Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology a Neo-Chalcedonian Cosmotheandrism


The Vestigia, Imagines & Similitudines Dei per Universalism & Apokatastasis

Human reality fully transcends the teleo-potent, -matic, -nomic, -qualic as teleo-logic

beyond the essential, dynamical human being/becoming (acting per existential, material & final human potencies), as vestigia Dei (autopoietic, but as more determined, less indetermined)

w/a distinctively human abduction as it transcends abductive instinct w/abductive inference, fostering a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, aesthetically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among divine teloi & logoi w/an enlightened self-interest (erotically & proto-ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, imperfect contrition, etc, of human persons as imagines Dei … every distinctively personal act constitutes a volitional disposition re both what to freely will (among divine logoi) and whether to (freely) will at all (i.e. choosing not just instinctively but inferentially), so as less determined, more indetermined

next (at age of reason) realizing a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, ethically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among even more divine teloi & logoi by transcending self-interests (agapically & ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, perfect contrition, etc, of a person becoming (virtuous and/or vicious 2nd natures), thereby with a more expansive aesthetic scope, too, as similitudines Dei, as much more indetermined

Considerations of human volition, a freely willing human, must avoid absolute notions of in/determinism, for the personal freedom of humans presents only in terms of degrees, whereby we are free-enough to truly enjoy meaningful (good-enough, beautiful-enough, dayenu) value-realizations.

It seems to me that human persons are determined enough so as to be radically unable to thwart the divine logoi ordered toward our personal being (essential nature as imagines Dei) but are indetermined enough so as to be radically able to thwart those divine logoi ordered toward our personal becoming (secondary nature as similitudines Dei).

All other conceptions of human freedom are facile & simplistic, and fall prey to tautological nonsense and analytical paradox, anthropologically, either indeterministically reducing to all sorts of ridiculous voluntarisms & libertarianisms or deterministically yielding silly intellectualisms & compatibilisms.

Neither Thomist nor Scotist nor Molinist theological anthropologies, properly approached, fall prey to such anthropological nonsense, essentially, because their explicit/implicit “theories of everything” embrace a priniciple of “sufficient” reason, which is neither the idealist monist PSR of Spinoza, which reduces to pantheism, nor a materialist monist PSR, which reduces to nihilism. There are various physicalist & naturalist approaches that vary in their interpretations of necessity & in/determinacy, but they go beyond the heuristic of a suitably nuanced Aristotelian hylemorphism to prove too much, in my view.

How one conceives human freedom vis a vis ultimate realities will always boil down to one’s stipulations re mereological (whole-part conception), metaphysical (root metaphor) and teleological (PSR version) primal realities.

Below are some reflections evoked by:

Despairing into Gehenna: Manis, Kierkegaard, and the Choice Model

One upshot of divine simplicity [DDS] and actus purus, when understood in terms of apophatic negation, would be that one way determinate being differs from divine being is that the former can act only in relationship to limited potencies.

The human being, constitutively, enjoys a freedom that phylogenetically (in its evolutionary lineage) presented with the emergence of symbolic language. Prior to the age of reason, where new freedoms (moral & spiritual) will emerge, ontogenetically (in its individual development), a human child already enjoys a freedom of choosing among equally optimal self-interested choices with a behavioral plasticity that differs – not only quantitatively, but – qualitatively from other primates.

Specifically, as a child matures, its (aesthetic) scope of self-interested choices is not limited to mere abductive instincts, which many animals exhibit, but is expanded by abductive inference, an if-then calculus driven by an early imagination that’s growing exponentially. This exponential expansion of behavioral plasticity precisely results from an unmooring of the nonarbitrary range of instinctive responses by the child’s growing repertoire of arbitrary symbol conventions.

I emphasize this constitutive freedom of choosing among equally optimal goods per a young human’s first order desires (what they want) to note its relationship to human eros, what St Bernard distinguished in terms of love of self for sake of self and love of God and/or others for sake of self. From this eros, young (and old) humans experience imperfect contrition, i.e. expressing sorrow due to our just punishment and growing in enlightened self-interest (choosing being over nonbeing). I mention this in the context of reminding all that such an imperfect contrition is all that’s ever been required “to be saved” and to observe that I was taught that it would be heretical to suggest otherwise.

Thus, it seems to me that, soteriologically, human beings are intrinsically constituted by all that’s both necessary and sufficient to be saved?

Furthermore, this elemental human freedom possesses a distinct proto-moral and proto-spiritual character, which means that it can potentially progress beyond its constitutive & soteriological essential nature to realize a more robustly elective & sophiological secondary nature, which might determine – not its eschatological destiny, but – its beatitudinal scope. By that, I mean to suggest that it could progress in Bernardian love, beyond the erotic to the agapic, i.e. love of God & others for their own sake, thus expanding its original frontier of equally optimal choices (what some would call a Pareto front), thus enjoying an expanded aesthetic scope of choosing among even more goods, albeit always acting within limited potencies.

Thus we can parse human freedom, constitutively & electively, soteriologically and sophiologically, erotically & agapically, in terms of aesthetic scope expansion, moral progress & growth in intimacy (theosis).

Thus we can distinguish between 1) willing among equally optimal goods, aesthetically; 2) whether we will or not, morally & spiritually; and 3) what we will. Our “willing among” goods and volitional option “between” willing or not (choosing between being & nonbeing, good & evil) refer to human freedoms. “What we will” has been determined by divine logoi, teloi, intentionale, etc.

Coming full circle to the DDS & Actus Purus, might this portrait of the imago Dei not illuminate our understanding of divine being? If we properly distinguish between the divine nature and will, esse naturale and intentionale, might we not glimpse a thin divine passibility, where the divine will chooses – never between good and evil, being and nonbeing, but – along an eternal Pareto front of equally optimal “best” worlds, no such choices entailing either improvements or impairments of an ever-perfect divine nature’s aesthetic intensity but only “affecting” a divine aesthetic scope? Would this not account, exegetically & Christologically, for the distinction between Jesus’ natural will and the Father’s will as He prayed for the passing of that particular Cup? Would this not account for human second order desires, theotically, for example, such as when we grow with holy indifference in Ignatian degrees of humility, from image to likeness, praying for our transformation even in “what we want to want”? That’s to say – not only regarding second order desires pertaining to our choosing “between” being and nonbeing, but – our longing to please others and God in our choosing “among” equally optimal goods in holy submission to wills not our own?

Of course, we differ from Jesus in that our natural wills have a gnomic character due to our temporal epistemic distancing, which may even perdure in some manner post-mortem for some duration. If my apokatastatic intuitions are correct, our gnomic willing affects and effects – not soteriological realities of our essential natures vis a vis the imago Dei, but – our sophiological trajectories as we grow our secondary natures in intimacy and beatitude.

These implications of my universalism thus turn on this distinction:

A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. ~ Lossky

This implicates another distinction – that between our essential & secondary natures. Human freedom determines only WHETHER one chooses to will at all & not WHAT one wills (in participating with divine logoi), incrementally forming a virtuous or vicious secondary nature or various degrees of both.

Vicious choices are privative of being, hence eternally self-annihilating as God honors human freedom. This is to suggest that, whatever reality they exhibit temporally, will not perdure eternally (much less be eternalized instantaneously & proleptically like our virtuous acts).

Virtuous natures are eternalized, both proleptically (i.e. harvested, instantaneously, is every trace of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities) & eschatologically, by virtue of necessarily being joined to divine intentionale.

Even if, hypothetically, a given person’s eternal being was, in the end, constituted only by their essential nature as an imago Dei, having developed no virtuous secondary nature whatsoever (even after all epistemic distancing has been closed, whether temporally or even post-mortem), there can be no talk of self-annihilation for an imago Dei’s not self-determined (cf Lossky’s one will). Neither would God’s perfect will annihilate such an imago Dei, for that would amount to a divine self-contradiction.

What’s at stake, then, would be the nature of one’s eternal beatitude, perhaps in terms of aesthetic scope, which would be self-determinedly wider for one who’s developed a virtuous secondary nature.

Dogmatic Presuppositions of my theological anthropology

In a way, the answers — to such questions as

1) “libertarianism or compatibilism?”

