer to the people, through their elected representatives. It is 'leadership'--not power--that those 'public servants' have been elected to demonstrate."

Yes, but then someone who managed to impose his will on the rest of us isn't doing anything "wrong," he's just doing something we don't like - that is unless you equate "wrong" with whatever violates the rules of the democratic process.

Civis said...

Dick, thanks for stopping by. I tried to go to your blog, but there was nothing there.

Rodak said...

that is unless you equate "wrong" with whatever violates the rules of the democratic process.

That wouldn't be "wrong," it would be illegal. It might also be "wrong" in the sense of being immoral, or it might not, depending on the nature of what was wilfully imposed on the rest of us.
In any case, if an individual usurps power that rightfully belongs to the people, there are legal remedies, if the people bother to stand up for their rights. If they suffer from the "Good German" syndrome, however, they may not do that. Most people fear nothing so much as they fear freedom, because with freedom comes personal responsibility. People tend to prefer to be sheep.

Dick said...

Civis said: "Dick, thanks for stopping by. I tried to go to your blog, but there was nothing there."

We're still there, Civis. Maybe you mistyped the URL. Try this:

http://wscleary.com/pov/home

We'd love to have you drop in for a visit.

Ryan Hallford said...

A set of values always prevail in a culture. There is no such thing as a culture without values. For me, the question is whether those are subjective value opinions or objective values. One of the weaknesses of relativism is the equating of objective values with subjective value opinions. Just because somebody holds the opinion that genocide is good, like the Nazi regime, does not change the objective value of human life and the direct assault to this dignity through genocide. An opinion about which humans ought to die does not change the dignity that is present in all humans.

As I indicated previously, cultures do not completely differ in values. Peter Kreeft points out that no culture has ever believed, taught, and practiced Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values. To prove me wrong you would only need to show me a society that completely devalues life, education, nourishment, reproduction, community, freedom of religion, and a life of virtues. Even if these goods are withheld from certain individuals by another group, these goods are very much present for those in charge of that society. In fact, if certain humans are excluded from access to these goods our laws should be amended and formed to fix this inequity. Thus, our making of laws becomes an exercise in practical reason of making these objective values available for all and protecting an individual’s access to these goods. These goods go beyond mere subjective value opinions and point to objective values that ought to be available to all within a society. As Kreeft says, “Just imagine what that would be like. Try to imagine a society where justice, honesty, courage, wisdom, hope, and self-control were deemed morally evil. And unrestricted selfishness, cowardice, lying, betrayal, addiction, and despair were deemed morally good.”

The work of citizens should be to make sure that these values are available to all. The question has been raised from Civis: “Did we need an amendment to the constitution to know that slavery was wrong? Did we need it for slavery to be against the constitution?” Rodak seemed to have responded yes to both questions. In regard to the first question, I would say that we would not have amended the constitution unless we already knew slavery was wrong. It does not make sense that people accidentally and arbitrarily added the amendment to the constitution to abolish slavery and only after the amendment was established did the people who voted for the amendment realize that slavery was wrong. We amend to constitution according to moral norms based on what is right and wrong. If notions of morality were never trespassed, we wouldn’t need a constitution to legally safeguard human goods. There would be no need to legally abolish slavery if there were no slavery. As for the second question, it is a little trickier. If you say that we needed the amendment against slavery for slavery to be against the constitution, this assumes that historically those in the position of slaves are not people (at least not recognized as people by those who interpret the constitution). I think we can objectively say that those who were slaves are people and therefore should have had equal protection under the constitution from the beginning. The fact that they didn’t was not a problem with the constitution but a very real and practical problem with a group of people withholding the basic good of liberty from an entire group of people within society.

I think you can work with the distinction that the words “right” and “wrong” fall into the private realm while the words “legal” and “illegal” fall into the public realm, but the constitution and laws that constitute the regulation public domain must be rooted in what is right and wrong (objective values) or else the constitution is just arbitrary. Also criminal laws do establish a certain sense of what is wrong. And when trying to evaluate laws, like those protecting slave owners and keeping slaves enslaved, we must ultimately ask whether the actions the law is protecting is right or wrong. There is always an interplay between right, wrong, legal, and illegal. Regardless of the fact that slavery became illegal everywhere at the induction of the 13th Amendment, we can still say that slavery went against an objective value that our society has historically maintained before the new amendment (namely the value of liberty for all humans). In the case of slavery we would say that freedom is objectively valuable to all people and not just a certain group of people. I agree that in America a constitutional amendment is a good way to ensure the rights of people, particularly in a society where those rights are not legally protected and extended to all humans within that society.

