Augustinians & Thomists, Nature & Grace, Politics & Religion

The following notes are in continuity with & supplemental to:

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/maritain-murray-macintyre-milbank-a-medieval-integralist-walk-into-a-bar/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/the-pre-political-grounding-of-both-liberal-illiberal-regimes/

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.

Truth Broadly Conceived

Truth refers – not only to the investigatory, semantical & epistemological “conformity of” one’s thoughts to reality, but – to a reality’s participatory, ontological & axiological “conformity to” adequate thoughts (re various teloi). We know this philosophically & theologically.

Those teloi include:

proximate erotic-agapeistic-eudaimonistic teloi

ultimate telos of condiligentes

The more eros & agape – ascending love & descending love – find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. BXVI Deus Caritas Est

“gratitude for, & the desire to share w/others, the love that we ourselves have received … In the words of the 14th Century theologian Duns Scotus – Deus vult condiligentes – God wants persons who love together w/him.” BXVI Address at Wiener Konzerthaus, Vienna 2007

In addition to virtue dynamics, Scotus employs deontological elements.

The “free will” (voluntas libera) can select in conformity w/the affection of justice (affectio justitiae) & the good in itself (bonum in se).

The “natural will” (voluntas naturalis) necessarily moves by natural affection (affectio commodi) & seeks one’s own good (bonum sibi). ~ Anselm via Scotus

Our common sense, evaluative dispositions, moral sensibilities & ethical intuitions may be inchoately deontological.

Morally, when our analytical decisions seem to violate our deepest connatural inclinations, we can inartfully express such choices. e.g. The implicit proportionate reasoning calculus of our inchoate deontology could mistakenly come across as otherwise explicitly consequentialist.

If we encounter an ethical reductio ad absurdum, where we suspect otherwise valid syllogistic conclusions are somehow unsound, we best check our concepts, which may not successfully refer, maybe because we’ve too broadly or narrowly conceived a reality, e.g. material non/innocent.

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: http://www.iep.utm.edu/para-log/

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.

Maritain, McInerny, Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & a Medieval Integralist walk into a bar

Maritain, McInerny, Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & a Medieval Integralist walk into a bar serving optimism & pessimism. Let Maritain & McInerny drive you home. The others are inebriated.

Regarding the following questions –What would Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank & Medieval Integralists Say?

Has a clearly successful civil polity (with articles of peace but not of faith) ever been founded in any pluralistic society based on some shared thematized natural law?

Has a fairly successful civil polity (with articles of peace but not of faith) never been founded in any pluralistic society, at least based on shared values, although not on shared justifications?

Has a lack of certain shared moral outlooks always necessarily ensued from some subjectivism, emotivism, voluntarism, relativism, utilitarianism, vulgar pragmatism, secularism or nihilism that precluded shared metaphysical commitments & axiological frameworks? What about Mortimer Adler’s account of humanity’s common sense & sensibilities and of certain self-evident prescriptive inferences that derive from our being immersed together in a similarly situated human condition, especially regarding major precepts?

Has a lack of certain shared moral outlooks never otherwise ensued from an ethical pluralism that included shared metaphysical commitments & axiological frameworks, but was derived with a suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism?

Murray, MacIntyre, Milbank or Medieval Integralists would each in their own way employ a theological anthropology that’s either excessively optimistic or pessimistic, based on (mis)conceptions regarding the relationship between nature & grace, variously implicating notions regarding the gratuity of grace.

A Goldilocks Theological Anthropology, neither too optimistic nor pessimistic, would be better reflected in the anthropology of Maritain, combined with Gelpi’s adaptation of Lonergan’s approach as modified by Gelpi’s account of grace as transmuted experience.

Per Maritain, humanity’s transcultural apprehension of the natural law is not robustly & discursively thematic but more so inchoately & connaturally intuitional. So, we can share evaluative dispositions, moral sensibilities & ethical intuitions that presuppose varying degrees of moral realism without sharing their justifications via deeper metaphysical commitments. Maritain would thus answer the above questions differently from his pub buddies.

If we adopt Gelpi’s Lonerganian adaptation in conjunction with Maritain’s account of humanity’s ubiquitous moral sensitivity to the natural law via connaturality, we can distinguish between the secular conversions (intellectual, affective, moral & sociopolitical) and religious conversion, whereby the former more properly reflect the gratuity of creation with its obediential potencies for grace, and the latter relate to the gratuity of grace, itself, to which one responds responsibly in faith (to some historical act of divine self-revelation & self-communication).

Certainly, from a pneumatological perspective, the secular conversions reflect the ordinary presence of the Holy Spirit in the world via its universality & prevenient connaturality. The particularity of the Holy Spirit’s action in the lives of Christian believers, however, reflects a radically transformative & extraordinary presence.

Afterthoughts

This does seem to be the crux. With Maritain we can’t deny that a prevenient connaturality hasn’t provided humankind’s inchoate realization of natural law via shared moral sensibilities & ethical intuitions, sufficient for a modicum of public peace, order, justice & morality? With Gelpi, we wouldn’t deny that humankind journeys more swiftly & w/less hindrance when secular conversions (intellectual, affective, moral & socio-political) are transvalued by religious conversions (radical & kerygmatic; yes, other religions w/degrees of truth & goodness) . So, no, there’s never been some edenic epoch of either a Whig Thomism (neocon or neoliberal) or an idyllic integralism (political Augustinianism). And monastic, anarchic & pacifist approaches have only ever been vocational & spirituality “options” not theopolitical norms (as in Augustinian radicalisms).