2) “intellectualism or voluntarism?” and

3) “will or intellect or character?” — aren’t even wrong (regarding either divine or human natures).

For human persons, this is because there are 3 indispensable acts, limited by potentialities, involved in every human choice. These include

1) existence in potency to being,

2) efficient to material (will) and

3) formal to final (intellect), each necessary, none alone sufficient. Of course, this part wouldn’t apply to Actus Purus.

Character (habitus) stands halfway between those acts and potentialities, like iron forged into

1) leg braces, facilitating and/or

2) a bear trap, crippling the potentialities,

although in the latter case, never able (either temporally or eschatologically) to kill them, as they’re, in principle, inherently realizable (both temporally and eternally).

God does not punish habits, only acts, ergo, God allows misery only as a punishment for acts.

Why Suffering in God’s Presence doesn’t make sense to me

I am grateful for these conversations. They make me scratch my head and help me process my muddled thoughts. If anyone catches my drift, that’s a blessing for me. If anyone challenges me to be more artful in expression, that helps me, too. Most of all, any challenges to the substance of my views has, eventually, brought me closer to the truth and our God. In that spirit, then:

Even once casting aside the classical libertarianism & compatibilism framings as nonsensical category errors (what I mean by saying such “answers aren’t even wrong” but are gibberishtic anthropological caricatures), I have strived, awkwardly, to more intuitively grasp how to avoid the notion that a human person’s eternal destiny isn’t wholly determined.

In other words, while it may be logically valid and internally consistent to argue, analytically, that humans are created as “freely willing the Godly-determined” by using definitions of freedom that, to many, sound paradoxical (but make perfect sense! In terms of virtu-osity!), I still want more than a syllogism.

I want a story in which I can participate, holistically and imaginatively. Good news? From the online lectures (youtube) of DBH, one can tell that he will be gifting nourishment for both head & heart in _That All May Be Saved_.

Still –

If the will is located in efficient causation, free in the sense of WHETHER one chooses to will at all, and also in the sense of choosing AMONG goods, that, in my view, offers an eminently satisfying account of freedom, not just cognitively but emotionally. In these senses, persons are manifestly self-determined, created as freely willing.

There is another sense of freedom, which imagines a person’s capacity to choose WHAT is good, in other words to self-determine and to define and to appropriate being & goodness as they imagine same. In this sense, then, some view freedom in terms of choosing BETWEEN good & evil (apparent good), being & nonbeing (apparent being), virtue & vice. This view falls into incoherence because WHAT is good and constitutes being has indeed already been wholly determined by God and we are not free to determine or define same.

What about the “freedom” to choose otherwise, though, to opt for evil or nonbeing? That’s nonsensical on the grounds that evil or nonbeing, as privation, doesn’t successfully refer, ontologically. That definition of freedom lacks an ontic reference and entails an epistemic error, propositionally.

Nevertheless, dispositionally, our choices can, indeed, be culpable & such habits, clearly, vicious.

Under the true definition of freedom, to refrain from choosing among goods when acting, i.e. giving no “consideration” to what God has determined, is intuitively recognized by most as “inconsiderate” behavior. While such can be just a plain mistake rooted in finitude, it can also be culpable (sinful refusal). Such a willful and culpable blindness, in my view, constitutes a self-determined behavior, “freely” chosen in the “whether & among sense” even though not the “what & between” sense. And it can habitually accrete into a vicious nature. I just believe that God honors such free choices through eternal annihilation, which we can self-determine vis a vis our “second nature” or acquired dispositions.

And I doubt anyone wholly lacks some measure of a virtuous nature, which will indeed be eternalized.

Even a person’s essential imago Dei — if largely bereft of any significant growth (2nd nature) from that particular image to likeness, if primarily wholly determined, if self-determined to the most meager degree conceivable and if not even discernibly responsive to some post-mortem epistemic-closure & beatific illumination — would not experience the Presence in misery, precisely because God has wholly determined otherwise. In God’s governance, punishment ensues only from sin (moral choices).

1) Because our moral nature emerges as a second nature from our essential nature, and
2) because, eschatologically, there are no longer moral acts, and
3) because acts not natures are punished under any circumstances,
no such misery can be experienced.

However one approaches the reality of innocent suffering in a cosmos fallen into dis-order by sin, temporally, such a disorder will, by definition, be eschatologically repaired.

voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism – Oh my!

Any proper transcendence of the category errors of voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism won’t entail a dissolution of in/determinacies.

What we can will (among) has been determined, while whether we will at all has not, the former as formal acts in limited potency to final causes, the latter as efficient acts in potency to material. Halfway between such acts & potency, habitus presents as virtuous & vicious 2nd natures, able to facilitate or cripple, but never to kill, potentialities.

This is why Thomas Talbott can say: Personally, I seriously doubt that God causally determines every event that occurs, whether it be the change of state of a radium atom, a dog’s leaping this way rather than that while romping in the yard, or the free choice of an independent rational agent.

Why should such an irrational choice, even if not causally determined, be any more compatible with genuine moral freedom than a rigorous determinism would be? ~ Talbott

In our temporal affairs, we routinely impute guilt to those deemed willfully blind. In criminal law, we employ such terms as willful neglect, reasonable diligence, reckless indifference, knew or should have known, should reasonably have known, etc In our quotidian affairs we refer to willful blindness or ignorance and self-deception. Moral theologians distinguish in/vincible ignorance and nescience, more crass when deliberate than affected, blameworthy in either case, more gravely wrong for serious matters.

That all such behavior is irrational to various degrees, nevertheless, it retains its inculpating character. That’s why so many irrational choices, even if not causally determined, are universally deemed more compatible with genuine moral freedom than any rigorous determinism.

My rule of thumb in theological anthropology is to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person. Therefore, tautologically concluding that all irrational behavior is, in principle, exculpating, does not sufficiently square with our ordinary moral intuitions. Our universalist apologetics, then, best appeal to infinite mercy & forgiveness rather than argue for a counterintuitive analytic, syllogistic innocence. Having deftly avoided the shoals of voluntarism, we must similarly steer clear of intellectualistic appeals, which ignore the vicious habitus that can impede the efficient cause of the will in realizing its potentialities.

Whether a vicious nature stands halfway between the acts & potentialities of the will or intellect, still, it can in no way, temporally or eternally, extinguish them, as they remain inherently realizable.

Pastor Tom Belt has persuasively argued a Maximian irrevocability thesis: “Hart’s view is an argument for the impossibility of the will foreclosing upon all possibility of Godward becoming. Such foreclosure would be teleological foreclosure.”

Again, invoking my rule of thumb in theological anthropology – to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person – Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis squares better with our human experience than the overly speculative account of any putative irreversibility theses vis a vis avoiding such conceptual discontinuities between now & the eschaton as would render our anthropology unintelligible.

Now, if I may presume to paraphrase Talbott: Add to Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis the condition of minimal rationality and it seems impossible that anyone rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent would freely embrace an objective horror forever.

That’s as close as one can come to splitting the difference between a hopeful, practical universalism & an affirmation of a robustly theoretic universalism.

It seems to me that it’s quite possible a our viscious 2nd natures may not transist into the eschaton, especially if considered as privations of becoming. They may well thus be annihilated as God honors one’s choice for a self-determined non-becoming (refraining from growth in likeness). There can otherwise be no annihilation, in principle, for an imago Dei, as no one can freely self-determine non-being for an intrinsically good & absolutely valuable creation. The imago Dei plus any inklings of our virtuous 2nd natures (no one has none, whatsoever?) are eternalized, as God honors our self-determined choices for becoming (theotic realizations of divine & creaturely wills together).


Calvin, Luther, Aquinas & Scotus

The Antecedent and Consequent Will of God: Is This a Valid and Useful Distinction? by Andrew Hussman

Perhaps St. Anselm was on the right track when he classified the scriptural concepts under discussion here not as antecedens et consequens, but as misericordiae et iustitiae. This comes close to another distinction of God’s will, legalis et evangelicus. Law and gospel are found on every page of Scripture.

The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation edited by Paul M. Blowers, Peter W Martens

Bonaventure & Scotus on 1 Timothy 2:4


Gloria Frost: When the passages in which Aquinas and Scotus explicitly discuss the origin of contingency in creation are read in context with attention to the kind of contingency each is discussing, similarities between their views can be identified and the objections raised against their respective views can be solved.

