Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: The Common Good and Friendship

MAN IS A SOCIAL ANIMAL, a ζῷον πολιτικόν or homo politicus. It follows that the requirements of practical reasonableness will take this reality into consideration. Practical reasonableness is not solely focused on self-constitution, self-realization, self-fulfillment to the point of self-centeredness or selfishness. Practical reasonableness recognizes that there must be a balance between self-regard and regard for others. (This part of the natural law is entrenched in Scripture: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Luke 6:31) or "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31 )).

Indeed, regard for others sometimes leads to significant self-sacrifice, even the sacrifice of oneself. Greater love no man has than to give his life for his friends. (John 15:13) We hold those who give their lives for others--e.g., the firemen, policemen, caregivers, and even the priest at 9/11 who gave their lives helping others, St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz who trade his life for the life of a married man, the soldier receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously in defending his fellows and his country--in such high honor surely not irrationally?

Finnis finds humans always aggregated in communities. He looks at communities as the product of relationships between human beings, and identifies four irreducible "orders" of such communities or sets of unifying relationships: a physical or biological order (relationships in the physical realm), an intellectual order (relationships of common thinking), a cultural order (community of shared language, technology, techniques, etc.), and a voluntary or psychological order (relationships of corroboration, co-ordination, cooperation arising from common action or a common pursuit or interest). It is this last order with which Finnis is most concerned and with which the requirements of practical reasonableness have most to do.


"Friendship" by Picasso

This relationships of corroboration, co-ordination, and cooperation give rise to common enterprises and therefore bring forth the concepts of common good. This order of community may be further subdivided (using largely Aristotelian insights) into communities that relate to utility ("business" communities), communities that relate to pleasure ("play" communities). Also to be distinguished are those communities that go beyond mere utility or pleasure, those that deal with amity, with friendship. In these kinds of relationships, the good of the other is, at least in part, defining of the relationship or community. In this sort of relationship of corroboration, "there is a community . . . not only in that there is a common interest in the condition [of that corroboration], and common pursuit of the means, whereby each will get what he wants for himself [as there is in those relationships of utility and/or pleasure], but also in that what A wants for himself he wants (at least in part) under the description 'that-which-B-wants-for-himself', and vice versa." NLNR, 141. One is clearly outside the ideas of self-fulfillment, self-constitution, self-realization--that self-fulfillment, self-constitution, self-realization includes the self-fulfillment, self-constitution, self-realization of another or of others. A father is miserable if he cannot provide for the needs of his wife and his children. His self-fulfillment comes, in great part, from the self-fulfillment of those under his care. More generically, a friend regards the good of his friend as part of his well-being. He relishes in the successes of his friend, and grieves at his friend's suffering.

So we leave the area of relationships of utility and of pleasure into the area of relationships of friendship (with the concept of friendship broadly understood). The notion of friendship is essential to the classical understanding of natural law which is not the individualistic self-regarding state of nature envisioned by Hobbes or Rousseau.

[C]ertainly there is no possibility of understanding the classical tradition of 'natural law' theorizing . . . without first appropriating the analysis of friendship in its full sense.

NLNR, 141. The "dialectic" of the core of friendship is a requirement of practical reasonableness because it participates in the basic value, the self-evident value of friendship: A has B's interest and not his own in view; reciprocally, B has A's interest and not his own in view; such "reciprocity of love does not come to rest at either pole." NLNR, 142-43.
Thus self-love (the desire to participate fully, oneself, in the basic aspects of human flourishing) requires that one go beyond self-love (self-interest, self-preference, the imperfect rationality of egoism . . . ). This requirement is not only in its content a component of the requirement of practical reasonableness; in its form, too, it is a parallel or analogue, for the requirement in both cases is that one's inclinations to self-preference be subject to a critique in thought and a subordination in deed.
NLNR, 143.

Friendship, then, is a sort of governor or a sort of counter to self-interest, and, in an almost paradoxical way, it is one's self interest which requires one to disregard one's self-interest as a fundamental sine qua non for participating in the good of friendship. If we focus on self-interest to the exclusion of friendship, we harm our self-interest. Our self-interest, then, requires us to have due regard for others. Friendship allows us to step outside ourselves.

Strict friendship is "the most communal though not the most extended or elaborated form of human community." NLNR, 143. There are friendships, attenuating in character, that extend and elaborate further out, rippling out of friendship in the strict sense and family to one's greater community, including one's neighborhood, city, state, country, nation, and even the global community.* But even in its greatest expanse, some sense, however attenuated, of the common good exists. That is why, when we see the plight of the Japanese after the tragic earthquake we have the felt need to provide them with help though we are "friends" with them in only the most weak of ways. There is a certain "friendship" that we have with the entirety of the human race.

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*However, "communism in friendship," one that seeks "the widest sharing in friendship" to the detriment of intermediate familial and other communities, frequently seen in Utopian schemes, such as those suggested by Plato in his Republic are to be disdained as a travesty of friendship. It is fatal to real friendship which must be other-regarding and personal, since it requires commitment to the other and an ability to give of one's self or one's own to the other. NLNR, 144-46. If one does not have something of one's own to give, it follows that there can be no friendship. The more an individual has (and the less the state or the commonality has), the more he can give in friendship. Friendship cannot exist if one is nothing more "than a cog in big wheels turned by others." NLNR, 147. Subsidiarity must exist in friendship as in the allocation of other aspects of community (power, decisions to allocate resources, etc.).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Conscience

THE EIGHTH REQUIREMENT OF PRACTICAL reasonableness is the result of the fact that man is a social animal. The eight requirement, which will be discussed in detail later, is the requirement of favoring and fostering the common good of the communities of which one is part. In an age of overemphasized individualism, the role of the common good is often neglected.

The ninth requirement takes us into the internal forum of man.

[The ninth requirement of practical reasonableness] is the requirement that one should not do what one judges or thinks or 'feels'-all-in-all should not be done. That is to say one must act 'in accordance with one's conscience.'

NLNR, 125.*

Conscience is--for better or worse--malleable. It can be formed, but it can also be deformed. One's natural inclinations, education, training, culture, one's experiences, one's prior moral decisions, one's prior acts or omissions . . . all serve to have an effect upon the tender faculty of conscience.
If one were by inclination generous, open, fair, and steady in one's love of the human good, or if one's milieu happened to have settled on reasonable mores, then one would be able, without solemnity, rigmarole, abstract reasoning, or casuistry, to make the particular practical judgments (i.e. judgment of conscience) that reason requires. If one is not so fortunate in one's inclinations or upbringing, then one's conscience will mislead one, unless one strives to be reasonable and is blessed with a pertinacious intelligence alert to the forms of human good yet undeflected by the sophistries which intelligence so readily generates to rationalize indulgence, time-serving, and self-love.
NLNR, 125.


On the Threshold of Eternity by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh referred to conscience in a letter to his brother Theo dated April 3, 1878, which merits quotation:
One must never let the fire in one's soul die, for the time will inevitably come when it will be needed. And he who chooses poverty for himself and loves it possesses a great treasure and will hear the voice of his conscience address him every more clearly. He who hears that voice, which is God's greatest gift, in his innermost being and follows it, finds in it a friend at last, and he is never alone! . . . That is what all great men have acknowledged in their works, all those who have thought a little more deeply and searched and worked and loved a little more than the rest, who have plumbed the depths of the sea of life.
Ronald de Leeuw, ed., The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Pomerans, Arnold, trans.) (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 54.

The faculty of human conscience is subjectively infallible in the sense that its promptings (which should be distinguished from the promptings of feelings, something entirely different) are mandatory upon us. This is true even if the conscience's promptings as a result of deformation or error are objectively wrong. To follow the promptings of one's conscience--even if those are objectively wrong--makes one faultless so long as the deformation or error is not one of our own making (i.e., so long as we are invincibly ignorant of the deformation or error).

[I]f one chooses to do what one judges to be in the last analysis unreasonable, or if one chooses not to do what one judges to be in the last analysis required by reason, then one's choice is unreasonable (wrongful), however erroneous one's judgments of conscience may happen to be. (A logically necessary feature of such a situation, is, of course, that one is ignorant of one's mistake.)

NLNR, 125-26. Most of us, of course, would phrase the choice not as one involving reasonable/unreasonable (although it is not inaccurate if reason is understood broadly enough) but the choice as involving what is right and what is wrong (which includes reason in all its breadth, including the inclinations--that intellectual feltness--which is part of our reasoning nature).