Morality is partly based upon cultural history but that does not mean that this is morality’s only guide. If in the cultural history there are laws that go against objective values, then we have grounds to change that law as has been demonstrated by making slavery illegal in spite of our cultural history. In a society that is not just there is always room for reform which is not based on cultural history but based on objective values. If all morality was based on cultural history then there would be no change or moral reform within a culture. The opposite is true, because through human experience and cultural reflection many of societies have incorporated values that contradict values previously held. If we are to establish whether a change like abolishing slavery was a change for the better or worse (progressive or digressive) we cannot only reference cultural history but we must bring in some standard/ objective value by which to judge the different state of affairs (slavery or no slavery) that exist at different times within a given society. There is a third option by which we can say that abolishing slavery is neither progressive nor digressive but merely a different stance. If this is the case, there is no reason why we shouldn’t go back to enslaving a portion of the population for the sake of other members of the population; after all slavery was very efficient in getting things done.

Rodak said: “Because American "culture" started from scratch and was a mix of different peoples from the git-go, a secular constitution was written. It was not a document that cataloged organically-generated laws based on tradition and a shared cultural experience, but rather it was a document that would apply equally to any person living in America, no matter what his origin and ethnicity. It is an Enlightenment document, based in part on the precedent of Roman law, in part on British law, and also in part on the genius of its authors.”

The document may not have cataloged tradition and shared cultural experience, but it did not start from scratch. The very fact that it came out of the Enlightenment means that it belongs to an intellectual history with a historical, cultural, and philosophical development. Besides, the document did not equally apply “to any person living in America, no matter his origin and ethnicity.” If this were the case, we wouldn’t ever have needed to abolish slavery and grant slaves the status of persons with constitutional rights of life and liberty. This reality alone shows that the constitution by itself cannot be trusted on ensuring basic human rights because if society has a improper view of personhood, or life, or liberty, or pursuit of happiness, inequities can prevail and even be justified by those interpreters of the constitution.

Rodak said: “I don't have a definition for the term, because my argument is that it doesn't exist.
I would guess that Ryan would promote the idea of "Natural Law" as allegedly the basis for a "universal morality"--but I don't see the evidence for it.”

For the record, I have never mentioned universal morality as this is neither a term that I use nor a term that I would know how to define. I do believe there are objective values that can be discerned by all people according to their natural tendencies and that practical reason can be used in applying these objective values into concrete situations. For me, judging morality would not be based on majority or relativism, but something inherent to human nature. There is either a standard for morality or not. If there is a standard for morality, it is either based in something common to all humans or not. If it is not based on something common to all humans, it is not for all humans. If there is no natural law, there is no right or wrong other than the arbitrary whims of certain people. If this is the case, then one moral code is just as good as another.

Rodak said...

In regard to the first question, I would say that we would not have amended the constitution unless we already knew slavery was wrong.

Not true. It was necessary to amend the constitution to put to rest the claims of those still holding slaves that they had that right.

If there is no natural law, there is no right or wrong other than the arbitrary whims of certain people.

This is true, if "natural law" is identical to the revealed will of God, for this is what establishes moral right and wrong. It is available to human beings only through the action of grace. It isn't somehow woven into the fabric of humanity in any other than a potential way. Men have the potential capacity to do that which is good, to the extent that they open themselves to grace--which is where human will is effective--and accept the grace which is offered.
This is not how the law functions. The law functions by instilling a fear of punishment and by meting out punishment to those who overcome that fear. But the main purpose of the constitution is the protection of the individual against the power of the state.

Ryan Hallford said...

I said: “In regard to the first question, I would say that we would not have amended the constitution unless we already knew slavery was wrong.”

Rodak said: “Not true. It was necessary to amend the constitution to put to rest the claims of those still holding slaves that they had that right.”

And the 13th amendment acted against the claims of those who claim that they had the right because slavery is wrong. I don’t see how your statement disproves mine. It is definably the case that not everyone thought slavery was wrong when the 13th amendment was ratified and it is the case that not everyone thinks it is wrong even today. The reason why people don’t have a right to have slaves is because slavery is wrong and negates the liberty of that person. I don’t think there is grounds in the constitution to justify slavery before the 13th amendment yet many people did by defining the enslaved as property. The amendment was only necessary because a large portion of society was unreasonable. It is not rational to at one hand speak of the goodness of liberty as a right intrinsic to all humans and at the other hand act in a way that directly violates the liberty of a group of humans through slavery. The 13th amendment was about restoring consistency between the natural good upheld in the constitution and the reality of it being deprived from many humans. If there was no slavery this amendment would be unnecessary. If people acted in a way that always maintained the objective values of others there would be no need for the constitution.