In sum, for Aquinas the proximate reason for why an effect is contingently caused is the fact that it was produced by a contingently operating secondary cause. The ultimate reason, however, for why the effect was contingently caused is the efficacy of God’s will which willed for the effect to come about through a contingent mode of causation and thus, willed a contingent cause for it. Regarding the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all created effects, Aquinas says that the proximate reason for why every created effect is contingently existing is the fact that God freely causes every created effect.

In sum, when Scotus identified God’s contingent mode of causation as the source of the contingency of creatures, he was referring to the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all creatures. Like Aquinas, he thought that the capacity of the divine will to cause creatures contingently was founded on the fact that the divine will only necessarily wills the divine goodness, which is complete and self-sufficient.

Similarly, Scotus would have agreed with Aquinas’s position that effects are contingently caused by their proximate causes because of the efficacy of the divine will which chooses which kind of causes exist in creation.

Scotus, however, thinks that although the effects produced by God alone and those produced by both God and contingently operating secondary causes both follow from contingently operating proximate causes, they are fundamentally different in their modal features. The former effects have a single potency for non-existence, while the latter have double possibility for nonexistence. Thus, in Scotus’s view contingently operating secondary causes are a necessary condition for God to introduce into creation a secondary contingency, which adds an additional layer of indeterminacy to the contingent mode of existence which all creatures enjoy.

Scotus’s point is that God necessarily wills only those things that are necessary for what God loves in himself (i.e. his goodness). Thus, no creature is willed necessarily, since what is lovable in God does not require any creature for its existence. Like Aquinas, Scotus thought that God’s freedom not to create stemmed from the self-sufficiency and completeness of what is good, and therefore lovable, in God himself. If God’s contingent mode of causation with respect to creatures is traced to the self-sufficiency of the divine goodness, then the contingent mode of existence that belongs to creatures will similarly have this as its ultimate foundation.

Aquinas and Scotus on the Source of Contingency, Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, 2014 by Gloria Frost

At Academia: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

At Scribd: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

More Eschatological Anthropology

I resonate with certain central elements of Dr Manis’ approach, e.g. that in *some* sense the divine will can be thwarted, that annihilation is incompatible with divine presence & that creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion.

I also resonate with Fr Aidan’s recognition that no metaphysical necessity’s imposed on God. It is from both general & special revelations that we have been gifted with some knowledge of the logic that onto-logically inheres and theo-logically coheres in the divine’s relationship with determinate realities. That relationship, of course, has ensued from – not metaphysical necessity, but – a self-determinate, divine kenosis.

Our knowledge of same, at the same time, remains fallible & inchoate. Regarding the problem of evil, for example, I reject (even recoil from) theodicies re the *evidential* problem, instead opting for Job 38 (where were you???!!!), but I do embrace a divine presence solution to the *existential* problem, i.e. (Be not afraid! I AM with you!).

More directly bearing on this discussion, though, I personally experience much consolation from many of the defenses to the *logical* problem of evil, ranging across the theological spectrum (from classical to process approaches).

To be fully coherent, then, it seems we must aspire to pull together a solution that satisfies the problem of evil in a way that’s — not only *logically* consistent (and even the best atheistic philosophers now concede that accomplishment, which is why they focus on *evidential* theodicies), but — *existentially* satisfying.

Such a solution, then, must be neither evidentially pretentious (re: why God allowed this particular evil) nor soteriologically presumptuous (re: why God must do this) in addressing divine reality (e.g. suggesting definite metaphysical and/or moral divine necessities).

Thus it is that the more nuanced universalist stances will, in my view, aspire to reconcile the best classical defenses with the best existential intuitions, the latter grown — not propositionally from logical argumentations, but — dispositionally from theotic participations.

Beyond the arguments of Athens & energies of Athos, those participations will also include such quotidian realities as, for a prime example, the raising of children.

There is, then, in all authentic human loving, a trans-rational apophaticism, which, beyond all proposals of speculative affirmations & negations, disposes one via a movement of the will (e.g. including a will graced with a virtuous habitus)? Such a movement of the will, whether of parental, spousal or other communal loves, pretty much inevitably & in principle, will come up short in what it can articulate via its co-causal movement of the intellect, which falters in its effablings regarding life’s truly ineffable experiences.

It is from my experience as a parent & grandparent, then, coupled with my gratuitously gifted formation & sacramental participation in a healing, reconciling & loving community of faith, that I want to proclaim “THAT all may be saved,” even as I struggle to give a metaphysical or theological account of *why* or *how*.

Yet, I’m here to learn how to better defend that hope, which is indeed within me, that I and others might move more swiftly, with less hindrance & greater consolation on our temporal journeys into eternity.

Another of my feeble efforts to defend my hope follows, but I am more sure regarding why Fr Aidan’s and others’ intuitions truly matter, much less sure that I can convey my own in a sufficiently artful & accessible manner.

I use a lot of question marks, below, not to solicit answers but to indicate my own intellectual tentativeness. My hope is firm but my expression falters.

While I find it problematic to conceive how there could ever be a definitive teleological foreclosure (cf. Pastor Tom Belt), neither would I want to deny the necessity of a creaturely freedom to refrain from willing. Further, properly understood, both the Thomistic and Scotistic anthropologies, in my view, suitably avoid the libertarian, compatibilist, voluntarist & intellectualist incoherencies. Human acts can indeed, at the same time, be irrational & culpable or impassioned & culpable, because the reality of human freedom presents in degrees.

Admittedly, we find it hard to define & difficult to discern exactly how and precisely when such thresholds get crossed in terms of degrees of both affectivity & rationality as they impinge on various degrees of culpability.

Still, if we deny our common sense & sensibilities regarding our experiences of human freedom, whether temporally or eschatologically, we risk abandoning what little intelligibility we enjoy regarding same. We inescapably must rely on that same intelligibility that we must employ in our daily approach to the realities of our dynamical human transformation (including moral conversion, spiritual formation & theosis).

Therefore, what?

While creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion, what if, like freedom, the reality of communion also presents in degrees?

Is there not a modicum of communion, even in that imago Dei, who’s not crossed the threshold into the human moral life, whether due to age, illnesses or deformative dynamics? Or, who enjoys little in the way of theotic participation in the human spiritual life, i.e. little or no growing in likeness? Or, who’s even culpably developed a vicious second nature, but undeniably remains divinely indwelled and teleologically oriented, eternally & inherently?

What *is* a vicious nature but a habit of refraining from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not *be-ing* per se, but — one’s *be-coming*? To refrain, that is, from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not one’s essential nature or very existence, but — one’s growing from image to likeness?

What if one could only self-determinedly choose — not to be or not to be, but — to become or not become?

What if, in the same way we mustn’t ontologize evil, perhaps, neither should we reify the concept of a vicious nature, which habitually chooses non-becoming?

What if we should otherwise also, in part, conceive of such an imago Dei in terms of what it has freely & definitively determined not to *become*, even though it would & must, nevertheless, thus persist in *being* for all eternity? Even that putatively definitive determination *not to become*, though, should be approaching the threshold of a practical inconceivability, at least for those of us who couple Belt’s irrevocability thesis with Talbott’s virtual impossibility thesis (my description of the latter)?

Even stipulating to such an eschatological anthropology, as would remain an essentially hopeful — not a theoretically necessary — universalism, there remains a question regarding how such an imago Dei, bereft of any robustly moral & spiritual becoming, might subjectively experience the Eschaton.

To what extent might its experience be tortuous, whether formatively, restoratively or retributively?

In my view, once determinate reality has been made whole, cosmically reconciled, in principle, creatures would not be susceptible to existential deprivations or depredations. An imago Dei, not grown into divine likeness beyond its irrevocable, essential nature, might, rather quietistically, enjoy a minimalist reverie of aesthetic scope, while others enjoy, in various degrees, more expansive scopes (as I’ve discussed elsewhere), continuing to exercise their freedom in an eternal fugue of choosing among divine goods.

So, perhaps, authentic freedom entails relational, just not existential, self-determination?
Perhaps one’s self-determined choice to refrain from becoming could, in principle, be exercised irrevocably & eternally, hence never definitively?