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*One should observe the scare quotes around the words "feel" and the words in "accordance with one's conscience. The word "feel" makes it clear that what is involved with conscience is not some sort of emotional feeling, but an intellectual feltness, a faculty of reason, not a faculty of emotion or primeval urge, a faculty that is wed or linked to objective moral truth. Additionally, as Finnis clarifies in his notes: "It scarcely needs to be added that (i) if my conscience is erroneous, what I do will be unreasonable [thought it may be faultless], and (ii) if my conscience is erroneous because of my negligence and indifference in forming it, in doing what I do I will be acting culpably (notwithstanding that I am required by the ninth requirement of reasonableness to do it) . . . and (iii) that if I am aware that I have formed my practical judgment inadequately it will be reasonable of me to bow to contrary advice or instructions or norms." NLNR, 133. Importantly, "it by no means follows . . . that if . . . . I have an obligation to φ, others have no liberty to prevent me from doing φ, or to punish me from doing φ [or for doing φ]; indeed, often enough they have not only the liberty but also the obligation to do so." NLNR, 133. Others cannot force you to act against your conscience, but they can, under certain limited circumstances, prevent you, or discourage you, from acting in accordance with it. There is a distinction, not always noted or observed, between forcing someone to act against his conscience and forcing someone not to act in accordance with conscience. This seems obvious in extreme situations: I should not be able to force a man to kill another if he objects to it in conscience; however, I should be able to prevent a man from killing another man even though his (erroneous) conscience prompts him to kill the other man. It follows that I may also punish the latter for having killed a man even if he does it in invincible ignorance. A Muslim terrorist, regardless of his sincerity and invincible ignorance, may be convinced in conscience that he needs to blow up a public building. He may forcibly be stopped from acting in accordance with his conscience, even, if the circumstances require it, with deadly force.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Respect for Basic Values

THE SEVENTH REQUIREMENT OF PRACTICAL reasonableness, according to the Finnisian presentation of the natural law in Natural Law and Natural Rights, relates to practical reasonableness's relationship to the basic goods (including itself since practical reasonableness is itself one of the basic human goods). The principle may be cast in negatively or positively:
  • One should not choose to do any act "which of itself does nothing but damage or impede a realization or participation of any one or more of the basic forms of human good."
  • One should always choose to do any act "as a means of promoting or protecting, directly or indirectly, one or more of the basic goods, in one or more of their aspects."
Framed in both negative and positive language, this principle leads us into the realm of moral absolutes and distinguishes any ontological ethic from a teleological ethic,* an ethic based upon being and good versus one based upon consequences and utility. This seventh requirement of practical reasonableness is of great importance: it is, in fact, the basis for moral absolutes and the basis for fundamental human rights. This is "the principle on which alone rests . . . the strict inviolability of human rights." NLNR, 121. This is the principle that stands guard, as it were, over the entire moral enterprise, forbidding that self-interest, feelings, emotions, and impulse, or some sort of ends-justifies-the-means irrationality govern a moral choice in lieu of reason. Dismantle or ignore this requirement and you have brought down the entire moral enterprise into a bundle of unworkable relativism and the eventual tyranny that will flow from it. "There is no human right that will not be overridden if feelings (whether generous and unselfish, or mean and self-centered) [or consequences, real, imagined, or speculative] are allowed to govern choice, or if cost-benefit considerations are taken outside their appropriate technical sphere and allowed to govern one's direct engagement . . . with basic goods."** NLNR, 121-22.

It also brings us to the need to discuss the principle of unintended consequences or the principle of double effect.***


La Brea Tar Pits

The requirements of practical reasonableness demand that no chosen act directly damage or impede a basic human good. Any justification for damaging or impeding a basic human good (other than just irrational whim or urge, which cannot be a reason) can only arguendo be justified by an act's consequences, specifically that the good consequences outweigh the act against the basic human good. This, of course, throws us into the morass of consequentialism, which is as difficult to get out of as the La Brea tar pits were for those unfortunate mastodons that found themselves trapped in its black sticky morass. Consequentialist "reasoning" allows such moral enormities to be excused such as the killing of an innocent human (which attacks the basic value of life) so long as the supposed consequences yield a greater good. There is virtually nothing than cannot be justified using consequences, whether it be concentration camps, the death of fetuses and infants and the aged, and the bombing of civilian populations with the atom bomb and with napalm. Consequentialism naturally results in viewing man as an instrument, a tool, a means instead of an end. "[A] man who thinks that his rational responsibility is to be always doing and pursuing good is satisfied by a commitment to act always for the best consequences is a man who treats every aspect of human personality (and, indeed, therefore, treats himself) as a utensil." NLNR, 121. Moreover, it also places upon humans the unreasonable responsibility for consequences they do not even intend, thereby ushering them into a moral neurosis. As an exclusive determinant of right and wrong, the focus on consequences is wrong. The doctrine that the end justifies the means is unreasonable. Evil may not be done so that good may come. The "naïvely arbitrary limitation of focus to the purported calculus" of consequentialism must be rejected as unreasonable, and indeed ultimately inhumane, and dangerously so. NLNR, 119.

Accordingly, acts may only be chosen that--directly or indirectly--(affirmatively) advance, promote, or participate in, or (negatively) protect the basic human values (life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, friendship, religion, practical reasonableness). The problem of choice, however, brings us to the principle of double effect, a principle which is manifestly different from consequentialism:

The basic values, and the practical principles expressing them, are the only guides we have. Each is objectively basis, primary, incommensurable with the others in point of objective importance. If one is to act intelligently at all one must choose to realize and participate in some basic value or values rather than others, and this inevitable concentration of effort will indirectly impoverish, inhibit, or interfere with the realization of those other values. . . . These unsought but unavoidable side-effects accompany every human choice, and their consequences are incalculable. But is is always reasonable to leave some of them, and often reasonable to leave all of them, out of account.

NLNR, 119-20. Examples prove the necessary point. If I elect to become a doctor (so as to save lives), I exclude the opportunity, at least for a time, to become a professor of music history (and so advance aesthetic appreciation). Selecting one human value necessarily impedes the promotion of the other. If I, as a doctor confronting some catastrophe, have to select between patient X and patient Y, and triage suggests that patient X would be better served, operating on patient X necessarily means patient Y will be unattended and likely die while attending patient X.


Triage during WW I

However, this indirect and unintended damage to a basic value is something drastically different from the consequentialist ethic of the ends justifies the means:
[T]o indirectly damage any basic good (by choosing an act that directly and immediately promotes either that basic good in some other aspect or participation, or some other basic good or goods) is obviously quite different, rationally and thus morally, from directly and immediately damaging a basic good in some aspect or participation by choosing an acct which in and of itself simply (or, we should now add, primarily) damages that good in some aspect or participation but which indirectly via the mediation of expected consequences, is to promote either that good in some other aspect or participation, or some other basic good(s).
NLNR, 120. The problem with doing something that directly acts against a basic human good or directly impedes it is that it measures what is unmeasurable. It seeks to weigh the harm caused a basic human good with the promotion of another basic human good. But the basic human goods cannot be adequately weighed one against the other. They are incommensurable.

To chose and act which in itself simply (or primarily) damages a basic good is thereby to engage oneself willy-nilly (but directly) in an act of opposition to an incommensurable value (and aspect of human personality) which one treats as if it were an object of measurable worth that could be outweighed by commensurable objects of greater (or cumulatively greater) worth.

NLNR, 120. True, such end-justifies-the-means decisions against a human value are frequently urged by feelings, perhaps even feelings of generosity, sympathy, or even altruism (though they may be equally supported by less benign sentiments). But morality cannot be predicated on feelings. "We must choose rationally . . . . [and] [r]eason requires that every basic value be at least respected in each and every action." NLNR, 120. (As Finnis observes, often the application of reason helps shift the wrongful clues provided by misguided albeit generally benevolent feelings; reason "can often promote a shift in our perspective and consequently a realignment of initial feelings." So someone who "feels" that euthanasia is merciful will, if he applies reason, realize that this feeling is misguided, and so will understand that his feelings of sympathy at the suffering of one of his fellows should elicit from him the desire to reduce the sufferings through morally legitimate means. The one-time misguided feelings of a Dr. Bernard Nathanson† for example may be guided into appropriate channels and in fact then feel the opposite of what they originally felt.)

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*The natural law (in its classical, not necessarily in its Finnisian construct) has, as part of its metaphysical foundations, a concept of nature that is teleological. Nature, in particular the nature of man, has an end toward which it tends. The ontology behind natural law, therefore, is teleological in this manner of speaking. However, the teleological ontology of the natural law should be distinguished from the teleological ethic which measures good and bad not from the teleological ontology (the teleology of human nature), but from the teleology of the human act. A teleological ethic based exclusively upon the consequences of the human act is, as we have seen, unreasonable and, in fact, a cover for evil under the guise of reasonable good. A short summary of the Finnisian critique of consequentialism may be found in the prior post Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Consequences Matter. A more in depth criticism of consequentialism based upon the word of Professor David Oderberg may be accessed under the titles Contra Consequentialismum.
**For the "technical" use of consequences, utility, or efficiency withing the greater requirements of practical reasoning, see Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Consequences Matter.
***The principle of double effect has been extensively treated in the prior posts. See, e.g., The Principle of Double Effect: Introduction, The Principle of Double Effect: The Conditions of Bringing About Evil, and Contra Consequentialismum: Answering Critics of PDE.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson was an advocate of abortion who later changed his perception. His feelings with respect to abortion were markedly affected by realization that an abortion was an assault upon the fundamental human value of life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Consequences Matter

CONSEQUENTIALISM IN ITS PURE FORM, that is, as an ethical theory where consequences are absolutely defining of the good, is unreasonable. Yet to hold the opposite--that consequences are absolutely irrelevant--is also error. The requirements of practical reasonableness straddle both extremes of irrationality and provide for a limited relevance of consequences, of efficiency within reason, of utility within the constraints of moral absolutes.