I said: “If there is no natural law, there is no right or wrong other than the arbitrary whims of certain people.”

You said: “This is true, if "natural law" is identical to the revealed will of God, for this is what establishes moral right and wrong. It is available to human beings only through the action of grace. It isn't somehow woven into the fabric of humanity in any other than a potential way. Men have the potential capacity to do that which is good, to the extent that they open themselves to grace--which is where human will is effective--and accept the grace which is offered.
This is not how the law functions. The law functions by instilling a fear of punishment and by meting out punishment to those who overcome that fear. But the main purpose of the constitution is the protection of the individual against the power of the state.”

If there is a God, then yes, God’s divine will would be consistent with the natural law intrinsic to human nature for God would be the one that created human nature. But we must not get religiously metaphysical to be moral. For natural law is accesible through recognizing tendencies intrinsic to human nature through practical reason and understanding reasonable and good means of achieving these natural goods. I have demonstrated that one can reflect on the natural goods by virtue of commonality with all substances, commonality with animals, and through the facility of reason. I went through this process without referencing divine will or arguing that something is a good only because God created it that way. God’s divine will may stand as the ultimate reason why humans can use reason to discern why certain ends are good for human existence, but one does not have to ascribe God as a metaphysical cause to understand the reality of human nature. One does not need to be religious to understand the goodness of existence, nourishment, reproduction, education, community, freedom or religion, and the life of virtue. If this previous sentence is false, please explain to me how only the religious can ascribe to these objective values.

Laws may function by instilling fear, but this does not yet tell me what kind of laws we should have or what goods of the individual needs to be protected against the power of the state. We must base laws on objective goods of humanity that does not depend of private religious revelation.

In terms of being a Christian, I would agree that morality depends upon being open to grace. I think this is how true humility works. The openness in our being points to an openness to grace/God/ gift outside of our self. I also believe life and everything that exists is grace. However, all this aside, I don’t believe discerning natural law depends upon somebody maintaining my view that God is the source of all that is.

Rodak said...

For natural law is accesible through recognizing tendencies intrinsic to human nature through practical reason and understanding reasonable and good means of achieving these natural goods.

Can you show me any evidence that Jesus Christ understood that slavery was intrinsically wrong? He never spoke a word against it; and St. Paul actually tells slaves to be good slaves. To St. Paul, a slave was equal to his master in the eyes of God; but on this plane, his lot was slavery, and this was not questioned in terms of morality.
Can it be the case that God does not know natural law?
This is not to say that slavery is right. It is only to say that slavery is a matter of utilitarian principles and cultural standards. Since it has been practiced nearly everywhere, in nearly every culture, until very recently in historical terms, the evidence would seem to be that any "natural law" would favor slavery. If not, what is demonstrated is how ineffective "natural law" is in affecting human behavior. It apparently took mankind tens of thousands of years to reason out the simple, but allegedly objective, truth that slavery is wrong. Slavery is not a very good example for the relevance of "natural law."

Rodak said...

Some creative artist--I believe that it was a painter--said words to the effect that, "A painting is never finished; it is only abandoned."
I think that so-called "natural law" is much the same: it is a product of inductive reasoning. Staying with slavery as an example--a person sees a slave being abused and experiences a negative emotion. From there he goes on to the realization, "I would not like to be a slave." He then establishes his premise, "Therefore, slavery is wrong." Now he sets out to prove that premise inductively by playing rational word games. When he has arrived at the conclusion he was seeking from the outset, he abandons the reasoning process and begins his attempt to put into action that which began with his emotional reaction.
The bottom line here is that the concept "slavery is wrong" is, fundamentally, a subjective one.

Civis said...

"If there is no natural law, there is no right or wrong other than the arbitrary whims of certain people.' This is true, if "natural law" is identical to the revealed will of God, for this is what establishes moral right and wrong."

Do you stand by this statement? I see another post and another interesting topic.

Here is another topic: Lex malla, lex nulla.

Ryan Hallford said...