Perhaps such a choosing might best be conceived in terms similar to that of a sacred, precious imago Dei, as one who, prior to the age of reason, possesses the same absolute, intrinsic value as that shared by all innocent children?

Perhaps such a self-determined refraining (including post-mortem, even after all epistemic closures), eschatologically, no longer could involve a culpable refraining from the consideration or not of goods in one’s acts, in principle, since any such neediness as would have motivated such acts, temporally, will have been obviated, eschatologically, by the cosmic reconciliation?

In other words, such an eschatological reordering would be metaphysically incompatible with such deprivations & depredations as would’ve formerly been compatible with the old temporal, lapsarian dis-order?

Eschatological freedom would thus entail only whether one wills to will at all, i.e. one’s *choosing* or not (in & of itself) among eternal goods & becomings, as well as any choosing *among* such potentialities (that array of divinely determined goods & becomings)? It could not otherwise involve a choosing *between* divinely determined goods and reified evils (by disordered appetites or inordinate attachments), which would be ontologically nonsensical. Nor could it involve refraining from a choice from/for non/being, which has never been an existential prerogative of the imago Dei over against the divine will, anyway.

Eternal annihilation of any imago Dei remains off the table as conceptually incompatible with its essential nature and theologically incoherent, as it would constitute a reversal of the eternal divine intentionale?

I believe, therefore, that God honors the freedom of human persons by eternalizing all self-determined acts of human becoming (as synergetic divine participations) and by refraining from any eternalizations of our non-participatory acts (such as we refer to in terms of vicious 2nd natures) i.e. our choices “not to become.” As such, our virtuous 2nd natures transition into eternity along with our essential natures, while our vicious 2nd natures will self-determinedly perish (a virtual self-annihilation), which certainly remains, to an extent, and in *some* way, a lamentable thwarting of the divine will. What it would not amount to is an unmitigated loss. Such choices would (self-punitively & consequently) cost one tremendous but nonessential opportunities, but, in the end, no loss of an original & essential goodness. Such choices would amount to a gratuitous superabundance foregone, but with no loss of an abundant life redeemed, that’s to say, reoriented, saved, healed, sanctified & empowered, as a new creation.

Our participatory imaginations gift us, integrally & relationally, unity, beauty, goodness, freedom & truth, forming our dispositions (senses & sensibilities) toward various ways of belonging, desiring, behaving, transcending & believing, as expressed in our attitudes regarding & personal commitments to others, the cosmos, God & even our own selves, as told & retold in our stories.

One, who’s thus properly disposed & committed, can then imaginatively engage others thru inspired storytelling, thereby, in turn, fostering others’ healthy participations, dispositions & commitments.

Such storytelling may, more or less, lend itself to a more rigorous cognitive map-making, foundationally, which is to say, historically, exegetically, scientifically, philosophically & metaphysically. Theologically, such foundations can then systematically underwrite our ecclesiologies, soteriologies, sacramentologies, sophiologies & eschatologies.

There are countless pastors, homilists & spiritual directors from diverse faith traditions, who’ve articulated robustly pneumatological ecclesiologies, radically inclusive soteriologies, profusely incarnational sacramentologies, remarkably polydoxic sophiologies & universally efficacious eschatologies – as awakened & enlivened by human solidarity & compassion & retold in personal stories, thus implicitly grounded in their collective participatory imaginations.

Some are better than others, when it comes to explicitly mapping such dispositions, systematically & foundationally. Make no mistake, though, it can be done, especially, it seems to me, by those who recognize certain resonances between Franciscan, Scotist sensibilities & Eastern Orthodox sophiological approaches.

For example, however harshly one might wish to critique certain of Fr Richard Rohr’s explicit foundational apologetics, far more importantly & deserving of way more emphasis, implicit in the collective oeuvre of his lifetime’s ministry, is precisely such an ecclesiology, soteriology, sacramentology, sophiology & eschatology that I would to defend in my Retreblement: A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology.

This is to suggest that one shouldn’t ever miss the concrete, dispositional, participatory theophanic, theopoetic, theopoietic & theotic forests for the abstract, propositional, cognitive theological, metaphysical trees. As it is, robustly metaphysical descriptions & rigorous theological formulations necessarily elude us, in principle, while vaguely semantical references & broad heuristical contours guide us, in practice.

Following Ignatius, we must charitably presuppose the most orthodox interpretations of our theological interlocutors, not reflexively & habitually construing ambiguities & inadequate or inartful expressions against them.

Integrally, Fr. Rohr’s robustly pneumatological ecclesiology, radically inclusive soteriology, profusely incarnational sacramentology, remarkably polydoxic sophiology & universally efficacious eschatology are grounded in his Franciscan (common) sensibilities, Scotistic meta-heuristic (common) sensicalities & Eastern sympathies, both Orthodoxy’s sophiological tradition as well as the Orient’s nondual traditions. All of these presuppose, then, certain outlooks, theologically (i.e. paterological, Christological, pneumatological & Trinitological approaches) and anthropologically (as, continuous with all vestigia Dei & uniquely as imagines Dei, theotic intimacization invites each person to progress via similitudo Dei).

To wit:

A. implicatory trinitarian theology (of divine esse naturale):

  • 1) interpersonal propria
  • 2) intimate idiomata
  • 3) invitatory (ad intra ur-kenosis) relata

B. intertwined temporal missions of creation, conservation & consummation (mutually entailing acts of ad extra kenosis) via tri-personal presences (multi-form unitive revelations, i.e. mutual intimaci-zations not mani-fold encounters of separate exemplifications), where

C. inseparable “opera ad extra” are tri-personal while also especially revealing of particular exemplifications via their “proper roles” where the

D. immensity of the divine universal presence, which is variously im/mediate, in/visible & intense, the effects of which are tri-personally operative as well as personally appropriated in the theophanic operations of our creaturely “exitus” or production from God in divine creation, i.e. trinitologically & anthropologically … or as an

E. intensity of the particular divine presence via hypostatic extensions, the effects of which are – not only tri-personally operative & personally appropriated, but – personally “proper,” i.e. united to a given divine exemplification, in the theotic missions of our creaturely “reditus” or return to God in divine consummation, i.e. sophiologically & eschatologically … with the

F. immediacy (Emmanuel, God is with us!) of the divine mercy & urgency of its prompt succor, bringing about manifold & multiform proleptic creaturely realizations of the divine telos, as it’s entailed in these theotic missions. Such realizations anticipate & guarantee the divine missions’ universal efficacy, ecclesiologically & sacramentally, thereby effecting – in this eternal now – our creaturely salvation, redemption & reconciliation by God through divine conservation, i.e soteriologically.

G. implicated theological anthropology (of divine esse intentionale):

  • 1) indwelling vestigia
  • 2) imaginal uniqueness (essential nature of imago Dei)
  • 3) intentional & incremental theosis (dynamical & progressive intimaci-zation of secondary nature of kenotic similitudo Dei)

tags: interreligious dialogue, polydoxy, panentheism, pansemioentheism, retreblement, john sobert sylvest, richard rohr, universal christ, pneumatological missiology, apocatastasis, apokatastasis, david bentley hart, russian sophiology, joseph bracken, divine matrix, norris clarke, personalist thomism, charles sanders peirce, donald gelpi s.j., amos yong, palamas, duns scotus, logical problem of the trinity, richard rohr, michael morrell, perichoresis, universalism, universal salvation, free will, libertarian free will, cappadocians

The Most Common Deficiencies in Moral Philosophy & Theology -especially when applied to Politics

These are notes for a preliminary draft that will address some of the most common & egregious deficiencies that persist in moral philosophy, as often demonstrated by common folk & so-called experts alike.

1) Methodologically, the same old sterile scholasticism remains stuck in a nonvirtuous cycle of abductive moral hypothesizing & deductive moral clarifying, employing too many physicalistic, biologistic terms. This natural law approach needs to be complemented (its inferential cycling completed) by the inductive testing of a more robustly personalist approach. While some have made a personalist turn, eg JPII & New Natural Law school, they remain a prioristic, hence rather arbitrary, not having made a more robustly inductive turn. It is one thing to take one’s old natural law arguments and translate them into a personalist idiom, quite another to actually adopt an inductive, personalist method, which actually inquires into the putative value-realizations & value-frustrations it suggests will present in the concrete circumstances of person’s lives.

