Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Reasonable Alternative


Today’s blog posting is adapted from the book, Economic Personalism, which you can get free from the CESJ website, or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


Or should the title of this blog posting be, “the Alternative of Reason”?  In the previous posting on this subject, we went over one of the most serious problems facing both faith and reason in the modern world, viz., the separation of faith and reason!  We concluded the solution is to restore both faith and reason to their proper places and let things get back to what used to be known as “normal.”

The question then becomes which principles best meet the need of each human person to pursue absolute values of Truth, Beauty, Love and Justice, and can therefore legitimately claim to be personalist. (The Catholic Church and western civilization in general have selected Aristotelian-Thomism as interpreted by competent authority as the standard of personalism, but that does not necessarily preclude other philosophies from also being personalist.) As such principles are discerned by observation and reason, they must, of course, be based on or consistent with reason.


In this context a principle is a fundamental truth or proposition based on reason that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior.  This is true even for purely faith-based principles, for they may not contradict reason. Hence lex ratio, “law is reason.”  (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 159-160.)  Principles, because they do not have a defined act or direct object on which to act, correspond to Aristotle’s concept of general or legal justice. (Ethics, 1129b25-1130a13.) They infuse and guide the exercise of all particular virtues, i.e., those that do have defined acts and directed objects, but like solidarity and personalism are not themselves particular virtues.

It is an obvious truth that many people do not have the time or the expertise to reason every matter out for themselves and so rely on faith for their notions of good and evil. That, however, does not in any way change the fact that — again, according to Catholic belief — knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law can be known by human reason.


“Person” signifies “that which has rights.” The personalist principle — respect for the dignity of every human being — must therefore guide the respect for the natural rights of each person, especially life, liberty, and access to the rights of private property. No system can be considered personalist that assumes rights come from any form of society (whether the whole of humanity, a special class of persons, or a single individual in an official capacity) or that God grants any rights directly to any form of society.

Finally, we must reject the idea that good and evil are purely matters of opinion or arbitrary religious beliefs. The potential to acquire and develop moral absolutes is inherent in the human condition. While we as imperfect human beings can never develop these absolutes perfectly, we can attain a better understanding of them by growing in virtue through exercising rights, that is, by pursuing justice. The question is how best to do this.


Deciding which particular philosophy best meets the needs of actual people and conforms to essential human nature (that is, to truth), is paradoxically neither as difficult nor as easy as it sounds. It requires simply that we follow the dictum, “To thine own self be true.” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3.)

Yet being true to oneself — that is, conforming to one’s human nature — and becoming more fully human in the process by acquiring and developing virtue (“human-ness”), if done at all, is the work of a lifetime and the hardest path to follow. It is all the more difficult in the modern world because so many people are powerless and have been alienated from the social order. This runs counter to a fundamental aspect of human nature. As Aristotle noted, in addition to being the animal that reasons, “man is by nature a political animal.” (Politics, 1253a.)