First off, my argument against slavery was not based in scripture but natural law, so that, in my mind, is enough to speak against the institution of slavery. But since I spoke of the connection between God’s law and divine will as one in the same if God exist, this is a fair question and I will deal with it in that context: as if God exists and Christianity is true.

From a Christian perspective I see slavery as a consequence of the fall, much like man’s domination of woman. The fall from grace manifested itself in unequal relationships between the sexes and between groups of people. However, these relationships being as unequal as they existed were realities that must eventually be overcame and restored to their proper understanding. Speaking theological I think this does take grace to overcome the domination of women and as it did for society to overcome the institution of slavery because of humanity’s fall and disordered desires for power over love and service.

I have mentioned before that many Church Fathers did not do much directly by way of speaking out against the institution of slavery. Rather they spoke of the dignity of the slave and the masters responsibility to make sure their slave had access to certain intrinsic goods (religion, just wage, food, freedom to marry, etc.) Under Mosaic Law the slaves were treated mercifully with a fair wage. In should not be forgotten that God’s people were once enslaved for many generations and had to patiently await restoration of their people.

At the induction of Christianity, it was definitely established that all people are equal in the eyes of God and the Church. “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3: 27-28). However, Paul did not fight slavery on a political level or draw any political reasons by force or revolt. The Gospel and Christian message is not political propaganda but effects society through the effecting of individual souls calling for change through individuals.

The early church had many converts that were masters and slaves. Paul addressed both and sometimes particularly the enslaved. He reminded them that despite their state in life they are still called to live accordingly to God’s commands and the spirit of the law. What scripture demanded of masters and slaves is to live as brethren and remember that God is there supreme master. Both the master and the slave were to imitate Christ. The unique position of the slave was a unique opportunity to be a witness to God’s love and Christ teaching.

I quote this from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Primitive Christianity did not attack slavery directly; but it acted as though slavery did not exist. By inspiring the best of its children with this heroic charity, examples of which have been given above, it remotely prepared the way for the abolition of slavery. To reproach the Church of the first ages with not having condemned slavery in principle, and with having tolerated it in fact, is to blame it for not having let loose a frightful revolution, in which, perhaps, all civilization would have perished with Roman society.” I recommend reading the article as it addresses the reality of slavery and the action of members of the early church, many of whom were slaves and former slaves. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14036a.htm)

Also through the ages in the consciousness of the Church we see political changes coming through the influences of Christianity as the social reflection of the Church develops and becomes more consistent to Christ teaching and the natural law precepts. There is a development of morality that would come to see slavery, an institution that seemed natural to man’s fallen condition, slowly being fought against first by raising the dignity and status of slaves and then abolishing slavery altogether.

In Greek and Roman civilization, slavery was seen as a necessary and indispensible institution of society. Under Roman civilization slaves were treated with a natural form of justice but did not have any civil rights as they were not Roman citizens. Christianity came onto the scene with the widespread slavery of the Roman controlled world. As Christianity called for the raising of the status of the slave via treatment and living standard it would seem that slavery in its mildest form could co-exist with the Christian message since the basic goods intrinsic to human existence could theoretically be provided to individuals that are enslaved. The Christian appeal was for the slave to patiently bear with the condition. It may be scriptures appeal to the Mosaic law of how slaves ought to be treated that prevented natural law arguments from abolishing the institution of slavery per se because many believed there could exist a just institution of slavery that could co-exist with the Christian message. Yet all the while Christianity taught that all humans were equal in the eyes of God and share in Christ divine sonship with no distinction between the political distinctions of bond or free. I think as the Church’s understanding of the dignity of the human person and the value of liberty being applied to even the social status of individuals developed the belief of a just institution of slavery becomes null. The jumping over of seeing no distinction between the slave and the free person spiritually to seeing away with slavery politically was no small task. Just as God preparing his people for his new covenant was no small task and took many covenants that unraveled in salvation history.

