Suicide pacts and amputations

Any finite entity has goods above its own existence, and so it must recognize conditions under which it must accept its own passing into non-being. Contra Justice Jackson, the constitution is a suicide pact, in that it has to specify at least some goods that are to be preferred even to the continued existence of the entity it constitutes. The same is true for any finite being: to be constituted as anything is to make death sometimes preferable. If non-existence is possible, it is sometimes better.

This recognition has to strike a difficult balance with the fact that certain essential features of any being’s constitution are sometimes sacrificed for the good of the whole. Here amputation is the guiding metaphor.

The suicide pact and amputation metaphors both deal with the removal of the essential. The amputation one, of course, insists that one can remove the essential thing only to preserve the whole, but in the case of political action or the reform of various doctrines there will always be a question of whether one leaves the whole in question alive. Is some action an amputation, or is it clinging to mere existence at a perverse cost? This, for example, is a crucial part of the debate that Americans will always have about Lincoln. That said, its a question for anyone who is charged with the preservation of a finite system (a nation, an organization, a family, himself, etc.). Which of our own goods are preferable to our survival? 

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1 Comment

  1. Socrates said,

    June 3, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Dear Mr. Chastek:

    I have a question: is the belief in the objectivity of change required for Catholic dogma? Like, is Parmedies’ basic viewpoint on change compatible with Catholic dogma?

    Christi pax.


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