Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Is Justice Reasonable? Absolutely!

It hardly comes as a surprise to any Aristotelian-Thomist, but a recent scientific study suggests that a concern for justice is linked not to emotion, but to reason.  This supports the contention that justice, a moral virtue, and, by extension, all moral virtues, is an act of the Intellect, not of the Will; an absolute, not subject to change to reflect the needs of the moment or fitted to expedients, however useful or desired.

The implications are staggering for people who have been educated (to use the word very loosely) in the belief that all morality consists of arbitrary commands by some god or gods that might not even exist, or that opinion and knowledge are equivalents.

Aristotle giving the finger to moral relativism
First and foremost, if morality is linked to reason and not to emotion, there must be some absolute standard of morality against which reason measures the consistency of whatever is deemed moral.  This is, in fact, an application of the first principle of reason.

The first principle of reason relates to absolutes.  This suggests why, in their anxiety to dismiss the idea that there is anything higher than their own opinions, so many people literally shake with rage if you use the word “absolute.”

If there are no absolutes, than there is no certainty about anything — and they can do anything they like or find expedient.  The end justifies the means.  Opinion (which may be true) is just as good and as valid as knowledge (which is certainly, or absolutely true).  Faith overcomes reason in all circumstances.

Ironically (or maybe it’s paradoxical), people who worship science are as bad, if not worse, than people who worship religion — which is different from worshiping God, by the way.  Both are unreasonable, basing everything on faith, instead of using their faith to illuminate their reason, and their reason to understand their faith.

Let’s get back to the subject of absolutes, though.  If, as the study suggests, justice is linked to reason, not to emotion, then the existence of absolutes must be granted.  Why?  Because the first principle of reason assumes absolutes as a given — or it doesn’t make any sense.

The first principle of reason is expressed in two ways, one positive, and one negative.  Positively, the first principle of reason is “the principle of identity”: that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true.  Negatively, the first principle of reason is “the principle of contradiction”: nothing can both “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions.

Stop contradicting yourself. Stop contradicting yourself.
The principle of identity assumes that truth is an absolute.  There is a unity of truth, which Aquinas expressed as a unity of the Intellect (“On the Unity of the Intellect Against the Averroists”), that precludes something being true one moment, but false the next, or both true and false at the same time.  If something is genuinely true, it is absolutely true.

The principle of contradiction assumes that perfection is an absolute (as does the definition of “perfection,” for that matter).  Contradiction and change imply lack of perfection at some point, and therefore the absence of absolutes.  Without absolutes, the fact that something is contradictory becomes irrelevant; contradiction, in fact, becomes a meaningless concept.  How, after all, can something be contradictory if there is nothing to contradict?

If we accept the idea that justice and other moral virtues are linked to reason, we necessarily accept the idea that absolutes exist.  If we accept the idea that absolutes exist (even if we may never know them absolutely!), we necessarily reject contradiction and accept the idea of perfection, as well as the concept of moral relativism.

We also realize that faith and reason cannot be in opposition, but go together — and that neither faith nor reason can contradict the other.  If we assume that faith trumps reason, or reason disproves faith, then there is necessarily a flaw in either our faith or reason, and we have to go back to the drawing board . . . or accept the possibility that nothing has any meaning at all.  As the solidarist jurist and political scientist Heinrich Rommen observed,

“For Duns Scotus morality depends on the will of God. A thing is good not because it corresponds to the nature of God or, analogically, to the nature of man, but because God so wills. Hence the lex naturalis could be other than it is even materially or as to content, because it has no intrinsic connection with God’s essence, which is self-conscious in His intellect. For Scotus, therefore, the laws of the second table of the Decalogue were no longer unalterable. . . . an evolution set in which, in the doctrine of William of Occam (d. cir. 1349 [condemned as a heretic in 1326]) on the natural moral law, would lead to pure moral positivism, indeed to nihilism.” (Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law.  Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51.)

And you were expecting an “April Fool.”


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