Too many conceive Catholic social & moral teachings as primarily intended to shape politics, reflexively thinking in terms of coercive polity in response to every papal utterance or episcopal exhortation, relegating their familial, social, civic & nongovernmental implications. They see government as the primary means of coordinating the initiatives of our better angels, which it sometimes can be, rather than for ameliorating the initiatives of our fallen angels. Gospel inculturation, moral enculturation & ministerial accompaniment aren’t coercive.

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Regarding a Supposed Natural Law Impotence

Impotent natural law arguments nonvirtuously cycle abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying without the benefit of inductive testing, unlike the church’s highly esteemed social teaching with its NL plus personalist approach. Too many NL theorists employ abstract, aprioristic, deductivistic, rationalistic, biologistic arguments that bear little resemblance to the concrete, lived experiences of people. Church social teachings have employed triadic inference w/inductive, personalist approach+NL and are widely received. For some, NL hasn’t been tried and found wanting but hasn’t even been tried. When it has been done properly, it has been highly esteemed and widely accepted. Flawed methodologies need fixing. Shared inchoate NL sensibilities and intuitions suffice for public order, public peace, public justice and public morality in a secular governmental polity. More robust NL methods are of course required for thornier moral objects (e.g. bioethical). The latter methods can result in an ethical pluralism due -not to relativism, but- metaphysical fallibilism and moral probabilism, ie epistemic humility not HUBRIS!
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Does faith shape our politics or is it too often the other way around?

From a formative spirituality perspective, “other way around” may happen more often among those in earlier stages. If we view progressive & traditionalist sensibilities as charisms of pilgrims & settlers, later on our faith journeys, those gifts may well shape our political ministries.

It does also seem that, even within denominations that accommodate a plurality of theological opinions regarding nature & grace, where one stands on the optimism-pessimism spectrum of theological anthropology (depravist & exclusivist vs inclusivist) often seems to shape political approaches.

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Yes, moral realities are transparent to human reason without reference to special revelation. BUT Prudential judgments evaluate conditions of MORAL legitimacy, presupposed within an established framework of values and priorities. For example, coercive measures mustn’t produce evils & disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated!

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I was heartened when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here in US bolstered 1st Amendment protections regarding federal statutes (states would have to effect their own). While a generally applicable law advancing a compelling government interest could burden consciences, strict scrutiny requires that be done with the least restrictive means practicable.

The US approach to the Enlightenment employed a secularist political strategy that fairly well strengthened the influence of religion in citizens’ lives. On the Continent, however, a militant secularism marginalized religion; beyond a mere political strategy, it was driven from other spheres – civil, social, economic & cultural.

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Maritain recognized that prudential judgments must discern which civil polity is optimal from one location and concrete set of circumstances to the next, even from one epoch to the next. As the degrees of successful Gospel inculturation & moral enculturation thus vary, strategies advancing human dignity, common good, justice & peace must adapt.

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Throw tribalistic cultures into the mix, along with recent results regarding neoconservative democratization “strategies” (e.g. war) & Arab Springs unsprung, is it not clear that no one political shoe will fit all peoples?

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Prior to any political theology, one needs a Goldilocks theological anthropology, i.e. neither too optimistic (eg transcendentalistic) nor pessimistic (eg dialectical imagination or depravity), so, I commend the thoughts of my late fellow Yat (N’orleanian). For the convenience of any who may be interested, Don Gelpi on grace pt 2

Finally, I commend Amos Yong’s In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism & Political Theology, where he writes: Catholic Social Teaching is important less because of specifiable political proposals but because it articulates a theological vision of social & economic justice that has broad political implications.

I commend Yong’s book as in continuity with Gelpi’s theological anthropology and Maritain’s political philosophy.

From an anonymous reviewer:

Our political interaction, as expressed in our many different modes of public interaction, takes on a contextual expression that responds to the particular instances in light of the work of Christ. With this in mind, then, a Pentecostal political theology does not mandate a specific response that must be applied in all settings, but rather builds a framework of values and priorities which give freedom to those in each setting. This framework is not a wishy-washy approach, suggesting that whatever is done is always baptized in the Spirit, but instead offers freedom within the context of responsibility. We who are Christians, who seek to participate in this world in the power of the Spirit, do so in light of Christ’s own calling, and it is as such that Yong formulates his constructive theology.

Finally, I commend The Conservative Pragmatism of Charles Peirce by Thomas Short.

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Catholic Social & Moral Teaching – provides a framework of values & priorities to advance human dignity & the common good. Within that framework citizens apply their best prudential judgments to optimally realize those values & priorities. Such liberative strategies are not first and foremost coercive or political, but, when they do resort to political solutions, those have included most of the following:

Il-Liberalism

Integralism & Political Augustinianism

Augustinian Radicalism

Classical Liberalism

Neoconservatism

Neoliberalism

Libertarianism

Paleoconservatism

Political emphasis on negative rights & free exercise

Social, Economic, Fiscal, Political & Cultural conservatisms

Modern Liberalism

Social Democracy

Social Liberalism

Economic Statism & Keynesian Economics

Political emphasis on positive rights & nonestablishment

Social, Economic, Fiscal, Political & Cultural progressivisms

Socialism

Fascism

Communism

Totalitarian

Nontotalitarian

Just how could such manifold & varied political strategies, almost all, ever be deemed largely compatible with Magisterial teachings from place to place & time to time? That will be the subject of my next tweet, which I’ve been working on for the past decade. Since I’ve recently been afforded 280 characters, though, it’s going to take me a bit longer to compose it. I’ll give you a hint. Each of the above represents an ideology that variously over- and/or under-emphasizes one aspect of Church teaching or another. Foundationally, they can also be overly optimistic or pessimistic regarding their preconceptions of nature & grace vis a vis their implicit theological anthropologies.