I do not think Jesus Christ as a political revolutionary but a spiritual revolutionary. Jesus certainly did not accept the status quo and we see this in the way he treated slaves, women, lepers, and sinners. There was much he taught by Christ that the Church and her people are still trying to understand. I have no direct evidence that Jesus Christ explicitly preached that slavery was intrinsically wrong as a social institution. However, Jesus did speak against the slavery of sin and the spiritual status of each human being. His political activism was much more subtle than attacking political institutions. Rather he remained in the constant tension of changing the hearts of men and allowing them order society. Basically, my answer is that I don’t know if it was in Jesus Christ style to speak against social institutions as such. Rather Christ questions the heart of man and God’s grace provides direction. This history of operative grace and the dignity of the person has lead to the raising of the dignity of slaves and eventually the abolishment of slavery. God knows the natural law, but does not force humans to conform. Neither did Christ want his spiritual message to be confused with only a political agenda. In general Christ was very careful when addressing political realities versus spiritual realities. The fact remains that Christ teaching challenging the hearts of men calls them to question both utilitarian principles and cultural standards that has often created social and political change. I would think that the raising of the dignity of the slave in Christianity is what eventually allowed humans to overcome the utilitarian principles and cultural standards, by which first individuals and then collectively the Church could use the practical reasoning of natural law to conclude that denying any person of their basic libery is wrong. Therefore slavery is a good example of natural law, because it shows how the social consciousness of humanity and the Church develops overtime to transcend utilitarian principals and cultural history to discern the proper and just relationships of society through natural law. In other words the equal status of all peoples which has not been historically believed frees natural law from certain biases by which slavery has been previously justified.

“I think that so-called "natural law" is much the same: it is a product of inductive reasoning. Staying with slavery as an example--a person sees a slave being abused and experiences a negative emotion. From there he goes on to the realization, "I would not like to be a slave." He then establishes his premise, "Therefore, slavery is wrong." Now he sets out to prove that premise inductively by playing rational word games. When he has arrived at the conclusion he was seeking from the outset, he abandons the reasoning process and begins his attempt to put into action that which began with his emotional reaction. The bottom line here is that the concept "slavery is wrong" is, fundamentally, a subjective one.”

The bottom line is the liberty is an objective value and therefore slavery objectively wrong. As individuals we must come through this realization through our inner subjectivity. And I have maintained that natural law very much depends on the practicality of the individuals social reflection. The link between slavery being objectively wrong to the objective value of liberty is whether or not the mind can practically reason that slavery negates the goodness of liberty of the person that is enslaved. This requires knowing something of the condition of the person enslaved. As I said before the practical reasoning of natural law needs human experience to reflect upon, and sometimes not only our own immediate human experience but the experience an entire culture, our history. This process can lead you to an objective stance if the process is based on an objective value that is not only good for one’s self but good for all selves. Even the positing of subjectivity to other people is done through a subjective judgment. It may be quite possible that we become aware of other people’s subjectivity on some level before our own. The conclusion that all humans are subjects is an objective judgment based in practical reason and human experience.

Rodak said...

Do you stand by this statement? I see another post and another interesting topic.

If you are asking me, do I stand by the statement that right and wrong are established by the will of God, yes.

Ryan Hallford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Civis said...

"Do you stand by this statement? I see another post and another interesting topic.' If you are asking me, do I stand by the statement that right and wrong are established by the will of God, yes."

And I am assuming--correct me if I am wrong--that you mean that this is the only way.

Ryan Hallford said...

I erased last comment and reposted because I didn’t properly cite.

I said: "If there is no natural law, there is no right or wrong other than the arbitrary whims of certain people.”

Rodak said: “This is true if "natural law" is identical to the revealed will of God, for this is what establishes moral right and wrong."

Just to be clear I was not trying to say natural law tells us everything and replaces divine revelation. Only that it is compatible with Christian faith and maybe even opens us up to God.

If there is no natural law, then “Lex malla, lex nulla” makes no sense. When Aquinas said this, he was working out of a natural law perspective. It would be a natural law reflection that determined whether or not a law was bad and should be abolished. But as I have hopefully demonstrated natural law, even as Aquinas taught, is not an exact science but requires a certain amount of concentrated practical reason upon human experience and human nature. If there are bad laws upheld by society then we must be able to show that they are bad through natural law reasoning or else our opinion is just arbitrary.

Of course this statement does not yet teach us to how we are to deal with bad laws. I don’t think we ought to conclude that Aquinas is promoting civil disobedience. The next question would be how should we treat bad laws and how ought we reasonably act in order to change the bad law. Even though a bad law is not binding on my conscience, the current social situation is and must be considered when discerning proper action.

Rodak said...

The fall from grace manifested itself in unequal relationships between the sexes and between groups of people.

One could make an excellent case that Eve was never Adam's equal from the git-go.

The Gospel and Christian message is not political propaganda but effects society through the effecting of individual souls calling for change through individuals.

Then may I assume that you are against the pro-life movement to the extent that it is political in nature? Or, at least, that you are willing to wait three or four thousand years, as in the case of slavery, for the issue to resolve itself through the necessary spiritual awakening?

