Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Freedom of indifference

Definition: The power to choose between contraries. (The choice between good and evil is essential to freedom.) Freedom resides in the will alone.

1. Excludes natural inclinations from the free act; they are subject to choice. In regard to these inclinations, freedom is indifferent.

2. It is entire from the first moment. No stages of formation and progress are required. There is no middle ground between being free and not being free.

3. It is entire in each free choice, in theory: each act is independent, isolated from other acts, and is performed at the instant of decision

4. It has no need of virtue, which becomes a freely used habitude, or of finality, which becomes one circumstance of actions.

5. Law appears as an external restraint and a limitation of freedom; it creates an irreducible tension with it.

6. Freedom is locked within self-assertion, causing the will to be separated from the other faculties and the individual to be separated from other freedoms.

7. It creates a moral theory focused on obligation and law; its relationship to Scripture is limited to texts imposing strict obligations.

Freedom for Excellence

Definition: The power to act freely with excellence and perfection. (The choice of evil is a lack of freedom.) Freedom resides in reason and will together.

1. It is rooted in the natural inclinations to the good and true, to what has quality and perfection. It springs from an attraction to what appears true and good, and from an interest in it.

2. It is bestowed in embryo at the beginning of moral life; it must be developed through education and exercised, with discipline, through successive stages. Growth is essential to freedom.

3. It integrates actions in view of an end, which unites them interiorly and insures continuity.

4. Virtue is a dynamic quality essential freedom, a habitus necessary for its development. Finality is a principal element of free action.

5. Law is a necessary external aid to the development of freedom, together with the attraction to the true and good, which is a note of inner freedom. Law is especially necessary in the first stage of education. It is progressively interiorized through the virtues of justice and charity.

6. Freedom is open to allowing all human powers to make their contribution to its action, and to collaboration with others for the common good and the growth of society.

7. Its foundation is the attraction to the true and the good, and the desire for happiness, focusing on the virtues and oriented to quality and perfection, lending itself to a relationship with all of Scripture.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics
Phillip Jenkins' _The Next Christendom_ documents the rise of Christianity in the Third World, using demographic projections assuring, or reassuring, that the world is not following the West on the path to secularization. Yet I wonder if it is not vulnerable to this criticism, made by Fr. Edward Oakes in a related context:

Still, when it comes to the tendentious use of statistics, liberals are hardly alone. Christians on the more conservative end of the spectrum can also be seen dragging around the security blanket of Trends and Surveys. One of the most telling examples of this is Dean Kelley's Why conservative Churches Are Growing (1972), a tour de force of sociological argumentation, a book that roughly did for evangelicalism by means of sociology what C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity did for it through apologetics. Are you curious to know why Liberal Christianity is a disaster and why only Gospel-based churches are thriving? Well, Kelly has the answer: the conservative churches know what they believe, they make no bones about it, and they are morally demanding and unaccommodating to the Zeitgeist.

What could be simpler? What more soothing to the anxious soul assaulted by the relentlessly secular vulgarites of popular culture? Thus, soon after Kelly, other Evangelicals picked up the gauntlet, and a veritable cottage industry was born. Scholars like George Marsden and Nathan O. Hatch provided the details, reassuring the conservative faithful that their rejection of Liberal Protestantism was the right way to go.

The latest product of this industry comes from Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, the very title of whose recent book The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (reviewed in First Things, June/July 1993) pretty much tips its hand. Here statistics are marshalled around such essentially economic metaphors as "market share," "subscribers," "outreach programs," etc. The authors' relentlessly free-market analysis might strike some Christians, even conservative ones, as a bit too much, rather as if David Stockman had signed on as unpaid advisor to St. Paul. But the cause, after all, is a good one: to reassure the faithful. "Not secularization but Christianization," avers the First Things reviewer in summarizing the book, "is the primary religious fact of American life."

The subject of Oakes' article, David Wells, also makes a remarkable comment about the alleged Evangelical Revival:

The vast growth in evangelically minded people in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s should by now have revolutionized American culture. With a third of American adults now claiming to have experienced spiritual rebirth, a powerful countercurrent of morality growing out of a powerful and alternative worldview should have been unleashed in factories, offices, and board rooms, in the media, universities, and professions, from one end of the country to the other. . . . But as it turns out, all of this swelling of the evangelical ranks has passed unnoticed in the culture. It has simply been absorbed and tamed. Aside from Jerry Falwell's aborted attempt from the political right in the 1980s to roll back the earlier victories scored by the left, especially during the 1960s, the presence of evangelicals in American culture has barely caused a ripple.

