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.]

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.

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.