To reproach the Church of the first ages with not having condemned slavery in principle, and with having tolerated it in fact, is to blame it for not having let loose a frightful revolution, in which, perhaps, all civilization would have perished with Roman society.”

So, intrinsically evil slavery was tolerated for purely utilitarian reasons? I see no reason, then, why abortion cannot, or should not, be tolerated for utilitarian reason, as well.

Under Roman civilization slaves were treated with a natural form of justice but did not have any civil rights as they were not Roman citizens.

Right. Tell that to the galley slaves who were chained to their oars and went down with the ship if it sank. Or tell it to the slaves in the salt mines. The above is an atrocious rationalization. Even if it is somewhat true of slavery within Christianity, it is most certainly not true of slavery in the Roman empire, across the board.

Therefore slavery is a good example of natural law, because it shows how the social consciousness of humanity and the Church develops overtime to transcend utilitarian principals and cultural history to discern the proper and just relationships of society through natural law.

It sure didn't happen that way in this country. It happened by fiat (the Emancipation Proclamation), by war (one of the bloodiest in history, up to that point), and then, finally, by the passage of statute law (the 13th Amendment). What followed that was another 100 years of Jim Crow laws, which again had to be abolished through blood-letting and political action, rather than through some alleged gradual awakening to natural law and the instrinsic value of the individual. Both the abolitionists and the slave-holders were Christians, of course, as were the practioners of Jim Crow and lynch-law.

The bottom line is the liberty is an objective value and therefore slavery objectively wrong.

No, it's not. Liberty always has to be seized by the individual. Human freedom has to be torn away from the established power structure based upon the subjective desire to be free. Liberty has never been granted as a gift by any earthly power. Most often, those desiring liberty for themselves do not see it as the right of others. That is made clear by the fact that the men who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were, by and large, slaveholders. They were also busy destroying the liberty of the native Americans as they pushed westward and to the south. Men see liberty as something THEY deserve; not necessarily as something YOU deserve. It isn't objective, at all.

Civis said...

Is my above (April 7, 2008 10:51 AM) assumption correct?

Rodak said...

And I am assuming--correct me if I am wrong--that you mean that this is the only way.

It's the only way that can't be challenged by persons professing the faith that states those rights and wrongs as the word of God.
Obviously, people of other faiths, or no faith at all, may challenge or ignore it.

Civis said...

Is that a "yes"?

Rodak said...

It isn't really a "yes" or "no" question.
I answered it as succinctly as I could.

Civis said...

It is a yes or no question. Is there any other way to arrive at knowledge of right and wrong besides revelation from God? If you think there is another way, your answer is "no" (i.e. my assumption is incorrect and I have misunderstood what you think). If you think there is no other way, your answer is "yes" (i.e. I have understood you correctly).

There either is or isn't another way.

You can be tough work man.

Rodak said...

The answer is that there is no other way. That said, however, various groups of people think that God made various kinds of commandments, and these don't always correspond one-to-one. Jews still think that pork is forbidden. Christians don't. Same God. Different rules.

Civis said...

Right. I gotcha. Just wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying. Nothing more.

Ryan Hallford said...

Rodak said: “One could make an excellent case that Eve was never Adam's equal from the git-go.”

You are right, people can use scripture to justify many things. Fortunately, I go to the Catholic Church for proper understanding of scripture and the teaching authority of the Church. See my third post on the dignity of women if you want to see my justification for the equality of the sexes and why I view the domination of women as a consequence of the fall http://parousians.blogspot.com/2008/03/dignity-of-women-look-at-mulieris_25.html.

I said: “The Gospel and Christian message is not political propaganda but effects society through the effecting of individual souls calling for change through individuals.”

Rodak said: “Then may I assume that you are against the pro-life movement to the extent that it is political in nature? Or, at least, that you are willing to wait three or four thousand years, as in the case of slavery, for the issue to resolve itself through the necessary spiritual awakening?”

I am for the pro-life movement, and I believe I can argue for the pro-life position on both religious and philosophical grounds. I am against the pro-life movement arguing against abortion solely on religious grounds where one must be religious in order to be against abortion. I recognize that the early Church was trying to reason through some consistencies and the Church is still trying to do so today. The principles have not changed, however our individual and collective understanding has deepened.

Jesus Christ did not confuse salvation with a political movement but he did come to save humanity. Christ challenges society in as much as he challenges the very heart of humanity through repentance, conversion, and love. I tend to be very cautious of liberation theology. The Gospel message must not be reduced to a social/ political message but it does have social implications to those who choose to be live the Christian precepts.