When one makes moral choices, one operates under a certain incumbency that the choices be efficient. In other words, our choices ought efficiently to implement the coherent plan of life or the particular value or end one has chosen. "One must not waste one's opportunities by using inefficient methods." NLNR, 111. In this limited sense, utility, efficiency, consequences are reasonably regarded as important and part and parcel of the requirements of practical reasonableness.

One would be blind to suggest that reason cannot weigh and recognize the following:

There is a wide range of contexts in which it is possible and only reasonable to calculate, measure, compare, weigh, and assess the consequences of alternative decisions. Where a choice must be made it is reasonable to prefer human good to the good of animals. where a choice must be made it is reasonable to prefer basic human goods (such as life) to merely instrumental goods such as property). Where damage is inevitable, it is reasonable to prefer stunning to wounding, wounding to maiming, maiming to death: i.e. lesser rather than greater damage to one-and-the same basic good in one-and-the-same instantiation. Where one way of participating in a human good includes both all the aspects and effects of its alternative, and more, it is reasonable to prefer that way: a remedy that both relieves pain and heals is to be preferred to the one that merely relieves pain.

NLNR, 111.

However, the requirement of efficiency is only one of other requirements of practical reasonableness. That is why it cannot be absolutized over the others. Just like all the other basic human values must be held of equal account, so also all the requirements of practical reasonableness must be held of equal account. It is for this reason that "[a]s a general strategy of moral reasoning, utilitarianism or consequentialism is irrational."* "[E]very attempt to make it [consequences] the exclusive or supreme or even the central principle of practical thinking is irrational and hence immoral." NLNR, 118.


Solon Before Croesus by Gerrit van Honthorst (1590 - 1656)

Unfortunately, most modern systems of ethics are infected by consequentialistic thought, and it follows from the fact that these theories absolutize consequences as the means for determining the good that these ethical systems are irrational. The "fundamental problem" with modern consequentialistic ethics, "is that the methodological injunction to maximize good(s) is irrational." NLNR, 113. Not only is such a program unworkable from a practical perspective (which itself ought to give one pause in adopting it), but it is fundamentally senseless, senseless, as Finnis puts it, as trying to "sum together the size of this page, the number six, and the mass of this book." NLNR, 113. The consequentialist puts himself in a situation where he is trying to measure and weigh things that cannot be measured and properly weighed and sum things that cannot be summed. In adopting consequentialism, we walk into a realm of morality as equally senseless as the realm of reality into which Alice falls into in Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland.

How so?

The calculative logic demanded by consequentialism requires either (i) a single dominant temporal end or goal for man the efficiency toward which may be measured,** or, if there is no such single, dominant temporal end, (ii) a common factor of measurement of differing goals (e.g., satisfaction of desire, minimization of pain, maximization of pleasure). "But neither of these conditions obtains." NLNR, 113.

If we adopt a single temporal end for all men, if good is to be univocally understood, it is as foolish a suggestion as trying to fit men to the same Proscrustean bed. And what shall that end be? "Only an inhumane fanatic thinks that man is made to flourish in only one way or for only one purpose." NLNR, 113. When it comes to temporal ends, are we all really obliged to wear the same Mao suit? On the other hand, if any end will do, then good becomes something equivocal. Calling good "satisfaction of desire," for example, subjectivizes the notion of good to the point of irrelevancy. For example, if "satisfaction of desire" is selected as the end of man, we have no plausible means of dividing out and distinguishing the pleasure of the Marquis de Sade in his bedroom from the pleasure of St. Jerome in his study. Are these ends really alike? It is unreasonable to suggest that the pursuit of knowledge is equivalent to the pursuit of lust. In the absence of a single temporal end for all men, and in the absence of a workable solution without out a single temporal end for all men other than some subjective end, it would seem that consequentialism must look toward some sort of common measure.

If, in view of the lack of a single temporal end, we adopt some common measurement factor, we find ourselves having lost any sort of reasonable compass. Any such measure--the "greatest net good," or the "best consequences," or the "lesser evil," or the "smallest net harm," or the "greater balance of good over bad"--is fraught with problems. An ethic that builds itself on pleasure--and that would allow for pleasure's increase as reasonable even if it calls for arbitrary acts and a rejection of a comprehensive plan of life--is an ethic that is "only worthy of swine." (Mill) The substitution of minimization of pain for the maximization of pleasure or any other adaptation is equally unavailing as a standard. To measure "pleasure" and "pain" is already an impossible task, and making these measures more sophisticated or nuanced only exacerbates the calculative problem.

The most apparent problem is that there is no balance between good (however it be defined, pleasure or anything else) and evil (which would be the negative of the good). In other words, can it be said that one measure of good overcomes one measure of evil? If so, then why does evil have equal voting rights with the good? If not, what is the ratio between good and evil, and why?

There are also problems in measuring between pleasures (or between pains). If to clamber out of the "swine" factor requires distinguishing between high pleasures and low pleasures, whose values are going to make this decision? And what factor is to be used to distinguish the degrees of pleasure of the drunk with his Mogen David wine and the pleasure of the dilettante with his Domaine Romanée-Conti?

Even more problematic, how do we measure the pleasures that differ in kind, and not only in degree? How, for example, do we compare the desire for an orgasm with the desire for God? How do we compare the desire for eating caviar with the desire for progeny?

Then there is the problem of whether the vantage point ought to be individual or aggregate. Is the moral question one where I measure what is best for me, or is it rather that someone else measures what is best for all?*** Is the all to include only those that are alive when the calculus is performed? Or is it to include those that come after us?

And if we decide to select an aggregate vantage point our problems still are not over. Is our final measure the maximum amount of good (or the minimal amount of evil) regardless of distribution (overall utility)? If so, then so long as the total amount of good is maximized (or evil minimized), we can justify the enslavement of a proportion of all so long as the misery associated with the enslaved is exceeded by the pleasure of those who benefit from the enslavement. If we try to fix the problems associated with distribution (maximum average utility, or maximum amounts of good for those worst off, or, most ominously, maximum equal amounts of good for everyone), the consequentialist runs into a conundrum: "[T]here is no consequentialist reason for preferring any particular one of the eligible specifications. The ambition to maximize goods logically cannot be a sufficient principle of practical reasoning."****

Moreover, whether minimization of some factor or maximization of another factor is selected, the calculus to be performed is--short of some sort of divine intellect--impossible to cipher for even the smallest individual act. The alternative options to any particular choice are potentially innumerable. How is one to measure each of these and weigh them against each other? Where are we to begin? And where are we to end? "A genuine consequentialist assessment of alternative possiblities could never end, and could begin anywhere. So it should never begin anywhere." NLNR, 117.

Who, for example, can predict what the consequences are, under any measure of good, for using artificial contraception which prevents a certain child from having been born? What would that child (or that child's child or that child's child's child) have contributed to the happiness or pleasure of the mother when a mother (or a grandmother, or a great grandmother) or to the world at large is impossible to say. We are sort of like Croesus before Solon: we cannot know whether one is happy until one is dead, and one cannot know whether what one has done is right until all consequences of a choice have rippled through the course of history until the end of time, which will happen long after the actor confronted with the choice has made his decision.

Thus, it appears that in both practice and theory, consequentialism as a moral theory is found wanting. "In short, no determinate meaning can be found for the term 'good' that would allow any commensurating and calculus of good to be made in order to settle those basic questions of practical reason which we call 'moral' questions." NLNR, 115. The basic human goods--life, knowledge, play, aesthetic pleasure, friendship, religion, and practical reasonableness--are objectively incommensurable, and so any ethical theory must operate with this obvious impediment. Consequentialism's continuing efforts to measure and weigh what is unmeasurable and unweighable are in vain. The theory is fundamentally senseless.

The Finnisian proposal does not require commensurating the incommensurable. Adopting a plan of life in light of the multiple human values or goods is not measuring the immeasurable:
[O]ne can adopt a set of commitments that will bring the basic values into a relation with each other sufficient to enable one to choose projects and, in some cases, to undertake a cost-benefit analysis (or preference-maximizing or other like analysis) with some prospect of a determinate 'best solution'. But the adoption of a set of commitments, by and individual or a society, is nothing like carrying out a calculus of commensurable goods, though it should be controlled by all the rational requirements . . . and so is far from being blind, arbitrary, directionless, or indiscriminate.
NLNR, 115.

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*The issue of consequentialism has been treated at some depth replying in particular on the work of Professor Oderberg. See Consequentialism and Natural Law.
**I say "temporal" because if God is said to be the single, well-defined end of man, it is not sufficient to answer the moral question in regard to the temporal unless the glory of God or the end of friendship with God can only be manifested in one way. But since the glory or love of God may be expressed in countless ways, through "inexhaustibly man life-plans," it follows that God as man's last end is not an adequate common goal sufficient to build a consequentialist ethic. Besides, there is no consequentialist ethicist that would hold God to be man's final end. If there were, then the he would also recognize the relative nature of consequential thought and would recognize the existence of moral absolutes.
***"Jeremy Bentham oscillated and equivocated for sixty years about whether his utilitarianism was to maximize his own happiness or the happiness of 'everbody'." NLNR, 116. Maybe his mummified head is still oscillating and equivocating about it.
****Which is to say that it is necessary, but not sufficient. The other elements of practical reasonableness need to be part of the application of practical reasonableness. Efficiency (utility) is only one necessary but not sufficient prong of a multi-pronged approach, each of which other prongs are necessary but not sufficient alone or in partial aggregation. All prongs must act together to yield practical reasonableness in its fullness which, in its fullness, is both necessary and sufficient.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Detachment and Commitment Both

THE FOURTH AND THE FIFTH of the requirements of practical reasonableness identified by John Finnis in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights may be discussed together since they are complementary--indeed, they work in somewhat in dynamic tension. They are also intricately associated with the first requirement of practical reasonableness: that we adopt a coherent plan of life, a coherent plan which requires a reasonable order of priorities and a reasonable set of basic commitments.* We must walk the thin path of practical reasonableness by walking between detachment on our right and commitment on our left. Like a tightrope walker, we must achieve the right balance between detachment and commitment so that we do not lose hold of the center and fall into the unreasoning chasm of apathetic detachment or into the equally unreasoning chasm of the excessive commitment of fanaticism.