What an indictment of contemporary Christian evangelization: it maintains the debilitating dichotomy between public action and private religious belief, leaving the wider culture in ignorance of Christ. "He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him."

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

An interesting article on the history of young-earth creationism, claiming it is purely a phenomenon of early twentieth century fundamentalism. However, there is no mention of Bishop Ussher's famous estimation of the age of the earth, so I wonder how accurate it is.
The theory of freedom of indifference, which was at the heart of nominalism, together with nominalism itself, influenced all Western thought. It was found almost everywhere, even among those who scarcely knew its name. It did not remain at the level of ideas and doctrines; it penetrated life and its deepest experiences.
One of the surest signs of the active presence of freedom of indifference was the tension it engendered, tension that posed problems of a disjunctive sort, expressed by the "either...or" formula. A few samplings of this characteristic disconnectedness follow.

-Either freedom or law. This opposition dominated casuistry and found expression in the comparison of freedom and law to two landowners disputing the field of human actions. Ethicists would say, this action pertains to law, that to freedom.

-Either freedom or reason. Reason opposed law just as the determinism it engendered opposed voluntary choice, or again, as the law it proclaimed opposed freedom of action and limited it.

-Either freedom or nature. Freedom was defined as opposed to nature. It was non-nature. It sought to dominate and exploit nature, understood as subrational or irrational, blind, and enslaved to its impulses.

-Either freedom or grace. In theology, freedom and grace were opposed in the manner of the two landowners disputing over human actions. What was ascribed to grace seemed by that very fact taken away from freedom; what was attributed to freedom as merit seemed to diminish grace.

-Either man was free, or God. This opposition led to and culminated in the relationship between God and humanity. From now on, a choice had to be made: one could not exalt man wihtout slighting God, nor exalt God without diminishing man. As E. Borne writes, "Contemporary atheism seeks a total affirmation of man by negating God... Whence the presupposition that belief in God dehumanizes man."

-Either subject or object. These basic terms came to signify on the one hand the person, changeable in will and feelings to the point of caprice, and on the other hand the external world, an apersonal reality with its firm, hard, opaque quality. The worst failure in regard to the person was to treat him as a thing; the greatest danger in science was subjectivity. Subjectivism ended in solipsism; objectivism became materialism.

-Either freedom or sensibility. Freedom became indifferent in order to fulfill itself, and it stiffened against sensibility; or else it identified with the passions and claimed total freedom for them.

-Either my freedom or the freedom of others. The freedom of others appeared as a limitation and a threat, since my idea of freedom was self-affirmation in the face of all others. From this issued a struggle with everyone; this was at the root of the dialectic between master and slave.

-Either the individual or society. Freedom of indifference created individualism. It severed the bonds between individuals in the same way in which it had isolated human acts from each other. Society was no longer anything more than an artificial creation and a constraint. Henceforth the individual and society would be opposed and would engage in a struggle for power, in a dialectic of domination. The two poles were individual freedom to the point of anarchy and state control to the point of despotism.

It is clear that the influence of freedom of indifference was very far-reaching. It affected all areas of human action and all the problematics to be encountered in moral theory. It even reshaped the questions; they became disjunctive, where in the case of freedom for excellence they would be synthesized, as we shall see. Wherever it appeared, freedom of indifference seemed to be a force for division and separation, for an opposition engendering an interminable dialectical struggle.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 350-351

Monday, August 19, 2002

The Russell-Copleston Debate on the existence of God.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

For example, in his book Character, (Oxford University Press, 1191), Joel Kupperman states that “a great deal of ethical philosophy of the last two hundred years looks both oversimple and overintellectualized… philosophers have treated morality as if each of us is a computer which needs a program for deciding moral questions…. Ethics…in this view is at work only at those discrete moments when an input is registered and the moral decision-procedure is applied (pp. 71-72).” Kupperman focuses on three problems with the decision-procedure model of ethics.

First, the “decision-procedure is parasitic upon and presupposes a classification scheme of features of the world that we are supposed to treat as salient.” Input is never neutral or completely obvious; to know what is salient, relevant, significant in our experience requires capacities of perception and articulation that the decision procedure cannot itself provide. Kupperman appeals to the ineliminable role of the agent’s sensitivity to the concrete situation. The ability to apply a decision procedure presupposes moral education and experience. Kupperman here provides his own version of Aristotle’s warning at the outset of the Ethics that moral philosophy will profit only those who have already been well brought up, who in some way already possess the starting points of ethics.

