Wednesday, February 08, 2006

T.A. on Law and Prudence; Hardon on #8

Since Shepherd/Shark wishes to continue the discussion, let's start with Thomas Aquinas. (Quotations from "A Tour of the Summa," Mgr. Paul Glenn, Rockford: Tan Books)

"Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good of persons in a society." (90.2.)

From this it is logical to conclude that Law promotes the common good; conversely, that which does NOT promote the common good is, or should be, illegal. In the Case of the Cartoons, Professor Esenberg would have the principle of Free Speech govern discourse: "I can't see how someone else's religious sensibilities can be the limit of my right of free speech."

The Professor arrogates a good deal of latitude in "his right of free speech," here including the liberty to 'offend someone else's religious sensibilities.'

Aquinas would disagree. In his discussion of the Cardinal Virtues (which must uphold Law, rightly understood), TA tells us that Prudence "is the knowledge of how to conduct one's life rightly." (47.1) Further, that one of the quasi-integral parts of Prudence is "Circumspection....[which] sees what is suitable existing circumstances." (49.8)

That is, a constituent part of Prudence is circumspection--the ability to see what is suitable (to say, or do.)

It is reasonable to conclude that TA would not necessarily emplace "the right of free speech" as over and above the requirements of Prudence (circumspection); rather, the "right of free speech" is subordinate to the Virtues, which support the Law and consequently, the common good.

The Law is partially enshrined in the Old Law--the 10 Commandments.

Thus let us move to John Hardon (SJ,) and examine his essay on the 8th Commandment. (Citations from The Catholic Catechism, John Hardon, SJ, New York: Doubleday)

"The immediate focus of the 8th Commandment is falsehood that does injury to one's neighbor." (P. 408)

While it is true that Mohammed is 'nobody's neighbor' at present, those who follow him are, indeed, neighbors. These individuals are entitled to respect as human beings which must be granted a priori, that is, before they have proven themselves to be either "good" or "bad." Thus it follows that similar a priori respect must be granted to their religious beliefs (under the usual conditions.) But Hardon has more to say:

"When the revelation of another person's fault is necessary or very useful, as in defense of self or others, no injustice is done in revealing it." (P. 409)

The depiction of Mohammed as a "bomb-carrying" man cannot serve "as a defense of self or others" against Mohammed, who is dead. Thus, the depiction may well be Detraction.

However, the argument can be made that this depiction is a metaphor for those who are followers of Mohammed. It is certainly true (thus, licit) of some of those followers. It is not true, however, of all of them. Thus, the 'metaphoric' depiction may also be Detraction. Mutatis mutandis, all other depictions which are imprudent, or lacking circumspection, are likely violations of Law (properly understood) notwithstanding the protection of Free Speech which must be subordinate to the Common Good.

Further, Hardon tells us: "The process of promoting public opinion, by what is called propaganda, is justified when it serves the truth, when its objectives and methods accord with the dignity of man, and when it promotes causes that are in the public interest. These...are principles [which must be] adhered to..." (P. 417 #2)

It is not the case that the editorials in question "accord with the dignity of man," whether the immediate target (Mohammed) nor the metaphorical target(s), Mohammedans. Thus, the propaganda fails the test and is likely Detraction (if not calumny.)

Esenberg's colleague asks whether Marxist criticisms of religion did not have a salutary result. Perhaps they did. However, the cases are not comparable, as Esenberg will admit. Marx and his followers were not in the least interested in the truth, nor the greater good. Rather, they were calumniators.

It is possible, thus, that an evil deed MAY result in good effects. But as some Jesuits still believe, "the end does not justify the means."

Calumny is not "protected free speech." Further, "free speech" (rightly understood,) is informed by the virtue of Prudence, demonstrated by circumspection in such speech, and must, therefore, be subordinate to the Common Good, which is the purpose of the Law.


Rick Esenberg said...

D-29 - I think this is anachronistic. Acquinas would probably have not supported the First Amendment. We have chosen otherwise. But he also would not have supported anything like our modern conception of religious freedom. He would not have accorded rights to error and - my guess - is he would have not only permitted, but insisted upon, lots of stuff that would offend Muslim sensibilities. Like proselytyzing them. Or calling Mohammed a false prophet.

Dad29 said...

The Ten Commandments are "anachronistic" too, Rick. What does the age of a document have to do with its validity?

Your assumptions are partially incorrect. TA holds that "error has no rights," but "error" is distinct from the PERSON who holds that error. TA did not suggest that a person be treated with disrespect for holding an error. That would be un-Catholic. (Although I admit that it is a lot of fun to abuse Jim Doyle (e.g.))

Proselytizing happens to be a command of Christ, not of TA.

And civil discourse about the validity of Mohamet is NOT "cartoon offenses."

Finally, it is clear through my post that TA supports "free speech." Hardon explicitly mentions it in the section I cited, and Hardon is a traditionalist.

But you are likely correct that TA would not envision "free speech" as do newspaper editors--or patently-offensive cartoonists.

If "speech" is not subject to bounds of propriety, then it is not "free;" it is licentious.

Rick Esenberg said...

I mean "anachronistic" in that you are using Acquinas in support of a position that I doubt he would have taken because you are taking what he wrote and putting a modern gloss. He was one of the most brilliant people God ever created, but he was also a late medievalist. I'm thinking he would have limited the definition of "blasphemy" to blasphemy against the Christian God.

The problem with the Vatican statment is that it allows believers to define what does and does not offend their sensibilities. That's fine until you start talking about restricting speech because there is no limit as to what some believers will regard as offensive, as radical Islam has shown us.

Dad29 said...

"Blasphemy is a direct disparaging of the divine emphatic form of unbelief..."

Thomas Aquinas (same source, P.195, 13, 1&3)

"Blasphemy: Speaking against God...included are offenses in thought, word, or action. Serious contemptuous ridicule of the Saints, sacred objects, or of persons consecrated to God... (John Hardon, SJ., Catholic Dictionary, NYC: Image Books)

I never mentioned blasphemy, by the way...

While TA would not agree that "Allah is God," (Mohammedans do not believe in the Trinity,) the phrase 'disparaging of the divine goodness' applies to the concept held by Mohammedans, as much as to the concept held by Buddhists.

The Vatican statement is not the problem: the radicals ARE.

You have not addressed, however, the arguments made vis-a-vis the 8th Commandment by Hardon. You have not argued that "freedom of speech" should NOT be subordinate to a greater law.

Where are you going with this?

Anonymous said...

Wow. A lot of words to say, "because my religion says so."

Dad29 said...

Actually, since Rick teaches at a Catholic institution, using the relgion made sense to me.

But tell me, after all that, Elliot: would your mother say anything different that what's laid out there?