Detachment is required as part and parcel of a life marked by contingency of time and place which requires the ability to adapt, to evolve, to re-assess. Plans that had reasonable meaning under a certain set of conditions may no longer be viable. Things that were fitting at a time when one is single become unreasonable when one is married with children. Things that were fitting in a time of peace, are unfitting in times of war. Things available in times of plenty may not be reasonably indulged in times of want. When a child, one may do things as a child; when a man, it is time to put them aside. (1 Cor. 13:11)

For this reason, practical reasonableness demands a "certain detachment from all the specific and limited projects which one undertakes." NLNR, 110. The investment in specific and limited projects must be sufficiently solid and staying so as to see things through when faced with adversity, yet it must be sufficiently detached so when a project fails or a goal proves elusive, one does not "consider one's life drained of meaning." A law school professor of mind (Tom Mayo) told me a story in Civil Procedure of a professor whose life work was devoted to a treatise on the substantive federal common law based upon the regime of Swift v. Tyson, and, when confronted with the Supreme Court case of Erie v. Tomkins, which held that there was no substantive federal common law, but that the federal courts had to apply the substantive common law of the State in which they were situated, so despaired of his life's work that he committed suicide. This unfortunate professor (if the story be true, and not just a pedagogical stunt or an apocryphal tale) was not sufficiently detached from his specific project.

Such an attitude irrationally devalues and treats as meaningless the basic human good of authentic and reasonable self-determination, a good in which one meaningfully participates simply by trying to do something sensible and wroth while, whether or not that sensible and worthwhile project comes to nothing.

NLNR, 110. The value of detachment is not only a necessity for dealing with adversity and for recognizing the nature of our human limitations and conditions: it is not only a negative governor that steps in to assuage us in the times of disappointment and of failure. It has an affirmative role in restraining us from falling headlong into a fanaticism.
[T]here are often straightforward and evil consequences of succumbing to the temptation to give one's particular project the overriding and unconditional significance which only a basic value and a general commitment can claim: they were evil consequences that we can call to mind when we think of fanaticism.
NLNR, 110. The fanatic loses himself in the trees and forgets the forest.



The opposite evil is also to be avoided. There must be sufficient commitment so as to avoid the sloughs of apathy. There must be some level of commitment with sufficient staying power so that it outlasts those temporary setbacks, the virtually incessant vicissitudes of everyday life. We must not turn back at the first unfavorable wind. There must be some strong threat of fidelity to purpose, to principle, to end. "No one who puts his hand to the plow," says the Lord, "and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62). So there is a balance to be had between excessive commitment and excessive detachment. Even in setbacks, such fidelity to essential purpose allows creative adaptation to changed circumstances. We are, in short, required to have the "creative fidelity" that was so dear to the heart of Gabriel Marcel. This creative fidelity to principle, to value allows us to cull out the inessential, the accidental from the essential, the substantial. It assures that we will never be wed to convention, to rules of thumb, to substitute or ersatz values, to methodology and procedure, "whose real appeal is not to reason (which would show up their inadequacies) but to the sub-rational complacency of habit, mere urge to conformity, etc." NLNR, 110.

Walk then in the path of detachment cum commitment, eschewing both fanatical commitment and irresponsible apathy, and like the children of Israel, who walked between two walls of trembling water on either side of them, follow the path of practical reasonableness like they followed Moses to the path from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. The law of the spirit follows the law of reason, just like the law of reason follows the law of the spirit, for God is the author of both. How can that be? How can both lead? How can both follow? Because they walk hand-in-hand in mutual guidance and in mutual following. That is to say, faith and reason walk in communion.

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*See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Be Coherent.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Preference Among Persons

THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE: that there are others of our kind is indisputable. Since it is self-evident that the fundamental or basic human values are basic to us, it would seem to follow that those basic values are fundamental to others of our kind. "Have I any reason to deny that they are really good, or that they are fit matters of interest, concern, and favour by that man and by all those who have to do with him?" NLNR, 106. There is therefore a certain awareness we have that others have a desire to flourishing (happiness) that is other than our desire for flourishing (happiness). How is one to be given preference to the other? Certainly, this must not be done arbitrarily, and practical reasonableness requires that reason come in to govern this relation. This intimates already questions of friendship, of collaboration, of justice; however, these issues are separate from the the basic requirement that arises from the awareness that others have basic values no different from our own. That requirement of practical reasonableness which excludes arbitrary bias is that there must be a "fundamental impartiality among the human subjects who are or may be partakers of those [basic] goods." NLNR, 107.

It is true that we may reasonably interest and concern ourselves with our own well-being. There is a "reasonable scope for self-preference," and we may reasonably expend efforts to advance our well-being. That will also include our family, tribe, and other groups to which we belong. Yet that self-solicitude cannot reasonably be based on the claim that our well-being and flourishing is of more value than the well-being or flourishing of others. "Simply because it is mine" is no reason: "that I am I and am not you" is no justification for evaluating well-being differently between me and you. This distinction of "I" and "Thou" is not one that allows for preference as to persons. Rather, it is more subtle: "the only reason for me to prefer my well-being is that it is through my self-determined and self-realizing participation in the basic goods that I can do what reasonableness suggests and requires." NLNR, 107. In other words, the self-preference is tangential, it arises as a collateral or concomitant to the reasonable pursuit of practical reason as it applies to me.



But that reasonable pursuit for my well-being or happiness and its concomitant self-focus must not go beyond certain bounds: there remains "a pungent critique of selfishness, special pleading, double standards, hypocrisy, indifference to the good of others whom one could easily help, . . . and all the other manifold forms of egoistic and group bias." NLNR, 107. In fine, "one's moral judgments and preferences," to be reasonable, must "be universalizable. NLNR, 107. That is nothing other than to say that one element of practical reasonableness is the Golden Rule.* "Do unto others what you would have them to unto you," which may be amplified thus:

Put yourself in your neighbor's shoes. Do not condemn others for what you are will to do yourself. Do not (without special reason) prevent others getting for themselves what you are trying to get for yourself.

NLNR, 108.

While we may not be arbitrary--that is unreasonable--with self-preference when it comes to the "I-Thou" question, we may have a reasonable self-preference. The same is true when it comes to the "We-You" question. The rule of non-arbitrariness (which is the same as the rule of reason) works not only among the first and second (and third) persons singular, but also among the first and second (and third) persons plural. Therefore we may not have arbitrary self-preferences for those social structures in which we participate relative to those of others. We may not have arbitrary preferences for those families, tribes, cultures, or nations to which we belong. That, however, does not mean that we cannot have reasonable self- or group-preferences. How, then, is one to determine the boundaries of those?

Heuristic devices** have been adopted to answer the question of what self-preferences are reasonable and thereby moral, and there is a considerable difference between the classical notion of an "ideal observer" or a "benevolently divine viewpoint" and the modern notions based upon a "social contract" such as the Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" in a hypothetical "Original Position."

The classical "ideal observer" or "benevolently divine viewpoint" allows for some reasonable self-preference with respect to persons or groups, but does not allow that we be impartial to the aspects of basic human value. In other words, in the classical heuristic, we had to treat basic human values the same, which means that it could not slight one over another nor favor one over another. Indeed, we could not neglect the rule that we treat these equally and favor the advance of those values and shun the opposite of those values.

The modern "social contract" theories such as the Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" in the "Original Position" do not consider human basic values as the same, or perhaps better, they do not guard against them being arbitrarily treated. This is consonant with fundamental relative viewpoint, their rejection of a natural law that identifies (according to Finnis self-evidently) basic human values must be equally treated and any one of which cannot be slighted at the expense of another. These theories therefore ignore the second requirement of practical reasonableness--that each basic value or good be treated as a basic value or good,*** that there cannot be any discounting or exaggeration of any of the basic human values. They consider only impartiality among persons, and neglect the equally necessary requirement of impartiality among basic human goods.

There is therefore a fundamental weakness in these theories: from the fact that a principle chosen in the Rawlsian hypothetical "Original Position" is neutral among persons does not assure that it is neutral among basic human values. More, that a principle cannot be justified under the hypothetical Rawlsian "Original Position" does not mean that that that principle is unfair or unjust or improper in the real world. NLNR, 109. In the real world reason can distinguish between the self-evident human goods and their opposites. In the Rawlsian hypothetical "Original Position," the chooser is behind a "veil of ignorance" that does not allow him to make this distinction. As a matter of reason (definition), by favoring human basic goods and disfavoring their contraries, we cannot be accused of showing improper favor to individuals or to groups. In the social contractarian or Rawlsian heuristic, we might because under their "thin theory" of rights, the basic human values are relegated to the background, since for them, the basic human values are replaced by individual choice, by values of any person's own choosing. The matrix of the fundamental basic human goods which extends into the Original Position, therefore, is not part of the Rawlsian construct. That's why, ultimately, it results in justifications of the horrors of abortion, vicious euthanasia, or practical socialism.