2) Too many reflexively charge differently minded others with moral relativism, nihilism, emotivism, voluntarism, vulgar pragmatism & a host of other philosophical pejoratives, as if a defensible ethical pluralism might not otherwise be grounded in the epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism of our quotidian human common sense & sensibilities.

3) re: moral probabilism, too few draw a suitable distinction between empirical & theoretic doubts, between “is that?” & “what is?”

4) too few avoid category errors & logical missteps in navigating a hierarchy of truths & values along w/principles of cooperation & double effect, for example, re: act of voting, too much discourse moves too quickly from a ranking of causes to a double effect calculus, skipping or giving short shrift to a critical principle of cooperation analysis, which is to say that, as they proceed, for example, with a political cause ranking through a cooperation calculus (principle of cooperation) to calculate the effects (principle of double effect) of a vote or policy, they often ignore how very highly tenuous a given causal chain is – as would be in play regarding what are very highly contingent acts – … in other words, they adopt a moral & prudential calculus susceptible to the parody of rendering most remote material cooperation illicit in our public lives

5) re: evaluation of moral acts, re: moral objects (cluster concepts w/specifications beyond physical act), intentions & circumstances, too few recognize that moral objects are cluster concepts that have already specified the circumstances of physical acts, often further defining them enough to consider such as virtually exceptionless, but not with enough knowledge to justify considering them absolutely so, as we reason from general precepts to concrete norms

6) too few distinguish ontic from moral evil

7) too few distinguish formal from material innocence or harm

8) too few distinguish prudential from moral judgments

Regarding theological anthropology, then:

9) too many fail to recognize the Spirit’s presence in the secular, in the natural & in our temporal ends via the gratuity of creation, wrongly imagining that the Spirit is only ever present in the sacred, in the supernatural & in our eternal ends via the gratuity of grace

10) too many confuse the law of graduality with a gradualism of the law

11) too many give a primacy to coercive measures rather than, per subsidiarity principles, soft powers



After I’d written the above, in general, I came across a reminder of where I’d so often seen such lapses, in particular:

+Chaput has always seemed sincere to me & his logic clear, but awash in category errors. As I think about this, his approach & writings over the years may well provide the best concrete example of so much that’s been wrong in Catholic moral theology & theological anthropology. Indeed, he often provides the perfect foil for how to otherwise philosophize & theologize properly in the secular age.

And I would imagine that the words of Michael Sean Winters, below, generally reflect what I more particularly specified above:

I admit that I find it tiresome to have to continually criticize Archbishop Chaput. I do so in sadness not in anger. But, it must be said: If I were writing a work of fiction and I wanted to create a caricature of a culture warrior bishop, I do not think I would have the courage to create one so reckless, so uncomplicated in his moral sensibilities (and not in a good way), and so quick to render judgment against others, so willing to ignore the pope, or to cite him, as it suits his own purposes, so intellectually thin and so edgily partisan, as Archbishop Chaput’s columns show him to be.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

Humanity’s Growth is No Myth & its Declines are Greatly Exaggerated

Neither theocentric traditions, generally, nor Christianity, particularly, birthed any –isms of human economic & political orders, despite contrary claims. Their robustly & pervasively telic conceptions in every sphere of human concern have nurtured the growth of human reason, both speculative & practical, that has gifted the undeniable advance of human flourishing, both spiritual & material, as well as more refined conceptions of human dignity, itself.

The late Jesuit, Stanley Jaki, chronicled the growth of science, itself, from theocentric & Christian roots. Thomism, when properly & wholly appropriated, gives an anthropological account of the natural law as operative in all human virtues ordered to both temporal & ultimate teloi, even when its implicit theoretic principles are only inchoately explicated in various theocentric sociocultural milieu.

  • Jaki argued persuasively and profoundly that Enlightenment philosophes, thinkers and writers (on down to the present) have been mistaken about Christianity and science. For them, Christianity supposedly inhibited, and even oppressed, science. But Jaki, along with his great mentor Pierre Duhem, knew that the opposite had occurred. In The Savior of Science (2000), Jaki revealed the Christian foundations of modern science. He examined the failed attempts at a sustained science on the part of the ancient cultures of Greece, China, India, and the early Muslim empire. Christian monotheism alone provided epistemological underpinnings for scientific endeavour. In another booklet, Christ and Science, Jaki provided four reasons for the unique birth of modern science in Christian Western Europe. First, the Christian belief in the Creator provided a foundation-stone for thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be powerful enough to create a nature that incorporated autonomous laws without the Creator’s power over nature being diminished. Second, it put all material beings on the same level. There could be no divine bodies in the Christian cosmos (unlike the Greek cosmos). Third, humankind was created in the image of God, with a rationality that somehow shared in God’s own rationality. Fourth, humankind, created by God, cannot dictate to nature what it should be. Indeed, the rise of the experimental method owes much to this Christian matrix. The noted conservative thinker Russell Kirk stated, “Modern science, Father Jaki points humanity, generally, has progressed materially – not in spite of, but – precisely because of its overall moral & spiritual trajectories.out, rose from the natural theology of medieval Christian learning—a fact that philosophes and positivists sedulously ignore.” Father Jaki worked hard to refute those who asserted that Catholicism has been an enemy of science—has thwarted science. The opposite is the case, and Father Jaki worked boldly and strongly in order that the truth about this should come out and be known, as it must.

Various prudential approaches to human dignity, as proper to times & places, but not otherwise universally prescriptive, have allowed some sociological & ideological weeds to crop up among the spiritual wheat of the world’s otherwise pervasively theocentric societies & anthropologies.

Among those weeds are an Enlightenment fundamentalism, ideological liberalisms, practical nihilisms (even among so-called believers), militant secularisms & misconceptions of freedom. But to focus on the weeds when so much wheat has been harvested is wrong.

Neither various secularisms nor liberalisms, for example, logically follow as required ideologies for human flourishing. Rather, the essential philosophical takeaways are the principles of human dignity & conceptions of human freedom & its aretaically liberative dynamics. Secularity remains one of our tools, while secularism is for fools.

Over-against the apocalyptic doomsaying that we’re now living “after virtue,” advanced primarily by culture warriors, who are preoccupied with sex & gender issues, and by institutionalistic mindsets, who overidealize ecclesiocentric realities with an empirically unjustified nostalgia, the world has grown, materially & morally.

Christianity will be fine, especially if we don’t too narrowly construe it in institutional, hierarchical terms, just as the USA will be fine, especially if we don’t too narrowly conceive of it as a merely political reality.

Like the myth of the Post-Christian West, the decline of the Church and fall of the USA are as fanciful as the notion that God is Dead.

While I deemphasize institutional metrics, more broadly conceiving the Church in mystical, sacramental, herald & servant conceptions, still, even mere institutional metrics don’t reveal Christianity to be in decline per Gallup, Pew and other researchers.


US polling switches from denominations to unaffiliated reflect decreased stigmatization per Gallup:

“Now, it is normatively much easier for a person who doesn’t attend religious services to simply tell interviewer ‘none’ when asked his or her religion. In other words, no change underneath, but a big change in reporting.”

None of this is to deny the threat of asymmetric warfare, but the fact – that there could some day be a technological unleashing of unprecedented destructive potentials by crazed, demented groups – is not dispositive of the question regarding whether or not humanity, generally, has grown & advanced materially – not in spite of, but – precisely because of its overall moral & spiritual trajectories.

Steven Pinker (TED2018) describes this undeniable trajectory: Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers

Pinker (TED2007) earlier described the surprising decline in world violence.

As with others, Pinker goes on to make incredibly facile interpretations of his otherwise indisputable facts. It’s not secularism or an abstracted Enlightenment that accounts for such material & moral advances. After all, the world’s peoples remain decisively theocentric in their concrete practices of daily living & dying, working & playing, loving & learning & leaving of legacies. Furthermore, there’s nothing inevitable about these advances.

Growth is no myth. Decline has been greatly exaggerated. And few have properly come to grips with the real reasons for either, offering, instead, facile tautological apologetics to proselytize their exclusivistic ecclesiocentrisms & arrogant naturalisms.