Second, even given such a classification scheme, the decision-procedure is notoriously indeterminate in the results it yields. Consider, for example, the interminable debates over whether Kantian universalization does or does not rule out suicide, lying, or theft. In the case of utilitarianism, critics are fond of arguing that the maximization of happiness can be used to justify patently heinous acts like the murder or torture of the innocent. Of course, utilitarians offer clever rebuttals, arguing that the calculus need not result in the justification of such acts. The real problem is that the calculus seems to necessitate no specific course of action whatsoever.

Third, the decision-procedure is “oriented toward single decisions, viewed as disconnected from other decisions, in a way which ignores or slights the moral importance of continuity of commitment.” (p. 74). The objection touches upon the atomism of the decision procedure model; sometimes this atomism is exhibited in a fascination with so-called moral dilemmas, as if morality were peripheral to ordinary life, only coming into play in unusual moments of conflict and confusion. Atomism also presupposes that acts and agents are intelligible in abstraction from contexts. Kupperman and others reject the modern partitioning of the moral as a specific realm of human life and recall the ancient conception of the ethical as coextensive with the human.


A related problem with kantian and utilitarian ethical theories is that even where they find an important role for virtue, say in the utilitarian benevolence or Kantian self-control, they seem to reduce the multiplicity of virtues operative in human life to one overriding virtue. This calls to mind Anscombe’s charge against impoverished vocabulary of “modern moral philosophy.” Her modest proposal is that instead of identifying a bad act as “against the moral law or morally wrong,” we should at least “name a genus,” such as untruthful or unchaste.


For now, I want to suggest that virtue ethics has failed to be sufficiently ambitious, systematic, and comprehensive in its reflections on ethics. It still lacks what Elizabeth Anscombe called for in her famous essay, namely, an “adequate moral psychology.” To revive anything like Aristotle’s ethical program would require resuscitating an account of nature and teleology. In spite of some impressive gestures in this direction by MacIntyre (Dependent Rational Animals) and Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics), there remains a dearth of material on these topics. For a variety of reasons, most virtue ethicists see these sorts of questions as distractions from what they take to be their more concrete and detailed inquiries into the virtues. But even here the results often leave much to be desired. In spite of its persistent appeals to experience, community, history and narrative, the treatments of specific virtues too often lack rich, empirical detail. With the notable exception of MacIntyre, there is still a tendency among virtue ethicists to adduce a generic list of virtues, with quick descriptions of each. And thinking about certain virtues, most notably justice, is almost nonexistent (Hursthouse cites justice as the most obvious gap in the current literature; see On Virtue Ethics, p. 5).

From a lecture by Thomas Hibbs at the Faith and Reason Institute

Sunday, August 04, 2002

I'm attempting to piece together an understanding of Theosis.

For Biblical references, see John Chapter 10:

Jesus answered them: ""Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"?'

The Lord is referring to Psalm 82,

I declare: "Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you,

Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall."

There is the delightful passage of Psalm 8:

"What is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you should care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god,

you have crowned him with glory and splendour,

made him lord over the work of your hands,

set all things under his feet..."

Finally, there is the work of St. Irenaeus, who declares somewhere in Against Heresies:

"For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God." It seems, then, that our divine adoption is the source of our divinification:

The Fathers dwell on this privilege which they are pleased to style deification. St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haereses, iii, 17-19); St. Athanasius (Cont. Arianos, ii, 59); St. Cyril of Alexandria (Comment. on St. John, i, 13, 14); St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on St. Matthew, ii, 2); St. Augustine (Tracts 11 and 12 on St. John); St. Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 72 on the Lord's Prayer)

I prefer to shorten the saying of Irenaeus to "God became man so that man might become godly."[*] But I must clarify: what do I mean by 'godly'? God-like? Or simply god-like? The first implies all the eternity and omnipotence of the Holy Trinity, while the second implies the immortality of eternal life, not to mention the god-like beings of the Elohim.

There is the work of Soloviev, whose Lectures on Divine Humanity/Godmanhood inspired Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Copleston has also written a work on Russian philosophy which is quite apropos. Both books are now on my wish list.

Wish I could organize this better, but I ought to go to bed now.

[*] 'For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.'[St. Athanasius, De inc. 54. 3] from Eastern Catholic Spirituality

Addendum 10/27/05:

The Old Oligarch kindly provided more information on this topic, though I didn't make the time to cross-reference it until today.