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*Lex Christianorum has had multiple postings on the Golden Rule, with its various cultural, historical, and religious expressions.
**A Heuristic device is an intellectual tool to help solve a particular problem b y means of a short cut. Heuristics comes from the the Greek Εὑρίσκω, the Greek word for discover or find, and refers to techniques for solving problems in sort of a quick-and-dirty but sufficiently reliable way.
***See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Plans.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Plans

ARBITRARINESS IS THE NEMESIS of practical reason and of law. That is why arbitrariness in one's choices is not tolerable under a regime of practical reasonableness, and why, as we discussed in our prior posting, practical reasonableness requires that a person adopt a coherent, that is, not arbitrary, plan of life. Arbitrariness is also shunned in the decision of what values ought to be accommodated with any person's plan of life. Specifically, "there must be no leaving out of account, or arbitrary discounting or exaggeration, of any of the basic human values" in the formulation of one's life plan.

As we noted in the prior posting. One is free to do anything that is not inconsistent with the basic human values, but one cannot do everything that is consistent with the basic values for the very simple reason that we are creatures with limits and are temporarily bound. As a matter of sheer living and one's limited creaturehood, concentration or focus on some basic human values will either temporarily or even permanently be part of one's coherent life plan. This necessarily affects the other basic human values. In greeting a man, one necessarily, even if temporarily, shuns another. This emphasizing of some values over others must not be arbitrary, but must itself be based upon practical reason, considering such things as "one's capacities, circumstances, and even of one's tastes." NLNR, 105. The emphasis of one value, however, can become unreasonable if it the result of a devaluation of another basic value. Similarly, the emphasis on one basic value can be unreasonable if it is the result of overemphasizing a subordinate, derivative, supporting, or instrumental good, or, a fortiori, overemphasizing an even more distant secondary and conditionally value good, one that is not a basic value itself.

Examples may be given. A naturally gregarious person may relish the good of friendship and may emphasize such a value as part of fashioning his comprehensive plan of life. It would be consonant with practical reason to emphasize such a basic value since it is not arbitrarily that it is selected, but rather because of the person's predispositions, likes, and capacity for friendship. However, if the gregarious persons were to disdain knowledge and deprecate its value, and cut it largely out of his comprehensive plan altogether, it would be an unreasonable plan taken as a whole. There is a difference between recognizing that one may not have an aptitude, talent, or liking for knowledge, one the one hand, and thinking and acting as if the basic good of knowledge is not a real form of good.

Finnis therefore rejects the Rawlsian concept of "thin theory of the good."* Instead, he advocates a "thick theory of the good," one that includes all of the basic human goods and requires a person to select without arbitrariness a plan of life that incorporates them all or at least does not consider any of of them of no account. That person must also allow that others may have a plan of life that incorporates the basic values in a manner different than his, and he must allow for the others to do so, but he may also prevent others, especially those under his care, from incorporating into his plan of life the opposite of human values or goods. Under Rawlsian theory such could never be done.

Under a concept of justice built by a thin theory, the libertine thrives and the virtuous suffer. Under a concept of justice built by a natural law thick theory, the virtuous thrives, and the libertine suffers.

Which makes more sense?

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*In his Theory of Justice, John Rawls used the heuristic device of "original position" as a means for arriving at "fairness." Rawls puts us back to an "original position" and requires two assumptions. First, he demands a "veil of ignorance," so that in the "original position" we are unaware of any information that would distinguish us from any other person, so that we are not aware of the person who we would be. We do not know what our place will be in society. We shall not know our personal endowments: race, sex, intelligence, abilities, and other natural assets. We shall not know our external endowments: wealth, education, fortune, class, and so forth. We shall not even know our conceptions of the good: what our values are, what our aims, our purposes, our believes shall be. We know only that we shall have some endowments and that we shall some conceptions that we hold dear. But it is behind this "veil of ignorance" that we must chose the principles of justice, as if, als ob, we are ignorant. The "veil of ignorance" is aimed and preventing prejudice or bias in the choosing of the principles of justice, thereby removing it from the influence of convention. But there is one sort of knowledge we do know in the "original position," and that shall knowledge of the "primary goods." Primary goods for Rawls are those "things which it is supposed a rational man wants whatever else he wants," and Rawls numbers among them rights, liberties, opportunities, powers, wealth, and self-respect.
So while the veil of ignorance provides that the parties deliberate in conditions of fairness and unanimity, the account of primary goods generates the minimal motivations necessary to get a problem of rational choice going, and to make possible a determinate solution. Together, the two assumptions assure that the parties act only to those interests that are common interests, that is, common to all rational persons, the foremost of which turns out to be an interest in establishing terms of social co-operation such that each person will have the fullest liberty to realize his aims and purposes compatible with and equal liberty for others.
Michael J. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 25.

This list of limited, primary goods is what Rawls calls the "thin theory of the good." It is "thin" because it is starkly minimalistic: by decreasing the controversy of goods, Rawls increases the breadth of their practical universality. A "thin theory of the good" cannot choose between particular values or goods except minimally
because it has insufficient substance, and is insipid in guidance, and therefore allows for many more conceptions of what is a "good life" than a "thick" theory of the good, such as the natural law which would have a broader view of goods other than the "primary goods" of Rawls. It, of course, is prejudicial against anyone who hold a "thick" theory, which means it is naturally affinitive toward liberalism (how convenient for the liberal Rawls!). Rawls would reject giving any intrinsic value to basic goods such as truth, play, art or friendship. As Finnis observes, "Rawls gives no satisfactory reason for this radical emaciation of human good, and no satisfactory reason is available: the 'thin theory' is arbitrary." Ergo, Rawls is unreasonable. QED.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Be Coherent

A COHERENT PLAN OF LIFE IS THE FIRST requirement of practical reasonableness identified by Finnis in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. We are not free, if we are to be reasonable (and being unreasonable is not being free, but being arbitrary and chained to whim), unless we have a rationally coherent plan of life. The inclinations, urges, desires that we have must somehow be reined and disciplined into some sort of rational ordering or coherent plan of life. This means that it must be externally and internally coherent and rational. This coherent plan must be rational with respect to basic values, and in ordering them it must not be internally inconsistent so that a person is not at cross purposes with himself. It must, moreover, be concerned with more than here-and-now. It must extend out over time. Indeed it must not only extend out over time, it must even consider that which is beyond time, the novissima.

Implicitly or explicitly one must have a harmonious set of purposes and orientations, not as the 'plans' or 'blueprints' of a pipe-dream, but as effective commitments. . . . It is unreasonable to life merely from moment to moment, following immediate cravings, or just drifting.

NLNR, 104.


Finis Gloriae Mundi by Juan de Valdés Leal

Two things ought to be stressed with respect to the adoption of a coherent plan of life. First, it is not to be confused with adopting or inventing values. The basic values are not ours to mold or create. The choice is not adopting a coherent set of values of our own making (and it is questionable that values of our own making would be coherent) since we have no basis for ignoring the self-evident human values--life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness, religion--and participating in those of our own manufacture. There is no rational basis in creating basic values that do not exist, and we lack the power to fashion them out of whole cloth as if ex nihilo. There is no rational basis for ignoring the self-evident basic values that do exist and not participating in them. It is in fact a refusal to participate in being if one ignores the basic values. One is not acting in accordance with practical reasonableness in deciding to choose death, or ugliness, or misanthropy, or impiety, or ignorance, or power, as a basic value. One is only acting in accordance with practical reasonableness when--confronted with the basic values of life, play, knowledge, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness, religion--we adopt a coherent plant of life that attempts to participate in them in a rational way.

Second, the coherent plan of life must go beyond the immediate. It is a long-range, lasting, staying, sort of habitual thing. It is not a short-term ordering, hinc et nunc, but a long-term ordering. As Finnis puts it: "It is also irrational to devote one's attention exclusively to specific projects which can be carried out completely by simply deploying defined means to defined objectives." NLNR, 104 (emphasis added).

To be goal driven is not necessarily having a coherent plan of life. One can have myriad particular goals and never have an overall goal, and so be only marginally better than the man who acts by whim and urge. There are many fools: μωροὶ or morons, there are many who are ἄφρων or imprudent. Those who build on a foundation of sand, those who put the less important over the more important, those who bring lamps but forget the oil, those who say in their heart there is no God, and those whom Finnis is referring to here, the men and women full of temporal thoughts, men and women who work their myriad goals and have never thought beyond their immediate goal of amassing assets--be they fame, celebrity, wealth, love, assets that moth and rust destroy, assets that thieves can break in and steal, assets that are are time-and-place-bound. There is warrant for thinking about things that are not time-and-place-bound. (Cf. Matt. 6:19-20).

