Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Bit of Moral Theology's History

Yah--it's easier to read about twits, wackos, and moonbats. But some things are important...

Fr. Servais Pinckaers, O.P., in his book Morality: The Catholic View, describes two views of freedom.

...Fr. Pinckaers describes these two freedoms as: Freedom for Excellence and Freedom of Indifference. Freedom for Excellence has been the classical view of freedom since the advent of Western philosophy. It presupposes that man is naturally moral and so he has the capacity to act with excellence whenever he wishes. This freedom indicates that free will arises from the faculties of reason and will and from a natural longing for truth, goodness, and happiness. It is given to us in germ and develops through education and practice of the virtues until it flourishes in maturity. It unites one’s actions into an ordered whole that nourishes human flourishing with its end being authentic human happiness.

...But in the 14th century, there came a divorce between happiness and the moral life. William of Ockham, a Franciscan theologian, introduced his Ockhamist Nominalism that was to have a devastating effect on thought, religion, and society.

...Ockham also reversed the traditional relationship between freedom and nature. He now said that freedom precedes nature. Thus free will precedes reason and will on the level of action and so it is the first faculty of the human person. He defines freedom as the power to choose indifferently between two contraries. Because free will is first, one can choose between being happy and not being happy. There is no natural inclination to happiness, it is a matter of indifferent choice of the free will. Nature is no longer the source of freedom or happiness, it is choice. This is the freedom of indifference.

...There is no longer a natural bond between the freedom of God and the freedom of the human person. We are now reduced to obligation imposed by the law. The law becomes juridicized and seen as arbitrary. Because happiness is divorced from nature, happiness is redefined and understood to have to be often sacrificed to obligation. Obedience to the law is emphasized and moral action as a response of love with a goal of happiness is pushed out of view. This Nominalist thinking gave rise to a morality of obligation. This view was accepted by the Protestant Reformers and institutionalized by philosophers like Immanuel Kant and his ethics of duty and so forms the predominant view that has influenced the modern West.

However, the logical consequences of Nominalism eventually took root and the primacy of the will, together with the denial of nature and the rebellion against authority gave rise to modernism and now post-modernism. The ethics of obligation has been rejected, happiness has been replaced with sensual pleasure, and the only moral absolute is the primacy of choice. When choice is king and there is no nature to guide one’s actions in the way of right and wrong, as a society we have come to be able to justify killing our unborn, glorifying sexual and alimentary hedonism, redefining human nature so as to accommodate as many number of disorders, that we now euphemize as sexual orientations and genders, as current societal limits will tolerate.

That's the shortened version, but some of you recall the word "positivism," which is a product of Ockham's Nominalism. This "positivism" (and its parent, Nominalism) is the cause of the angst concerning judicial rulings at both the national and State level, although the problem is hardly confined to the USA.

Nominalism is obviously rejected by Muslims, although their heresy is denial of the Trinity (and thus, of inter-personal relations at their foundation)--it is a heresy which could be called Authoritarianism-In-Extreme.

HT: Cosmos, Liturgy, and Sex

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