I am not waiting for spiritual or philosophical awakening to take action. That conclusion does not follow from anything I have argued. Our current understanding of natural law causes us to act now with the knowledge available to us. We are not weighed down with the faulty metaphysical biology of Aristotle and we have the advantage of the development of the social justice understanding of the Church. As a Catholic I approach scripture within the continuity of the church. Dogmas do not change but become better understood over time, likewise so does our understanding of human dignity and the natural law. Christ was much more concerned with someone’s spiritual well-being then his or her social class. He did preach against the dangers of being rich while trying to seek God. The comforts of worldly possessions and social classes often distract us from heavenly endeavors. We do not need to wait to act. We have already been spiritually awakened and our reason is still trying to catch up. It has taken the Church quite a few years to develop her social conscisousness to speak out directly against slavery. My point is that natural law can deem slavery as objectively wrong even if the early church never made this announcement. They did speak to the sacredness of the person and equality before God and spiritually among each other.

I quoted: "To reproach the Church of the first ages with not having condemned slavery in principle, and with having tolerated it in fact, is to blame it for not having let loose a frightful revolution, in which, perhaps, all civilization would have perished with Roman society.”

Rodak said: “So, intrinsically evil slavery was tolerated for purely utilitarian reasons? I see no reason, then, why abortion cannot, or should not, be tolerated for utilitarian reason, as well.”

I think a distinction needs to be made between different types of slavery. I am ill equipped to make the distinctions. The present argument on slavery and the early church came about referring to the slavery that existed in America and then turning to look at the slavery during the early church. However, the situations are not identical and I think they may not even be that similar. I did find an article that does a great job discussing this that I would like to submit as evidence supporting my position. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0006.html

Slavery should not be tolerated for purely utilitarian reasons. I’ve never claimed such and you conveniently only provided half the quote. The quote was to meant to give reference to what the early church did do in regards of slavery. The early church encouraged people no matter what their lot in life to be saints. The truth is that individuals and societies may struggle to discern the connectedness between human dignity and slavery. This does not make slavery good but a historical fact. Slavery was ingrained into the minds as a reality of life. The Old Testament is filled with stories God’s own people being delivered into captivity. Slavery was seen as a natural consequence of sin, and possibly an evil that many early Christians believed that would last until the end of ages. Christ did not deal with slavery directly, rather he exalted the dignity of every person by calling people to repent and love one another. Natural law can deal with slavery directly and does not have to rely of divine revelation to realize it is wrong. The reality is that Christ message and natural law correspond quite nicely.

As it was the early church did speak out against forms of slavery that denied certain intrinsic goods such as the right to marry, just wages, fair treatment, etc. They were at least on the right tract. The historical reality of slavery culturally ingrained into the minds of humans was very much an obstacle to seeing the connectedness of human dignity and slavery through practical reason. Christianity came and raised the status of all people saying all are equal in Christ. It was only a matter of time before slavery would have to be abolished when recognizing the goodness of human existence and the primary precepts. However, once this is recognized, people can no longer act in ignorance. The issue is whether the members of the early church and all of society at that time saw their reasons as purely utilitarian or if they were working in a faulty philosophical framework. The Christian ideal was definitely a departing from this framework, but it by no means infused a infallible understanding of morality among Christians. They still had to struggle to know right from wrong and to choose to do right just like everyone else.
Furthermore we cannot equate abortion and slavery. While slavery deals with the social ordering of people, abortion deals with the killing of innocent human life. And as I said before, something should not be tolerated solely for a utilitarian reason. I’m pretty sure I have consistently argued against a utilitarian ethics. The question is can we know and judge all the factors that went into the mindset of the early Christians by which we could reproach them as having the responsibility of knowing that slavery in all forms was wrong. Paul took the approach of calling both slaves and slave owners to holiness and a common brotherhood. More officially the early Church spoke about the need to respect certain goods of those enslaved who had the same dignity as the free. Certainly these actions form the context in which the Church will be able to judge slavery for what it is-a violation of the natural law.

I said: “Under Roman civilization slaves were treated with a natural form of justice but did not have any civil rights as they were not Roman citizens.”

Rodak said: “Right. Tell that to the galley slaves who were chained to their oars and went down with the ship if it sank. Or tell it to the slaves in the salt mines. The above is an atrocious rationalization. Even if it is somewhat true of slavery within Christianity, it is most certainly not true of slavery in the Roman empire, across the board.”