What is meant by coherent plan of life is something overarching, something Finnis defines as "the redirection of inclinations, the reformation of habits, the abandonment of old and adoption of new projects, as circumstances require, and, overall, the harmonization of all one's deep commitments." NLNR, 104. It is in fashioning one's coherent plan of life and the commitments therein entailed that one is exercising authentic autonomy. One acts freely within the law of the real, within the constraints of the self-evident reality of the pre-moral goods. The possibilities are virtually endless, but the possibilities for any one man must be coherently engaged in, and engagement requires a plan. It is through such a plan that one participates in these basic goods.

The image is not one of a gyrovague, a wanderer with no set finality, but of a pilgrim with a definite goal, a pilgrim with a certain bourne. And though contingencies, foreseen and unforeseen, we shall forever confront, we should be committed to this general plan of life which coherently orders our everyday activity and choices. This plan looks ahead as well as in the moment. It even considers the novissima, that last days, the days that may be beyond.
In omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua . . .

In all your works, remember your last days . . . .
Ecclus. 7:40.

It is unreasonable to think that one's time on earth is forever, and a human person's coherent plan of life must consider the beyond: In fashioning a coherent plan of life, he or she must not forget:
Hic breve vivitur,
Hic breve plangitur,
Hic breve fletur;
Non breve vivere,
Non breve plangere,
Retribuetur.*

We do not want to be like the rich man whose plan it was to heap up riches, who never considered the beyond, and who ended up leaving his entire life's work to another and working for naught. It was he, who full of goals and full of success and full of temporary gain, failed to consider for the novissima. He failed to adopt a coherent plan of life that ignored the beyond. He it was that heard the words of God that every man must fear: Stulte! "You fool! (Luke 12:20).

Who can survive being called fool by God?

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*Here life is quickly gone, / Here grief is ended soon, / Here tears are flowing; / Life ever fresh is there, / Life free from anxious care, / God's hand bestowing. See Horatio Parker, Hora Novissima (trans., Isabella Parker).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Be Reasonable

PRACTICAL REASONABLENESS, ITSELF A BASIC GOOD, may be distinguished from the other basic goods--life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, and religion--because of its structural or ordering role in man's life, its role in ushering him into the moral life, and its role in guiding him toward happiness or authentic human flourishing. Participation in the basic values presents a virtually infinite set of possibilities. In our short, ephemeral span of life, we cannot participate in the fullness of these values, in their myriad possibilities and combinations. Vita breve. Bona multa. We are free to do any good; we are not free to do every good. We have to choose among values, among basic goods, we have to make some commitments which prevent us from making others--we have to decide what must be done, and what, alas, must of necessity be left undone. Our freedom, our (relative) autonomy allows us choice. But our (relatively brief) temporal existence limits our choice. What is it that is to guide that choice? Our participation in one value in particular: the basic value of practical reasonableness.

For amongst the basic forms of good that we have no good reason to leave out of account is the good of practical reasonableness, which is participated in precisely by shaping one's participation in the other basic goods, by guiding one's commitments, one's selection of projects, and what one does in carrying them out.

NLNR, 100. It is at this juncture--in a person's selection of commitment, projects, acts--that he steps from the pre-moral realm into the realm of morality. It is the use of practical reasonableness that leads man into the field of ethics. "'Ethics', as classically conceived, is simply a recollectively and/or prospectively reflective expression of this problem and of the general lines of solutions which have been thought reasonable." NLNR, 101. It is practical reasonablenss applied to the basic values either looking forward or looking backward. It is practical reason promethean and epimethean that leads to the moral life.



But this is all rather vague and wanting of precision. And so philosophers have identified a number of mandatory requirements of practical reason that provide some guidance as to the proper exercise of this basic value. These are the requirements that the phronimos of Aristotle, the homo prudens, will follow.* He who follows these requirements is mature, a spoudaois,** a man or woman who lives well and who generally may be regarded as "happy," that is, participating in happiness, in human flourishing, in well-being. To participate in the basic values under the guidance of the value of practical reasonableness is to participate in being in our unique way, in accordance with our physis, with our natura. Therefore, these requirements are not only those of practical reasonableness, but are requirements "(by entailment) of (human) nature." NLNR, 103. The basic value of practical reasonableness may be said to be or express "the 'natural law method' of working out the (moral) 'natural law' from the first (pre-moral) 'principles of natural law'". NLNR, 103.

Finnis (NLNR, 103-127) identifies the following requirements of practical reasonableness:
  1. The person must adopt a coherent plan of life;
  2. The person must not arbitrarily prefer any basic value above any other basic value;
  3. The person must not arbitrarily prefer any person above any other person;
  4. The person must exercise a certain detachment and a certain commitment;
  5. The person must consider the (limited) relevant of consequences, i.e., he must consider efficiency within reason;
  6. The person must respect every basic value in every act;
  7. The person must consider the common good; and
  8. The person must follow his or her conscience.
Applying these requirements of practical reasonableness upon the raw data of the pre-moral basic values is how man is introduced into the world of morality.

These requirements shall be the focus of our next several postings.
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*Phronimos (φρόνιμος) is Greek for someone who is practically sensible, wise, virtuous, a prudent man, a homo prudens, or prud'homme.
**
Spoudaios (σπουδαῖος) is a mature man or woman, an earnest, morally sedulous man or woman who is living diligently well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: The Seven Basic Values

TO GET AT OTHER BASIC VALUES beyond knowledge, one has to cut through urges, drives, tendencies which perhaps in some way are aligned with values or contradict them, the material, physical, psychological conditions which may be required for the exercise of values, individual and particular goals that participate in the values, and means used to implement values. One has also to clamber over the myriad expressions of those values in a variety of cultures. But Finnis is confident that careful study yields a relatively non-controversial list of basic values that are incontrovertible and self-evident. What values may be placed in that set that can fit in the blank: "____ is a good in itself"? Finnis identifies seven: life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness, and 'religion.'

There is a particular importance in calling these values basic. In the Finnisian theory of natural law, basic when used with the term value has a technical meaning:

First, each [basic value] is equally self-evidently a form of good. Secondly, none can be analytically reduced to being merely an aspect of any of the others, or to being merely instrumental in the pursuit of the others. Thirdly, each one, when we focus on it, can reasonably be regarded as the most important. Hence there is no objective hierarchy amongst them.

NLNR, 92. The basic values are, in short, equally fundamental. "[T]here is no objective priority of value amongst them," though in our self-determination "[e]ach of us has a subjective order of priority amongst the basic values." NLNR, 93. They are, however, objectively incommensurable.*

Another point that Finnis makes with respect to the basic values is that they are not really pursued as one might goals, and they are certainly not ever fully realized in toto. Rather, the basic values are participated in. "So 'pursuit' and 'realization' are rather misleading in their connotations here, and it is convenient to say that one participates in the basic values." NLNR, 96. Participating in such human values through projects, activities, and choices often leads to pleasure, but it need not. Ultimately, whether pleasure is obtained or not, participating in such human values leads to happiness, not in the trite sense, but in the deeper, fuller, Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia, an authentic human flourishing:
By participating in them [the basic human values] in the way one chooses to, one hopes not only for the pleasure of successfully consummated physical performance and the satisfaction of successfully completed projects, but also for 'happiness' in the deeper, less usual sense of that word in which it signifies, roughly, a fullness of life, a certain development of a person, a meaningfulness of one's existence.
NLNR, 96.

There is, ultimately, some link between these basic human values and the natural law:

[T]he practical principles which enjoin one to participate in those basic forms of good, through the practically intelligent decisions and free actions that constitute one the person one is and is to be, have been called in the Western philosophical tradition the first principles of natural law, because they lay down for us the outlines of everything one could reasonably want to do, to have, and to be.

NLNR, 97. With this understanding of what Finnis understands a basic value to be, we now turn to the basic values he has identified.



Life in its broadest sense is such a self-evident basic value. It includes "every aspect of the vitality (vita, life) which puts a human being in good shape for self-determination." NLNR, 86. It is an obvious value, and a tremendous investment of human resources, both individual and social, are aimed at supporting this value. It is what lies behind the drive for self-preservation, what lies behind the great weight given to the transmission of life by the procreation of children which is nothing other than "life-in-its-transmission," and what lies behind myriad social institutions, including our legal, medical, and charitable institutions. NLNR, 86-87. Though the value is intellectual at root, it shows itself predictably in strong urges of self-preservation and urges to couple. The value of life, however, must be distinguished from the manner in which it is supported by more basic physical, emotional, psychological drives.

Knowledge, another basic value, was treated in our last post.**

Play is "engaging in performances which have no point beyond the performance itself, enjoyed for its own sake." NLNR, 87. Whether solitary (solitaire) or social (bridge), whether intellectual (crossword puzzle) or physical (rock climbing), whether strenuous (jogging) or relaxed (drinking bourbon and smoking a cigar), whether highly structured (playing chess) or relatively informal (charades), conventional (an opera or ballet) or ad hoc (a practical joker), it is expressed in multitudinous ways.

Aesthetic experience, another basic good in Finnis's list, in some ways overlaps with play, but it is nevertheless its own value. Aesthetic experience is broader because it includes both a passive appreciation of beauty (e.g., in nature, appreciating the orange alpenglow on a snow-capped mountain peak, for instance, or in art, e.g., listening to Franz Schubert's Piano Sonatas), although it may also exist in the experiences associated with the creation of beauty (painting) or active appreciation of it (reading poetry, e.g., Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Sociability is the next basic value identified by Finnis. This value's expansive breadth includes the minimum level of social peace and harmony for tolerable society, to stronger, more intimate forms of community and collaboration, to the zenith of its expression in friendship. It would be unreasonable to take the position that one is better off without friends. Self-evidently, friendship is a great value that has everywhere been appreciated.