Augustinians & Thomists, Nature & Grace, Politics & Religion

The following notes are in continuity with & supplemental to:

For responses to Nouvelle Theologie, Feser lists:

1) Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas & His Interpreters

2) Steven Long’s Natura Pura

3) Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula Fidei

4) Bernard Mulcahy’s Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac

5) Serge-Thomas Bonino’s edited volume Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought

I would add as a meta-critique of all the schools:

Don Gelpi’s The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature & Grace

He names fallacies of Christian thinkers that have in the past skewed theological understandings.

In The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace, Gelpi argues that Charles Sanders Peirce’s philosophy avoided those fallacies & provides a novel frame of reference for rethinking the theology of grace. While he eschews any artificial extrinsicism, he doesn’t underestimate secular conversions in the gratuity of creation.

In my (eisegetic?) take, Gelpi’s view is consonant w/both a faithful Augustinianism, the best of Existential Thomism & sympathetic to Nouvelle’s Communio, rejecting transcendentalist anthropologies (e.g. Whig Thomism) or those flirting w/depravist tendencies, as do some integralists (e.g. Political Augustinianism) & Augustinian radicalisms (Radical Orthodoxy & Benedict Option).

Per Thaddeus Kozinski: Both classical & new traditions neglect four realities:

1) mutually dependent relation of speculative & practical reason

2) subjectivity-shaping role of social practices

3) tradition-constituted-&-constitutive character of practical rationality

4) indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry & practice. <<< end of Kozinski critique from Brandon Watson

While some may be justly criticized re 1-3, many feel caricatured.

Regarding #4, it mustn’t be coupled w/an ecclesiocentric exclusivism at odds with Nostra Aetate.

Elsewhere, Kozinski presses his critique vis a vis #4 against Maritain (& Rawls).

Among those claiming caricaturization, Feser responded to Kozinski.

Re: Macintyre’s criticism of Maritain, Ralph McInerny well notes that, even inadequate & false justifications have embedded in them an implicit recognition of the true ends of human nature & thus of the true basis for practical precepts.

We can thus distinguish between the natural law as operative in a plurality of largely theocentric societies (functionally personalist & communalist) & its theoretic grounding, both implicit & explicit. The operative is ontological, the theoretic — gnoseological.

Over against Alasdair MacIntyre’s social philosophy, Bryan Turner suggests its pessimistic view of the collapse of a common moral vocabulary is unfounded.

For one thing, MacIntyre creates a nostalgic picture of the coherence of past communities, & for another, MacIntyre neglects the growth of human rights & international law as instances of a shared moral system that is not based on emotivism.

Alasdair MacIntyre on morality, community & natural law, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(2) 239–253, 2013

We mustn’t overestimate natural law accessibility as we descend from the more general precepts to increasingly specific concrete norms, or underestimate its operative efficacies in, at least, provisioning a modicum of public peace, order, justice & morality.

So, there’s no reason that our world’s largely theocentric vision can’t explicitly, even if sometimes inchoately, affirm that freedom’s inherent duties are objectively & communally ordered to realize the aretaic & deontological ends (teloi) of eternal & natural laws.

Or that we grow in freedom through a formative & liberative process of learning, which will necessarily include the increasingly habitual practice of these duties.

While I am sympathetic to the rhetorical strategy regarding exaggerated “rights talk,” in & of itself, it’s not philosophically bankrupt as some suggest, for freedom’s rights remain correlative with & inseparable from its duties to be/come who & do what we ought. They are, therefore, rather precisely implicated.

Integralism as a Pre-political Anthropology & Meta-political Norm Grounded Philosophically in Natural Theology – The Pre-political Grounding of both Liberal & Illiberal Regimes

Liberal & illiberal regimes may all have their times & places.

Licit regimes will share certain theoretical foundations, hence, criteria of liceity.

Consistent with such foundations, then, consider the following criteria:

Public laws serve as one of many means toward just ends.

We critique political strategies, diagnosis their deficits & prescribe their optimality by prudentially judging them per criteria defined by just ends.

Sufficient strategies will attain a modicum of justice as realized in public virtue, order & peace.

Confluent with other just ends, we exercise the end of freedom by being who & doing what we ought, i.e. properly forming & duti-fully exercising our consciences to flourish in & as community, where the necessary goods of a sufficient material progress serve as a means to higher moral & spiritual ends.

Freedom’s inherent duties, thus objectively & communally ordered, realize the aretaic & deontological ends (teloi) of eternal & natural laws.

We grow in freedom through a formative & liberative process of learning, which will necessarily include the increasingly habitual practice of these duties.

Freedom’s rights remain correlative with & inseparable from its duties to be/come who & do what we ought.

Radically finite, the concrete states of both individual & communal realities constantly evolve, so, continuously, we must prudently discern the means of their flourishing and adapt our public laws & political strategies to those states.

Laws & policies must variously prioritize & subordinate agreed upon (at least practically if not substantively) rights & interests and, when those rights unavoidably & truly compete, adjudicate them, balancing & reconciling them through accommodations that, foremost, preserve & foster the common good, but only ever limiting the rights & interests – or burdening the consciences – of individuals in the least restrictive manner practicable.

The abovementioned criteria obviously share certain theoretical foundations.

Even if only implicitly & inchoately, we can anthropologically & philosophically ground rather substantive (suboptimal but satisficing) agreements regarding theories of humanity & of the cosmos, of truth & of knowledge, of goodness & of beauty.

We thus abide some degree of ethical pluralism derived – not from an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but – from a moral probabilism consistent with an appropriate epistemic humility & suitable metaphysical fallibilism. Our de-ontologies should therefore be as modest as our ontologies are tentative.

A given community may well move beyond such an implicit & inchoate philosophical grounding, e.g. natural theology, to an explicit & definitive revealed theology. In that case, any agreed upon rights & interests may more optimally reflect humanity’s ultimate telos, condiligentes, i.e. as co-lovers with God.

In such a community, religious conversion can further foster, even trans-value, its members’ realizations of humanity’s proximate, erotic-agapeistic-eudaimonistic teloi.

Beyond a given community’s vision of ultimate teloi, transcultural realities & religious pluralism invite further excursus, e.g. regarding shared orthocommunal (topos), orthodoxic (or polydoxic logos ), orthopathic (pathos), orthopraxic (ethos) criteria.

Moral Choices – locating our impasses

On this 73rd anniversary of Hiroshima, visit the @PublicDiscourse archives for debates exploring the ramifications of Truman’s decision.

Tollefsen, calling it “utterly wrong

Miscamble, dubbing it the “least evil option

When another’s ethical approach seems ambiguous, we should charitably presuppose its most orthodox interpretation.

For example, some defenders of the 1945 atomic bombings refer to a “psychotic Japanese civilian resistance” or a kind of “national kamikaze campaign.”

They thereby propose, even if implicitly, that we best reconceive multitudes of ostensible noncombatants as material non-innocents, i.e. not immune from direct targeting.

Such a reconception might well betray an implicit deontological calculus, which, even if inchoate, could rescue their proportionate reasoning from the encroachment of an insidious & vulgar consequentialism.

And this could properly relocate a moral impasse from meta-ethical to other concerns, e.g. evidential, prudential & semantical.

For example, how might we make sometimes facile criteria for distinguishing material [non]innocents much more robust, i.e. semantically coherent, empirically discernable, anthropologically defensible?

These are relevant questions – not only for nuclear, but- modern conventional war & asymmetric terrorism. They extend beyond warfare to all life issues (regarding legitimate self-defense).

So, I offer here no critique or answers to the various stances – only a few of my own questions regarding the proper location of various impasses.

Anti-discrimination & Religious Freedom – easing the tensions

We might see less tension between religious freedom & anti-discrimination goals if we view neither as absolute & both as forms of equal protection (where the establishment clause forbids government prescription & the exercise clause – proscription).

We should remain mindful that today’s majority could well be tomorrow’s protected minority. Also, charitable accommodations & hospitable accompaniments don’t, a priori or in & of themselves, necessarily amount to formal agreement, material cooperation or compromised principles.

