Monday, December 9, 2013

Rationalization - the Homage that Sin Pays to Guilty Knowledge

I am taking the title of this post from a rather remarkable blog entry by J. Budziszewski, which I am being so bold as to reproduce here in full.  The blog is part of the Underground Thomist, and Mark Shea linked to it today.  Budzisweski's other blog posts are not in dialogue format, though they are quite interesting.  This one, however, is very good, and worthy of any dramatist.

Welcome to my blog.  This is the inaugural post, and I’m experimenting to see what works.  My goal is to make the blog interesting and helpful not only to fellow specialists but also to intelligent general readers.  For now, an introduction.  Most of my posts will be shorter.
Visitor:  The title says your blog is about natural law, faith, and philosophy.
Budziszewski:  Right.
But philosophy is something we reason out.
So how can philosophy have anything to do with faith?  Faith is unreasonable, blind.  You believe, because you believe, because you believe.  Right?
That’s not my view of faith and reason.  They cooperate.
That sounds like a pretty eccentric opinion.
Then you’ve been talking to the wrong people.
What do you mean by that?
I mean that it’s the classical Christian view.  I say something about this on the Faith Biography page.
I saw that, but I didn’t read it.  The last thing I need is someone gushing all over me about finding Jesus.
Not what I do.
I didn't "find" Him anyway; it was more like being found.
You have no idea how much that language irritates me.
Would you care to tell me why?
Then don't.
Aren't you going to ask me why I wouldn't care to tell you?
Would you like me to?
Then I won't.  Would you like to talk about something else?
Yes.  What’s natural law?  Do you mean, like Newton’s laws of motion?
No, true law is addressed to a mind capable of understanding what is expected.  Newton’s “laws” are laws only in an analogical sense.  An asteroid orbiting the sun doesn’t consider what it’s commanded to do.
I’m glad we agree about that.
Me too.
If Newton’s laws aren’t laws in the strict sense, then give me some examples of laws that are.
Never gratuitously harm your neighbor.  Be faithful to your spouse.  Don’t lie.
So you mean moral rules.
Even if those three rules are good ones, I don’t see how they’re “laws.”
You could think of it like this.  A law is a standard of conduct suitable for measuring and directing distinctively human acts.  In order to serve that purpose, it needs four properties.  Since we are beings who act for reasons, it must be an ordinance of reason.  It must also be for the common good rather than selfish interest; it must be made by legitimate public authority; and it must be promulgated, or made known.
Mmm.  So take the rule “Be faithful to your spouse.”  How is that an ordinance of reason, as you call it?
Because it’s not just an arbitrary decree.  The mind can recognize that it’s right. 
How is it for the common good?
Because it’s necessary for the integrity of the bond between the husband and wife, and so for the well-being of their children.
But it’s not made by public authority.  Unless you mean God. 
I’d call the Creator a good enough authority.
Do you?  What gives Him that authority?  The mere fact that He’s bigger than we are?
No, of course not.  What gives Him that authority is that He is the uncreated Good, the Meaning behind all created meanings, the origin of all the possibilities and structures of good that we experience in the universe He created, the source of our ability to recognize and participate in them.  He’s not a good among other goods, but Good Himself, in person.
You’re saying the mind must submit to an alien force, to something other than itself.
No, I’m saying the mind must participate in what it was made to reflect.  God’s authority is not an alien authority, because we were made in His image.  If I reject God, I’m not true to myself either.  To lose God is to lose man.
To lose God -- never mind.  Later.  For now, just tell me this:  How are you saying marital faithfulness was “promulgated”?  Do you mean in the Bible or something?
No.  What makes it a biblical law is that it’s promulgated in the Bible, but what makes it a natural law is that it’s promulgated naturally.
Don’t be ridiculous.  Nature doesn’t speak with a voice, saying “thou shalt do this” and “thou shalt do that.”
Promulgation doesn’t require an audible voice.  "The heavens are telling the glory of God."
I know that.  It's one of the Psalms, isn't it?  "And the firmament proclaims his handiwork."
Right.  "Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
