Objection to CCC’s new 2267

The Catechism’s redaction on capital punishment starts by saying

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

This account is exactly right: brief, exact, leaving out no essential justification. Then comes the next sentence:

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.

For those familiar with the terms of the debate, everything is decided and capital punishment is sunk. Someone’s Dignity is what makes us owe him something good, viz. in virtue of your dignity I might have to say nice things about you, or stand in honor when you enter a room, or pay you for your work, etc. Now many dignities are lost. Everyone stands for the judge when he enters the courtroom but not after he shifts to another line of work, criminals lose the dignity of being paid for work and can be punished for a refusal to work for pennies. The new redaction of 2268, however, claims that the dignity (or, if you like, the right) of not being killed is not lost after the commission of even serious crimes, and so a fortiori can’t be lost at all.

Objection: The principle proves too much by making even killing in self-defense or as a police action illicit. If not being killed is a dignity that can’t be lost then killing someone is an intrinsic evil, and even double effect reasoning, which is the Catechism’s own justification for self-defense (cf. 2258), doesn’t apply to cases where intrinsic evils are foreseeably done.

Again, the CCC claims that

The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

But shooting at an unjust aggressor obviously violates his right to life if he has one, and if he lost this dignity, how is it inviolable?



Rejection and sexual fantasy

The male sexual fantasy is that he will never be rejected. The fantasy is so inveterate that even rape porn portrays the victim wanting the experience, despite this being almost sheer contradiction. Contra Nietzsche, the fantasy is not just that one’s will might encounter no opposition but that it be positively affirmed, accepted, celebrated. Part of my will be done is that you affirm.

The female sexual fantasy is that rejection either never happens or that it is deserved. The fantasy is to have many suitors. Obviously, one needs to be rejected, but either it will all magically work out and every guy will find his girl or the man will end up alone as a punishment. See any Shakespeare comedy for all the options.



Note on the fears of the Right

Pundits on the Right have predicted their eventual suffering under Leftist oppression for years (Rod Dreher, for example, built a career on it) but even if I weren’t cynical about this – Cassandras are clickbait – the predictions are pointless since their is no skill in them but only luck. You’re better off ignoring pundits or your own musings and giving your trust to reading bird entrails or, better yet, putting yes-no questions to a chimp.

So sure, maybe there will be widespread Leftist gulags or mass terror or whatever. There are precedents: the Left put terror on the map in the French Revolution and put the distinctive notes of the modern concentration camp during the Russian Revolution, but an outcome like this is neither the only one possible nor the one that those on the Right should most fear.

Both Left and Right have grandiose desires for multi-million person cosmopoloi, so neither side can avoid the problem of what to do with their millions of incorrigible dissidents. This is why the Right should spend at least some time fearing their desire for the man who can charismatically channel their resentment. While the present president suggests the possibility of such a person he is obviously not the guy, since he is too unfocused, unprincipled, and baffled by the levers of power to channel resentments into any coherent form.

Those on the Right should try to visualize what they would feel toward the one who could make them unashamed to get mad in the same way that the Left can be publicly mad, who took the sting out of our increasingly byzantine and peevish speech codes, who normalized their disgust at various acts that where uncontroversially disgusting in living memory, or who even acknowledged and took steps to fix the Sahara of employment reaching from just outside Chicago to just outside of New York City. How much would someone on the Right be willing to look past in that guy? And wouldn’t anyone on the Right who felt all that want to press his advantage as far as he could: marching through all the institutions, setting up new speech taboos… and what if your own violence was as a rule ignored while your opponents’ was harped on as terror? How much violence would you try to get away with then?

Gratia vere et mere sufficiens

1.) I divide free will from imperfect will. The will is free so far as its necessary orientation to the transcendental good can be realized in an indefinite number of concrete goods, the will is imperfect so far as it can choose moral evils as well as moral goods.

2.) All wills that do not enjoy an immediate union with God are both free and imperfect.

3.) Grace is given to those who do not enjoy an immediate union with God.

4.) Grace that did not suffice to achieve union with God would be pointless and ineffectual.

5.) Therefore, from (4) all grace suffices to attain immediate union with God, and from (3) goes to one that can choose the evil of rejecting grace. This is what Ott calls gratia mere et vere sufficiens. 

6.) Briefly, sufficient grace goes to imperfect willsThe objection that if sufficient grace can be rejected, how is it sufficient? misses that its sufficiency is precisely what suffices to an imperfect will as imperfect. If sufficient grace can be given to imperfect wills at all, it must be given in a way that can be rejected.