Practical reasonableness is the good of "being able to bring one's own intelligence to bear effectively (in practical reason that issues in action) on the problems of choosing ones actions and lifestyle and shaping one's own character." NLNR, 89. It has both negative and positive, and internal and external components, and so is almost an amalgam complex, one "involving freedom and reason, integrity and authenticity." Obviously, bringing one's intelligence to play in the acts of one's life requires, negatively, freedom from compulsion (internal or external). It also requires something positive, namely the recruitment of reason so as to bring forth "an intelligent and reasonable order," a ratio ordinis, "into one's own actions and habits and practical attitudes." NLNR, 88. It is internal: one's emotions and urges ought to be self-disciplined under reason's rule so as to be in some sort of tranquility of order. It is also external: one's outward actions ought to be consonant with, integrated with, one's internal ordering and so authentic.

'Religion' is the last basic value identified by Finnis. Finnis blames Cicero for the "scare quotes" around the word.*** Essentially, however, at the core of this value is the limited nature of all the other values: they all terminate, at least for any particular individual, with death. How, then, can these other values relate to the greater reality of the cosmos beyond any one of us? What is the source of human freedom, human intelligence, and human self-mastery. What is the value above all human values? Is there "something . . . which is free, intelligent, and sovereign in a way (and over a range) no human being can be?" NLNR, 89. Finnis acknowledges that a materialist, an empiricist, one who "doubt[s] or den[ies] that the universal order-of-things has any origin beyond the 'origins known to the natural sciences," will have "misgivings" with this value. NLNR, 89. But the point is that there is a self-evident value in pursuing the ultimate meaning of life, of human freedom, and of reason even if (arguendo) the answer is that there is no meaning. But really, this is conceding too much. Utrum Deus sit,† one should think, is not a trip to Ultima Thule, an unattainable goal. The "God question" is important, fundamental:

But is it reasonable to deny that it is, at any rate, peculiarly important to have thought reasonably and (where possible) correctly about these questions of the origins of cosmic order and of human freedom and reason . . . And does not that importance in large part consist in this: that if there is a transcendent origin of the universal order-of-things and of human freedom and reason, then one's life and actions are in fundamental disorder if they are not brought, as best one can, into some sort of harmony with whatever can be known or surmised about the transcendent other and its lasting order?

NLNR, 90.

In addition to these basic values, Finnis also identifies ways or modes of pursuing the basic values. Basic values are "aspects of human self-determination and self-realization," but they are not the only aspects. There are also aspects that are modal or vital (and not just instrumental) to the exercise of the aspects of basic values. Finnis gives examples of courage, generosity, moderation, gentleness--what seems to be a list of virtues. They are very close to the basic values and almost enjoy the status of "good for its own sake" that the basic values do. Sometimes these ways or modes become more important that the basic goods, in which event you may have "'peculiar' conventions, norms, institutions, and orders of preference." NLNR, 91. He gives as example the aristocratic code of honor--the pundonor or punto de honor that led to the code duello in contradiction to the very basic value of life, and so led to such events as that between Alexander Hamilton and Raymond Burr, a display of foolishness if there ever was one.

Finnis is clear to distinguish "inclinations and urges of one's nature" from basic values since "there are many inclinations and urges that do not correspond to or support any basic value: for example, the inclination to take more than one's share, or the urge to gratuitous cruelty." NLNR, 91. He insists that his list of basic good is not derived from inclinations and urges--whether these are in support of the basic values or to their detriment. Inclinations and urges, moreover, are in need of justification, whereas the basic human values are not. Indeed, there are times where these inclinations are so destructive of human values that they are "as baffling as persistent illogicality, as opaque and pointless as, say, a demand for a plate of mud for no reason at all." NLNR, 91. Whether they arise as a result of a corruption of the search for a basic value through "exclusiveness or inversion" or just simple "psychosomatic disease," these corrupt inclinations remain separate and distinct from the basic values.

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*For the notion of "incomensurability" see the article Inommensurable Values in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
**See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: To Know is Good.
***For an extensive treatment on the word "religio," see Friedrich Max Müller's Gifford Lecture 2, available on line at Gifford Lectures.
It is well known that Lactantius derived religio from religare, to bind or hold back, and he did so, not simply as a philologist, but as a theologian. ‘We are born,’ he says, ‘under the condition that, when born, we should offer to God our justly due services, should know Him only, and follow Him only. We are tied to God and bound to Him (religati) by the bond of piety, and from this has religion itself received its name, and not, as Cicero has interpreted it, from attention (a relegendo).’

Before we examine this etymology, it will be useful to give the etymology which Lactantius ascribes to Cicero, and which he is bold enough to reject. Cicero says: ‘Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the worship of the gods, were called
religiosi, from relӗgere,—as neat people (elegantes) were so called from elegere, to pick out; likewise diligent people, diligentes, from diligere, to choose, to value, and intelligent people from intelligere, to understand; for in all these words there is the meaning of legere, to gather, to choose, the same as in religiosus.
Müller, Gifford Lectures, Lecture 2 (footnotes omitted) (citing to Lactantius, Institut. Div. iv. 28 and Cicero, De Nat. Deor. ii. 28). In using "scare quotes," then Finnis seems to be leaning toward a Lactantian definition of "religion," rather than a Ciceronian.
†Latin: "Whether God is"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: To Know is Good

THE TERM "BASIC VALUE" IS A FUNDAMENTAL term in the Finnisian construct of natural law. For Finnis, basic values are: (i) self-evident and unquestionable without lapsing into unreason; (ii) pre-moral; and (iii) the basis of all moral judgments. In his book Natural Law and Natural Rights, Finnis begins his sally into this concept by choosing one such basic value--knowledge--from the larger set of basic values he identifies later on in his work: life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness, and "religion" (scare quotes are Finnis's).

The "knowledge" that Finnis has in mind as basic good is speculative knowledge, that is "knowledge as sought for its own sake from knowledge as sought only instrumentally," knowledge that "is of truth," and not because it is useful. NLNR, 59. It is that thirst for knowledge that arises "out of curiosity, the pure desire to know, to find out the truth about [something] simply out of an interest in or concern for truth and a desire to avoid ignorance or error as such." NLNR, 60. It is, in fact, the knowledge that is spurred by what Aristotle identifies as wonder, θαυμάζω (thaumazō).*

Knowledge is the satisfaction of the "inclination or felt want that we have when, just for the sake of knowing, we want to find out about something." NLNR, 60. Knowledge justifies its own self, as it is not an instrumental good. It is simply good to gain knowledge. Good simpliciter. It is simply bad not to have it and remain in ignorance of the truth. While some knowledge may be more worth knowing than other knowledge (whether the philosophy of natural law is true is more important that the sexual habits of a snail darter), and while some value knowledge differently than others (the PhD will view things differently from the man waiting for food in the soup kitchen line), and while the pursuit of knowledge may sometimes have to be put off (man does not live by knowledge alone), and while it cannot be "pursued by everybody, at all times, in all circumstances," and while it is not "the only general form of good, or [even] the supreme form of good," it remains undeniably true:

[T]o say that knowledge is a value** is simply to say that reference to the pursuit of knowledge makes intelligible (though not necessarily reasonable-all-things-considered) any particular instance of the human activity [of seeking knowledge] and commitment involved in such pursuit.

NLNR, 62. Ultimately, we can say that "knowledge" is a basic value or good, which is the same thing as saying it is an aspect of human flourishing, because the opposite is insupportable rationally. Who can intelligibly support the general statement that knowledge is evil?*** Who can say we are better off, generally speaking, being ignorant? It is a basic good because it satisfies itself; it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps, as it were. "To avoid it [the self-evident nature of the proposition that knowledge is good and that knowledge ought to be pursued], I have to be arbitrary." NLNR, 72. By definition, being arbitrary is being unreasonable. When we justify a particular act (say reading a biography on Cardinal Newman, or going to college and taking a course on African Studies, or googling the term "synapses") by saying that we want simply to know, the statement is intelligible and final. Generally, nobody can answer, at least not unless other circumstances warrant, "That's unreasonable!" The self-evident good of knowledge is a final answer, a legitimate end, a stopping point, a one-need-not-go-any-further to the question why are you doing the act? Knowledge is therefore a bonum honestum as distinguished from a bonum utile or a bonum delectabile, a for-its-own-sake good, as distinguished from a merely useful good or merely pleasurable one.

Is it not the case that knowledge is really a good, an aspect of authentic human flourishing, and that the principle which expresses its value formulates a real (intelligent) reason for action? It seems clear that such is indeed the case, and there are not sufficient reasons for doubting it to be so. The good of basic knowledge is self-evident, obvious. It cannot be demonstrated, but equally it needs no demonstration.