Public lawmakers should aspire to accommodate consciences to an extent that allows persons to avoid – not only formal, but – all material cooperation with evil, however im/mediate, non/necessary, proximate or remote.

This isn’t to say that neutral & generally applicable laws advancing a compelling government interest should never burden consciences, only that they should always employ the least restrictive means practicable (including even the avoidance of a licit remote cooperation).

In the application of ecclesiastical laws that govern various forms of participation, the pastoral has primacy over the legal; episcopal discernment jumps evidential & prudential hurdles, aspiring to foster conversion and to avoid scandal & sacrilege.

Various relationships have been described as public, objective situations of sin – not because those relationship per se are inherently sinful, but – because they, presumptively, have objectively sinful aspects. Those presumptions are rebuttable per certain evidential criteria & those subjective situations can be variously ex/culpable.

Conscience accommodations can include one’s desire to avoid formal expressions, explicit or implicit, of approval of such relationships as well as any type or degree of material cooperation that would be tantamount to same.

Sometimes, when conscience accommodations are placed in competition with antidiscrimination goals, there may be no practicable means to avoid discrimination without burdening certain consciences with material cooperation. Even then, lawmakers can generally ensure that such cooperation remains as remote as possible.

In discerning a given degree of material cooperation, one must assess how definite or tentative is the causal chain between it and the objective situation and/or its allegedly sinful aspect. This is to ask just how necessary or contingent that objective situation and/or its sinful aspect is as a result of such cooperation (thereby, for example, increasing or decreasing scandal).

Since, in the USA, there are sufficient examples of the kinds & degrees of remote material cooperation that make one’s participation in a pluralistic society defensible & licit, those can be used to calibrate the sincerity of one’s participatory objections.

The more tentative the causal chain & the more highly contingent an objective situation and/or its sinful aspects vis a vis one’s kind & degree of participatory cooperation with same, the greater the risk of exposing one’s cooperation matrix to parody & thereby subverting the time-honored moral calculus that is indispensable to norming our participation in social, economic & political spheres. Also, the less likely any material cooperation could be reasonably considered tantamout to a formal expression.

This is to suggest that one’s rationale to discriminate in a given circumstance could very well be inconsistent with and thereby seriously undercut one’s very own justifications (sincerity not reasoning) for participating in other life spheres & circumstances (paying taxes, selling goods & services, walking bioethical tightropes, etc).

The more seriously one thus undercuts one’s very own participatory justifications & renders one’s own cooperation with evil matrix susceptible to parody, the more presumptively disingenuous (vis a vis sincerity) one’s rationale for discriminating (rebuttably so, but I’d certainly like to hear such rebuttals).

As in other life spheres, political realities can present as prima facie true, prudent or virtuous. Such beliefs, of course, employ rebuttable presumptions (evidential, prudential or ethical).

Such stances provide helpful default positions that rely on principled biases. While such principles may be grounded in absolute values, those biases should not be taken as absolute political norms.

So, for any given political issue, it’s not one’s stance, per se (e.g. conservative, libertarian or progressive), that will indicate that one’s an ideologue. Rather, it’s one imagining that one’s presumptions are not open to rebuttal & that one’s biases are necessarily absolute norms.

Because values can compete and political goals can come into conflict, compromises & accommodations (political strategies often anathema to ideologues) must often be fashioned. In such conflict situations, even our most well justified political presumptions & biases will especially invite good faith evidential, prudential & ethical deliberations.

Whether styled proscriptively or prescriptively, the norms reflected in such default political stances must be subjected to appropriate levels of scrutiny when rights come into conflict. For example, this would include such cherished norms as, generally though not exclusively, for conservatives, nonestablishment & free exercise; for libertarians, noninterventionism & federalism; and for progressives, nondiscrimination & inclusivism.

When humans apply general precepts (as derived from even absolute values) in various concrete norms, because we are finite, seldom will we find such norms to be exceptionless. Even for those considered so, whether absolutely or virtually, prudential & political strategies to realize such values will still require deliberative processes.

Only a conservative ideologue would reflexively reject any and all curtailments of free exercise or gun restrictions, as if such rights were absolute.

Only a libertarian ideologue would reflexively reject any and all federal interventions or statist solutions, ignoring the rebuttable nature of subsidiarity’s presumptions.

Only a progressive ideologue would reflexively reject any and all discrimination or exclusion, treating inclusivity as an absolute norm.

Certainly, ideological postures present in a manner of degrees and to various extremes, but I’m guessing not nearly as often as we hear the pejorative, ideologue, thrown around?

While the identification and definition of axiological realities (both evaluative & moral) involve a different methodology than the political approaches discussed above, such stances can also be ideological in other ways and to various degrees, especially to the extent they fail to abide any ethical pluralism, whatsoever. Such failures often result from a lack of epistemic humility and is often manifested in the eschewals of metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism.

Note: I kept this discussion mostly abstract although concrete examples would greatly help explicate my points. I just don’t want to engage at that level for such a volatile issue, presently. I hope one take-away is that the issue is much more nuanced than those approaches that reflexively resort to name calling (e.g. shallow inclusivists vs rampant bigots).

Note 2:

All of the above considerations aside, regarding sincerely held beliefs that are variously burdened, when nondiscrimination laws are in tension with religious freedom, the least restrictive means standard is not a high hurdle to jump because public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.

Contra Ethical Chicken Littles

Ethical slippery slope arguments deserve serious but not facile engagements. Below is a consideration of why some such arguments are oversimplified.

There is a taxonomy of slippery slope arguments [SSAs]. It distinguishes causal from logical arguments and further separates arguments per their results, arbitrary & horrible.

Causal arguments are concerned with domino-like effects. Logical arguments explore the in/consistency of rules, whether grounded in casuist, principlist or even consensual ethical decision-making approaches.

An arbitrary result is deemed objectionable by the mere fact that an argument has employed some type of slope. A horrible result refers to an argument which would permit morally repugnant outcomes.

Ethical slippery slope arguments are often of the logical-horrible variety.

Others have well-treated the logical in/consistencies & un/soundness that can afflict/bolster all manner of ethical SSAs. I will discuss, below, why we shouldn’t overstate the influence that formal argumentation has on societal maxims, rules & norms, why, for example, various case-holdings won’t inexorably unravel the moral fabric of society or, switching metaphors, send a rapid succession of taboo-boulders rolling down the ethical slopes of a culture’s moral highlands. I will also discuss whether the introduction of some degree of arbitrariness should a priori deligitimize an ethical decision-making approach.

The degree of consensus regarding humanity’s most general precepts remains largely sufficient to norm a modicum of public peace, public order, public justice & public morality, extending, for example, even to international declarations regarding human rights and to international law & treaties.

The more specific & concrete application of such precepts become much more problematical for thornier issues, e.g. bioethical realities regarding gender, sex & life issues.

A society’s laws & rules reflect a shared public reason & shared evaluative dispositions. It’s this overlapping consensus of mid-level principles & these mutual intuitions of common sensibilities that, together, constitute a relatively stable, wide, reflective equilibrium of moral reasoning.

Over against any Ethical Chicken Little hysteria, then, an ethical pluralism, grounded in a fallibilist epistemology & probabilist deontology, notwithstanding some unavoidable degree of inconsistency, need not explode into an ethical incoherence or moral relativism, much less trivialism.

Pluralistic societies can have different cohorts of naïve realists, each which may subscribe to its own particular, foundational moral theory with its distinct metaphysical commitments. Such cohorts will tend to imagine that a pluralistic society’s moral slopes are far more slippery than they actually are because they fail to recognize the limited relevance of their own theories & commitments to a given society’s maxims, rules & norms. They also tend to ignore the resilience & relative stability of the above-referenced reflective equilibrium, grounded as it is – not just in formal logic, but – in deeply felt evaluative dispositions, common sensibilities & ethical intuitions, which certainly can reflect an inchoate grasp of the natural law, secured by connatural inclinations. This remains the case even when such a grasp of the natural law remains rather difficult to articulate by formal argument (and not just difficult for the vox populi but also for the ethical literati).

Such a stable reflective equilibrium will generally stand in the way of any cascading of consensually, morally repugnant outcomes, when otherwise specific incremental changes are effected in societal rules & norms.