7.) Adding efficacious grace to sufficient grace either does away with the imperfection of the will or it doesn’t. If it does, then “efficacious grace” simply means “bestowing the beatific vision”; if it doesn’t then the efficacious grace is as rejectable as sufficient grace.

(So yes, I’m rejecting most of the Reformation-era accounts of sufficient vs. efficacious grace, including the Thomistic one.)

Causality and the non-physical

1.) The word cause gets used so promiscuously and is tied to so many different concerns that it’s hopeless to look for an any-and-all definition of the term. Better to start by setting out what sense of cause one wants to explain.

2.) I’m interested in causes that are (a) explanations and (b) active.

3.) To the extent that something is explained by what is causally prior, it is passive to it.

4.) At the end of Phaedo Plato is looking for causes in the sense I’m looking for, and he concludes that no physical explanation is such. Physical changes bottom out in conserved quantities – matter, energy, mass, momentum, etc – and so are by definition explained by the causally prior, making them passive (cf. #3). The energy of the massive rogue wave that destroys the ship at 3:15 AM is not lost but simply imparted to the parts of the ship in a way that is incompatible with their cohesion, and the energy is nothing more than energy that existed at 3:14 AM, 3AM, 2AM… and so back ad infinitum. 

5.) Obviously, the wave causes the destruction of the ship, and it’s stupid to correct anyone who says so. Let’s give it an entry in the lexicon: “the wave caused1 the destruction of the ship”. This is fine, but we’re looking for cause2. From the argument in (4) cause1 is itself caused2 by a cause2 since passivity as such is a relation to active power.

6.) Causality2 is non-physical, i.e. something that does not bottom out in attribution to conserved quantities. But Plato also spoke of the thing in itself as a non-physical thing having an actuating  power.

7.) The different senses of form in Plato are unclear, since he takes life, for example, as both the form common to all living things and the form that, while had by a soul, is had in a way that cannot be lost, just as a fire has heat in a way that cannot be lost and a spoonful of sugar is sweet in a way that can’t be taken out of it while still leaving sugar.

8.) The passivity of the physical in one sense is its reduction to conserved quantities and in another is the intrinsic passivity, existing even within conserved quantities, to the form or thing-in-itself. This gives two senses of passivity and therefore of matter with two corresponding kinds of immateriality. Both kinds of immateriality have causality2 but in different ways.

9.) So causalityascends through four degrees of being:

i.) Intrinsic form. This is life in the sense of soul or heat as had by moving molecules, i.e. the form possessed so that it cannot be separated while leaving the same thing. This is the source of all that belongs per se to a thing. In physical things, however, there is always more to a reality than that which belongs to it per se.

ii.) Intelligible form.  This is the Platonic thing-in-itself or one-over-many. The relation between this form and intrinsic form is unclear. The basic question one needs to resolve is whether the two are separable in reality or only in thought.

iii.) Animate form. Form always makes a thing determinate, but determinate action can be either active or passive. The line between these is the line between the animate and the non-living.

iv.) Intelligent form. While all form gives being and activity, but the activity exercised upon the passive either really separate from the passive component or not. If so, the form is not only animate since it has action of itself but also spirit. 

Relation theory of divine persons

1.) Relations taken formally are neither accidents nor substances. This allows for the logical possibility of subsistent relations = an entity that is a relation alone and in no way also an accident or substance.

2.) While logically possible, we cannot point to any examples of subsistent relations. My right and left hands are not just right and left but also hands, flesh, male, living, etc.

3.) Trinitarian persons are subsistent relations.

4.) Trinitarianism is not polytheism since polytheism is multiple divine substances of one divine nature and relations are not substances.

5.) Trinitarianism is not three parts of one divine substance since parts are imperfect substances and relations are not substances of any kind.

6.) Trinitarianism is not modalist since modes are distinguished as different actions of God, but actions are accidents and subsistent relations are not.

7.) Trinitarianism is not Arian since in Arianism the Father could exist without the Son or Holy Spirit but no one correlative can exist without the other.

8.) Trinitarianism is monotheist, inter alia, because it is a claim precisely about God as classically known, i.e. as a claim about that which is omnipotent, omniscient, one with its nature and act of existence, that than which nothing greater can be thought, that which is absolutely simple.