Finnis, 64-65. One must not confuse the question of whether knowledge is a basic good with different questions, such as what are the physical, biological, or psychological aspects (the causes, pre-conditions, and/or concomitants) of that question. Whether knowledge is a basic good or value is not determined by whether the quest for knowledge is spurred by some psychological need, or stymied by some physical handicap, or part of some biological protective mechanism. Even more so, one ought to confuse the question of whether knowledge is a basic good with the question of whether one has any feelings of certitude with respect to that proposition. These are different questions. "The soundness of an answer to a particular question is never established or disconfirmed by the answer to [an] entirely different question."† NLNR, 65.


To say knowledge is not a good
is like saying this is not a picture of a pipe

The basic value or good of knowledge is not founded on "fact," but on self-evidency, which is not to say that it does not have its "factual" components and support. (That something may be self-evident does not mean that it has no factual reality. By being self-evident it does not become a non-fact and anti-fact.) But the value or good of knowledge ought not to be predicated upon such facts, for that would be a lapse into "is" which does not support an "ought."†† So even such observations of fact that "all men desire to know" or that "the human is wired to know" or that man has a "psychological need to know" or "the most exemplary men desired to know" are not the bases for the basic value of knowledge, though they may be a reflection of it as a basic value. Such facts are evidentiary of the basic value, but are not the source of its foundation.

Since knowledge is a basic value or basic good, it follows that it can be the basis for a practical principle: since knowledge is a basic good, knowledge is something good to have, and that good ought to be pursued and ignorance avoided. There is therefore a translation of the self-evident principle "knowledge is a basic good" to the self-evident principle "knowledge, as a basic good, ought to be pursued." Basic practical principles are not rules, but rather provide a form of orientation to one's practical reasoning which can be "instantiated (rather than applied [as rules]) in indefinitely man, more specific, practical principles and premisses."††† NLNR, 63.

"The principle that truth is worth knowing and that ignorance is to be avoided is not itself a moral principle." It is a pre-moral principle, one that is foundational to the making of moral judgments.

In closing his chapter on knowledge as a basic good, Finnis shows how knowledge is unique relative to the other basic goods in that one can show that denying its self-evidency is self-defeating. Any argument that knowledge is not self-evidently good is bound to fail, is self-contradictory, and ends in an intellectual cul-de-sac, a sack's end.

In addressing this issue, Finnis identifies three kinds of propositions: (1) intrinsically self-defeating propositions; (2) pragmatic self-defeating propositions; and (3) operationally self-refuting propositions.

Intrinsically self-defeating propositions are internally inconsistent because they contain their own contradiction. The examples given by Finnis are: "I know that I know nothing." "It can be proved that nothing can be proved." "All propositions are false." These are like saying A = not A.


Pragmatically self-defeating statement

Those propositions that are pragmatically self-defeating which are defeated by the circumstances in which they are stated. Finnis gives the example of a person singing "I am not singing" as such a proposition. The statement could be true if, for example, it is said or if it is written. He also calls it a "performative inconsistency," which he defines as an "inconsistency between what is asserted by a statement of facts that are given in and by the making of the statement." An example of this may be René Magritte's La trahison des images (The Treason of Images), with its famous depiction of a pipe with the statement "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe"). Or perhaps even more accurately, the statement "Nothing is written in stone" inscribed on stone.

The final group of propositions, operationally self-defeating propositions, are not logically incoherent, but are "inevitably falsified by an assertion of them." NLNR, 74. They are a form of performative inconsistent statements (see above) but but are inconsistent with the fact arising from their very assertion (and not from a fact extrinsic to them). Examples of these are: "I do not exist," which is immediately falsified in its mere assertion. As another example, Finnis gives the proposition: "No one can put words (or other symbols) together to form a sentence."
Operationally self-refuting propositions have a quite definite reference and so can be (and inevitably are) false. They have a type of performative inconsistency; that is, they are inconsistent with the facts that are given in and by any assertion of them. An operationally self-refuting proposition cannot be coherently asserted, for it contradicts either the proposition that someone is asserting it or some proposition entialed by the proposition taht someone is asserting it.
NLNR, 74.

To state that knowledge is not a good is operationally self-defeating. If one asserts "knowledge is not good," then presumably one believes that the knowledge that "knowledge is not good" is good to know. So how can knowledge be both not good to know and yet good to know? Thus the skeptic to the proposition "knowledge is good" finds himself in an operationally self-defeating situation. Unless one relishes in living a life of absurdity, which itself is unreasonable, self-defeating positions ought to be abandoned.

In summary, Finnis states that the proposition that knowledge is a basic good and ought to be pursued is self-evident. Its contrary, that knowledge is not a basic good and ought not to be pursued is operationally self-defeating. The self-evident nature of the proposition that knowledge is good and ought to be pursued, then, has the tags or indicia of objective truth. It is pre-moral in the sense that it is a "given" that exists before the moral decision which must use practical reason to make moral decisions regarding the entire ensemble of basic goods, including, but not limited to knowledge.

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*Aristotle, Metaphysics, 982a.
**Finnis uses the term "good" in both a particular sense (as a reference to "some particular objective or goal" a "particular object of a particular person's desire,choice, or action") as wells as in its broad general sense (good in general). He reserves the term "value" as the "general form of good that can be participated in or realized in indefinitely many ways on indefinitely many occasions." NLNR, 61. He admittedly strays from St. Thomas: "Aquinas's exposition of his ethics particularly suffers for want of a term reserved for signifying [value as a general form of good, the aspect or description under which particular objects are (or are regarded as) good]." Why the word "value" is needed and good is not sufficient is not really explained.

***Knowledge is not an absolute good without regard to circumstances. It may be inappropriately pursued as, for example, when it contradicts charity or a more important or immediate duty. Thus, a husband who studies his philosophy while his wife is choking on a piece of meat next to him is pursing the good of knowledge in an improper way. There are other forms of knowledge that may not be properly pursued, and thus give rise to the vice of curiositas, NLNR, 76, which is a corruption of knowledge or false knowledge. There is knowledge that may be called Promethean or Faustian or Sadian: the best means of torturing one's captive, for example, or knowledge regarding perverse sexual techniques. Was the Marquis de Sade's knowledge good? See generally Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).
†This principle becomes particularly important with respect to the basic good of life. Whether life is a basic good is an entirely different question than the biological, psychological, and/or physical pre-conditions or concomitants of that question. "Value" is something different from St. Thomas's bonum commune, bonum generale, bonum universale, or even just plain bonum.
I ask myself the question: does self-evidency take us out of the land of "is" into the land of "ought"? Cannot self-evidency relate to descriptive matters (something cannot both be and not be at the same time and same way seems to be a reality that is descriptive, not prescriptive. "Knowledge is a basic good," seems likewise to be a descriptive, not prescriptive statement. There are, true, some self-evident statements that are "oughts," for example, "good ought to be pursued, and evil avoided." But "knowledge is good" is not such a statement. What Finnis does is to reformulate the self-evident proposition "knowledge is a basic good or value" into another self-evident proposition that "knowledge is a basic good or value that ought to be pursued." The latter formulation is an "ought." (Another way of saying this is that Finnis changes a speculative principle into a practical principle.) Yet what is the difference between translating self-evident descriptive propositions to self-evident prescriptive propositions and a classical natural law proponent translating descriptive propositions (e.g., the sexual organs' functions are ordered to procreation) to prescriptive propositions (the sexual organs ought to be used in conformity with that order)? How does Finnis move from a pre-moral principle (knowledge is good) to a moral principle (knowledge ought to be pursued)? Why is Finnis allowed the translation from is to ought but not the traditionalist? Why is Finnis allowed to argue: "It is equally irrelevant for the sceptic [read Hume] to argue that values cannot be derived from facts. For my contention is that, while awareness of certain 'factual' possibilities is a necessary condition for the reasonable judgment that truth is a value, still that judgment itself is derived from no other judgment whatsoever." NLNR, 73.
†††The word "instantiate" is not a word in common use, but is an important concept. It is the particularization, one "instance," of a larger, general, abstract concept, idea, value, or transcendental such as being, good, beauty. Thus, Michelangelo's "Pietà" at the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican City may be said to be an artistic, sculptural instantiation of the maternal sorrow that Mary had for her son Jesus (cf. Luke 2:35), just as Luis de Morales's "Pietà" housed at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain, is an artistic, painted instantiation of the same maternal lament and grief. Similarly, Mike's decision to study philosophy by picking up St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae is an instantiation of the practical pursuit of the basic good or value of knowledge. Cindy's decision to study the difference between pinnately compound leaves and palmately compound leaves by picking up and perusing Loudon's An Encyclopedia of Plants is another (different and unique) instantiation of the same practical pursuit of the basic good or value of knowledge. Both Cindy's decision and Mike's decision participate in the same more general practical pursuit of the basic good or value of knowledge. They are therefore both "good" pursuits in their unique, particular ways. This decision to participate in a basic good Finnis calls "commitment." Commitment is "that sort of participation-in-a-value which is never finished and done with (except by abandonment of the commitment) and which takes shape in a potentially inexhaustible variety of particular projects and actions, each with its particularized first premiss of practical reasoning." So both Mike and Cindy are "committed" to the pursuit of the same basic good of knowledge. While they share in same premise: to pursue knowledge and eradicate ignorance is good, and so participate in, and are committed to, the same good, it is reflected in two particular ways--picking up the Summa and picking up Loudon's Encyclopedia--of a "potentially inexhaustible variety of particular projects and actions."