You're saying that even though the heavens don’t speak with a voice, they speak.  Creation proclaims the Creator.
Well, even if nature declares the glory of God, I don’t see how it declares a law.  It’s still not clear how a rule like “Be faithful to your spouse” has been "promulgated naturally.”
Didn’t you agree with me a few moments ago that your mind can see for itself that it’s right to be faithful to your spouse?
So you know the rule is true; it really has been made known to you.  That’s all promulgation means.
But that’s my mind speaking, not nature.
It’s both, because your mind is an aspect of your nature.
How do you mean?
Human nature has been fashioned in such a way that spousal faithfulness is good for us, and the human mind has been fashioned in such a way that this good is intelligible to us.  To say that the rule of marital faithfulness has been promulgated naturally is to say that it makes sense to us because of how we are made.
Someone might say “Maybe spousal faithfulness makes sense to you, but it doesn’t make sense to me.  I prefer swinging.”
If it doesn’t make sense to him, then it hasn’t been naturally promulgated to him, has it?
If someone who likes driving recklessly ignores the speed limit signs, would you say that the speed limit hasn’t been promulgated to him?
No.  I’d say it’s been promulgated to him, but he’s willfully ignoring it.
Don’t you think sometimes we ignore natural road signs too?
So what natural road signs do you say the philanderer is ignoring?
His conscience is accusing him; that’s one.  He’s undermining his wife’s trust in him; that’s another.  He’s destroying his capacity for true marital intimacy; that’s a third.  He’s endangering his relationship with his children; that’s a fourth.  He’s –
All right, all right.  But an “is” doesn’t entail an “ought.”  That’s just the naturalist fallacy.
It’s not a fallacy.  What are eyes for?
To see, I suppose.
So the difference between good eyes and bad ones is what?
Whether they see well.
And what should you do about bad eyes?
Try to make them see better.  Where is this going?
You’ve just derived evaluative conclusions from descriptive premises.  You’ve derived an “ought” from an “is.”
I guess I have.  But wouldn’t the philanderer disagree with you about the natural facts of the matter?
To start with your first supposed road sign, he’d say “My conscience doesn’t bother me at all.”  And maybe he’d be right.
Yes, he would say that to himself, but I think there is a difference between not hearing conscience at all, and clapping our hands over our ears so we don’t hear it well.
How can you tell the difference?
We betray signs of plugged ears.
What signs?
To mention just one, even our excuses testify against us.  Rationalization is the homage that sin pays to guilty knowledge.
The homage that – come on.  Now you’re just being paradoxical. 
I suppose so, but I’m describing a paradoxical creature.  Sometimes we apply all the power of our minds just to convince ourselves that we don’t know what we actually do know.
You still haven’t explained what you mean by saying that rationalization is the homage that sin pays to guilty knowledge.
Haven't you noticed that we have to make use of the natural law even to construct excuses for violating the natural law?
You're saying we make lies out of truths?
That seems a pretty strange way to build a lie.
No, it’s the only way to build a lie.  Truths are the only things available to build a lie from.
Give me an example.
Maybe the philanderer tells himself, “The lady next door loves me more than my wife does.  Marriage is a relationship of love, so she’s more my wife than my wife is.  So I haven’t really been unfaithful to my wife.”
Mmm.  Give me another.
Maybe the thief tells himself, “I’m not really unjust when I pilfer from the rich man, because it’s unjust that he has more than I do.  I’m only rectifying the injustice.”
You’re saying that we rely on our knowledge of the moral law even in order to make excuses for violating it.
Right.  Which shows that we’re not ignorant of the law after all.  We’re just playing games with it.
Why do you care about this stuff anyway?  What really interests you about natural law?
One thing that interests me about it is the light that it sheds on how we lie to ourselves.
In other words, what we’ve been talking about.  Anything else?
The way the lies point backward, despite themselves, to the truths that we’ve cobbled them together from.
Anything else?
The light that sheds on what is happening to us all.
What -- is something happening to us all?

1 comment:

Brian Sullivan said...

He did this in his Ask Me Anything books as Professor Theophilus. Very good and written before he became a Catholic, I believe.