9.) Trinitarianism is a theory of an absolutely simple being since no one person can be separated from the others even in thought. One who tries to think about any one person while not thinking of the others is not thinking of God correctly. Again, no person stands to another as potency to act or vice versa.


Justice and philia

[W]hen men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.

Nic. Eth. VIII c. 1

Mere justice in the sense of an impersonal system of giving what is rationally due to persons often leads leaves a growing mass of resentments from those who feel shortchanged and which threaten to undermine the esteem for those who impose justice. Without such esteem, however, one can’t have justice at all. Even an ideal and rational system of justice therefore is inherently unstable.

One weakness of political discussions is assuming that justice has a sufficiency which it cannot have. To read Hobbes or Locke easily leaves one with the impression that a just regime is simply a matter of getting the system of justice right, and as a teacher of political theory I usually spend most of my time trying to explain what various systems of impersonal interaction – sovereignty, property rights, hedges against government encroachment – should look like. But politics can’t be an impersonal system, and what looks like such a working system in theory will be unlivable in practice.

The truest justice is friendship, where debts are never fully paid but serve as sources of unity among persons. One always owes his friends something and is happy that he does. The “system” of justice is the opposite of this: the goal is often to dispense the debt between persons and so to dissolve any need they have to deal with each other.

Philia and Trinity

Aristotle dryly explains that, having spoken of virtue, he should now speak of philia, which can be passably translated “friendship” but which includes any warm bonds of affection or regard. His argument is particularly strong:

Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?

Nic. Eth. VIII. c. 1

Paradoxically, the more self-sufficient one becomes the more he needs equals as objects of philia. The more perfect and free the will becomes in its power to determine itself without dependence on others, the more the very same perfection of the will demands others as objects of an ever-increasing ecstasy of love.

While no premise could prove God is triune, a belief in a multiplicity of divine hypostases is in a better position to explain this paradoxical character of the will. Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods – in fact, it’s precisely having “all other goods” that demands friends. Infinite perfection should not be visualized as the solitary dwelling within oneself but as the mutual indwelling of perichoresis.


The ground of the mechanical view

Chomsky often argued that the mechanistic view of nature failed soon after it was inaugurated when Newton abandoned the attempt to account for nature in terms of simple machines and the push-pull principle. This only became more right with every era after Newton, where advances increasingly came from what the pioneers of mechanism would have called occult forces (energy, fields, entropy, molecular stability) and it eventually made for a view of nature that was nothing like a set of exquisite watch complications but more like a subsistent math problem.

So why is mechanism still around?

Nature is not a machine because it reduces to simple machines but because we control what it does. Sure, entropy or magnetic fields would have struck Seventeenth Century natural philosophers as magick woo-woo, but you can refute his skepticism by using the principles to build a fridge or an electric motor.

So we can see how modern natural philosophy could allow so many “occult forces” but still had to insist that final causality is nowhere in nature. In part this was because final causality has always been hard to see in the non-organic realm, but the more important reason was that final causality in nature was a rival to the final causality we imposed on nature by controlling it. Nature has no final causes for the same reason slaves are not persons. Slaves have powers, but all these powers are ordered to the execution of the master’s wishes. To riff off Roger Taney’s famous and pithy account of slavery, the mechanical view of nature means nature has no life of its own – no rightsthat man is bound to respect.

As a result, actions are morally wrong only by impinging on human desire and intention. In the mechanical view, it is impossible for any action upon the natural world, the animal kingdom, or the human body to trigger a moral problem. All these things are “biological”, i.e. objectified entities that are nothing but the raw material for consumption, dissection, and self-expression.

Plurality and unity of form (2)

Both matter and inchoate form participate in form. Inchoate forms are proximate and remote genera.

Inchoate form is not matter but, in material things, they are not separate as res ex re. The limit of inchoate forms is first matter, but it is not an attainable limit. Any notion of a structure within prime matter, which might be suggested by the inability of any substance to become just anything, is a feature not of prime matter but of inchoate form.

Ascending though inchoate forms yields the more and more general, making the sciences that deal with each genus more and more universal. A perfectly inclusive science in this sense would, however, have to attain to first matter, and so is a contradiction. Though we call whatever deals with the most remote genus “Physics”, this only means that the explanatory universality of physics approaches an unreachable limit.

Prime matter is the limit of participatory being and is nothing except its participation in form. So we see the stupidity of limiting “being” to the top of the Porphyrian tree or to a status as the most universal of universals, since, taken formally, this is what excludes it from being. To be to to be for oneself, which is not the case at the limit of universality.

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