I agree there were abuses, and that slavery is wrong. I don’t think the Romans had it right. I was trying to say that they saw it as a natural form of justice, that does not mean they had it right. Within this natural form of justice it was also permissible for Roman fathers to kill their sons if they have not yet obtained citizenship. I am by no means claiming that the Romans were properly acting according to natural law in these instances. I think one of the problems is that many thinkers saw the slaves as necessary parts of the just ordering of society and this blinded them from realizing that the end does not justify the means. They rationalized enslaving a group of people allowed society to hypothetically function better.

I said: “Therefore slavery is a good example of natural law, because it shows how the social consciousness of humanity and the Church develops overtime to transcend utilitarian principals and cultural history to discern the proper and just relationships of society through natural law.”
Rodak said: “It sure didn't happen that way in this country. It happened by fiat (the Emancipation Proclamation), by war (one of the bloodiest in history, up to that point), and then, finally, by the passage of statute law (the 13th Amendment). What followed that was another 100 years of Jim Crow laws, which again had to be abolished through blood-letting and political action, rather than through some alleged gradual awakening to natural law and the instrinsic value of the individual. Both the abolitionists and the slave-holders were Christians, of course, as were the practioners of Jim Crow and lynch-law.”

I have my own intuitions of why the slavery in America developed autonomous from the social consciousness of the Catholic Church. One thing would be America severing ties with Europe and Protestants severing ties with the Catholic Church. The intellectual ideas of the Enlightenment crossed the ocean, but the primarily protestant nation was not very concerned with how the magisteriam of the Catholic Church believed slaves ought to be treated. Many slave owners took an attitude of superiority to those enslaved, and manual labor was not respected as much as it was during the Roman Empire. There definitely was not any notion of a common brotherhood among slave and master. And as for many slave holders being Christian, it does not follow that your religious affiliation makes you good or holy. Sadly there were many dissenting Catholics and clergy in America calling for changes in the Churches moral teaching over slavery and claiming that the Church’s teaching on slavery didn’t apply in America.

I said: “The bottom line is the liberty is an objective value and therefore slavery objectively wrong.”

Rodak said: “No, it's not. Liberty always has to be seized by the individual. Human freedom has to be torn away from the established power structure based upon the subjective desire to be free. Liberty has never been granted as a gift by any earthly power. Most often, those desiring liberty for themselves do not see it as the right of others. That is made clear by the fact that the men who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were, by and large, slaveholders. They were also busy destroying the liberty of the native Americans as they pushed westward and to the south. Men see liberty as something THEY deserve; not necessarily as something YOU deserve. It isn't objective, at all.”

The reason why liberty has to be seized by the individual is because it is intrinsic to human existence. The nature of being rational creature allows us the facility of differentiating options and choosing between them. It may be seized by the individual and expressed itself as a subjective desire, but all objective values will be expressed subjectively. Also one does not need to see the interconnectedness between the objective value they are expressing and the action in which they are participating. Your argument does not show that freedom is not an objective value based in the dignity and equality of all human beings. The fact that Americans were practicing slavery and destroying the liberty of the native Americans demonstrates that they were inconsistent. They surely thought liberty was in common among those in their group. I am pretty sure I addressed the reality of exclusive ethics by which people recognize natural goods but out of a will to power do not extend access to those goods to everyone.

I think it is significant that the morality taught by religion upholds the natural goods of human existence. Or rather, I think that it must be said that any true religion ought to uphold the natural goods of human existence. Our understanding of natural law and our consistency in its application depends upon our social reflection and practical reason. It does not give us a clear imperative, but it can guide us if we are open.

The fact is that you have moral notions that are not supported by scripture. The reality that scripture never condemns slavery has more hazardous effects to your system of morality than mine. I can say slavery is wrong regardless if it is condemned explicitly by scripture. You have admitted that morality must be divinely revealed by God, I’m guessing through scripture unless you have visions. Therefore, the lack of condemnation of slavery in scripture means that you have to go elsewhere to condemn slavery. Could it be primordial understanding of natural law, an instinct that the dignity of other people should not be trespassed in this kind of way?

Rodak said...

Could it be primordial understanding of natural law, an instinct that the dignity of other people should not be trespassed in this kind of way?

I didn't say that revealed (i.e. scriptural) truth was the only path to moral behavior. What I said was that it was the only sure path to moral knowledge within any given faith tradition.