This is to recognize that Ethical Chicken Littles will too often make much ado about their own arguments, which are not more universally compelling, sometimes, because their logic is simply flawed, if not due to validity, then, by unsoundness; sometimes, because certain maxims, rules & norms have established their coherence & resiliency less so by formal argumentation, more so by innate connatural inclinations & subconscious social formations.

As with other apparent inconsistencies, dilemmas, aporiae or paradoxes, human common sense & sensibilities can often evade ethical conundra, practically, via reductio ad absurdum, while patiently abiding either their dissolutions via paradigm shifts or resolutions via dialectics.

We may not be able to formally articulate why a putative outcome would be impossible, improbable or absurd using a robustly truth-conducive triadic inference, but we can, most certainly, very often employ a veritable multitude of weakly truth-indicative abductions, logically, as well as evaluative dispositions & ethical intuitions, axio-logically, which, when bundled together into a preponderance, evidentially, can sufficiently justify a solidly probable moral proposition.

Over against any notion that slopes afflicted by degrees of arbitrariness must simply be avoided, we must recognize that we are ALREADY on such slopes, ubiquitously so. Such a notion could not survive the parody of purging all moral discourse of references to reality’s manifold & multiform dis/continua.

Thus, even among those who subscribe to a particular foundational moral theory as well as its deeper metaphysical commitments, the more critical (less naïve) realist cohorts will not overestimate the slipperiness of various moral slopes, for they recognize:

that our appropriations of moral realities ALREADY often involve approximations;

that our fallible grasps of moral realities ALREADY require the use of concepts that are not wholly essentialist but variously clustered, vague or fuzzy;

that human symbols, icons & indexes are ALREADY seldom going to be wholly nonarbitrary;

that the human mind ALREADY must often transcend rational formalities with common sense and informal & paraconsistent logics (see note below) in order to avoid absurdity & trivialism.

To the extent that epistemology models ontology, this variety of ethical approximations (conceptual, semiotic & logical) implicates various ontological dis/continuities, regarding – not only the spatio-temporal, materio-energetic continua of physical entities (e.g. age-related, developmental, genetic, non/strict identities), but – the causalities of physical events, including various teloi (e.g. teleopotent, teleomatic, teleonomic & teleologic).

For example, whatever one’s paradigm regarding non/strict identities, even an essentialist account might best resort to a conception of deep & dynamic formal fields.

The above taxonomy of SSAs & categories of axiological epistemology can still be rather insufficient, relying as they do on an implicit canon of common sense that can’t always be taken for granted. This is especially true, again, as we move from general precepts to their more specific, concrete applications. See, for example: An anthropological exploration of contemporary bioethics: the varieties of common sense. Turner L. , J Med Ethics. 1998 Apr;24(2):127-33.

N.B. From:

If the mind is able to reason around contradiction without absurdity, then paraconsistent machines may be better able to model the mind.

Defending consistency, or denying the absurdity of trivialism, is ultimately not the job of logic alone. Affirming coherence and denying absurdity is an act, a job for human beings.

Put another way, a paraconsistent logician can say that a theory is inconsistent without meaning that the theory is incoherent, or absurd. The former is a structural feature of the theory, worth repair or further study; the latter means the theory has gone disastrously wrong. Paraconsistency gives us a principled way to resist equating contradiction with absurdity.

Avoiding Political Pseudo-Subsidiarity

Here’s a good inventory of authentic principles from Catholic Social Teaching toward our realization of the common good & community.

Dutiful critiques of various political ideologies, Left & Right, will uncover in them different types of pseudo-subsidiarity, ie revealing persistent patterns of various under- & over-emphases of such principles as well as inconsistencies in their application from one class of ends to another.

Here’s a look at some things that different party platforms and ideological approaches will variously properly emphasize as well as sadly ignore:

Governments’ interventions legitimately include fiscal, monetary, economic, foreign, military, rights enforcement & curtailment, moral expressions (both homogenous & diverse) & such, all fostering the ends of order, peace, justice & morality.

While no ends would be a priori removed from or added to deliberations regarding such interventions, the burdens of argument lie w/advocates for interventions.

Presupposed are sufficient solidarity, moral enculturation & public deliberation, which foster the formation of a common will (degrees thereof). Also presupposed is ongoing interventional accountability.

Interventions require a proper ongoing assessment of the competencies of persons (subsidia) as individuals & at each institutional level to determine comparative effectiveness.

For a given specified end, interventions to advance the common good remain in tension w/the preservation of personal dignity, though individual rights & liberties may be limited to preserve the common good & interventions must be attenuated by suitable majority constraints to protect minority rights.

Voting – a prime example of “reasoning under uncertainty”

I assume that if I accepted your premises, both implicit & explicit, I’d also describe your POTUS candidate as the only viable choice.

But those premises will necessarily involve a great deal of what we call “reasoning under uncertainty.”

This is to say that the causal chains between a given POTUS vote & various un/desirable outcomes are very tenuous. This is also to recognize that the individual acts of all persons involved in effecting those un/desirable outcomes are highly contingent.

Ergo, very intelligent persons of incredibly profound goodwill, who even share identical values vis a vis un/desirable outcomes, can thus differ in their POTUS choices, everyone doing so in an eminently reasonable way.

As for any alleged character-based disqualifying criteria, those are much less compelling, generally, to those who are voting pragmatically rather than expressively. Increasingly, nowadays, voting expressively, based on a candidate’s character (note below), seems to be an increasingly rare opportunity?

Practical Take-Aways:

Intellectually, we should all better realize that our prudential judgments regarding political solutions can be very highly speculative. There are ordinarily so many unknowns regarding the probability of un/desired outcomes that a high level of confidence in one’s political approach is seldom warranted and arrogance is never warranted. And if this is true regarding so very many political objectives, which are way underdetermined, it’s especially the case regarding ultimate policy goals as measurable outcomes, which are most often way overdetermined, all of this also subject to indeterminable counterfactual analyses.

Interpersonally, we should primarily focus on the values & love that we certainly share with family, friends, co-religionists, neighbors & associates. In my view, that thoroughly suffices!

Precisely because of the hyper-speculative nature of political prudential judgments, it’s to be expected and should be unsurprising, when, among those very same people, those judgments are not uniformly shared.

None of this is to suggest that our political prudential judgments do not matter or cannot make a difference. They indeed contribute to a collective wisdom that, when it does go astray, inevitably corrects (depending on the cultural milieu, e.g. modern democracy vs tribal, this can be in a single cycle, hopefully not multi-generational epochs!).

It is to observe that, if you find yourself overinvested emotionally or, worse, at risk of relationship breaches regarding your political dis/agreements, it could very well be due to the fact that you have equally overestimated your intellectual acumen (at least, politically).

Certain candidates may evoke significant emotional responses in us for various reasons, as with any other personalities. Because important values are often involved in our political assessments, this can add emotional energy to our experience of electoral outcomes and to the pols, themselves. We might even marvel at why others don’t experience the same degree of attraction or revulsion to a given person as we do. That mystery can be understood, in part, by the fact that, while certain emotions are cerebral and can be rationally accounted for upon self-reflection, some of our emotional responses are visceral and don’t lend themselves to an intellectual accounting (not without deep-dives into our unconscious). The more forceful and immediate our response to a given politician, then, the less we should be surprised when many others don’t share it, because, notwithstanding our inventory of otherwise justifiable cerebral emotions, the greater will be the likelihood that much (in various degrees) of our attraction or revulsion is visceral, which can leave it no more accountable for itself than any other matter of mere taste. And it certainly means we shouldn’t expect others to be able to give a rational accounting of their own lack of a visceral experience thereof!

There’s a book I intend to procure called Longing and Letting Go: Christian and Hindu Practices of Passionate Non-Attachment, written by Holly Hillgardner. In it she describes passionate non-attachment. That paradoxical concept sounds to me like a great religious prescription for what ails us in life, in general, politics, in particular? Hillgardner suggests that authentic practices of longing will always contain the seeds of non-attachment, i.e. the letting go of cravings, aversions, fears, and false identities that keep the self bound in an illusory self-possession that walls it off from others. Sounds relevant, n’est pas?

Note: Voting expressively can, among many other strategies, also include voicing one’s prophetic issue-based stance (even independent of a candidate’s character).