Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Light from Copleston on Augustine’s View of Faith and Reason


            Frederick Copleston’s collection of books on the History of Philosophy are an important tool for any student of philosophy or Theology.  In volume 2, part 1, where he talks about Medieval Philosophy Copleston gives an introduction to Augustine’s philosophical and theological thought. In two earlier posts I discussed the relation between faith and reason, from the perspective of Augustine, as well as from the perspective of Aquinas. Copleston has this to say about Augustine’s view of man and of the relation between 
faith and reason.

            “In short, Augustine did not play two parts, the part of the theologian and the part of the philosopher who considers the ‘natural man’; he thought rather of man as he is in concrete, fallen and redeemed mankind, man who is able indeed to attain truth but who is constantly solicited by God’s grace and who requires grace in order to appropriate the truth that saves. If there was question of convincing someone that God exists, Augustine would see the proof as a stage or as an instrument in the total process of the man’s conversion and salvation: he would recognise the proof as in itself rational, but he would be acutely conscious, not only of the moral preparation necessary to give a real and living assent to the proof, but also of the fact that, according to God’s intention for man in the concrete, recognition of God’s existence is not enough, but should lead on, under the impulse of grace, to supernatural faith in God’s revelation and to a life in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Reason has its part to play in bringing a man to faith, and, once a man has the faith, reason has its part to play in penetrating the data of faith; but it is the total relation of the soul to God which primarily interests Augustine…he would consider the fullness of wisdom to consist in a penetration of what is believed, though in the approach to wisdom reason helps to prepare a man for faith. ‘The medicine for the soul, which is effected by the divine providence and ineffable beneficence, is perfectly beautiful in degree and distinction. For it is divided between Authority and Reason. Authority demands of us faith, and prepares man for reason. Reason leads to perception and cognition, although authority also does not leave reason wholly out of sight, when the question of who may be believed is being considered.’[1]
           


[1]Frederick Copleston, Mediaeval Philosophy, pt.1, Augustine to Bonaventure, in A History of Philosophy (1950; repr., Garden City, NY: Image books, 1962), 2:63-4.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is Abortion Morally Right or Wrong?


One of the most debated questions today is whether or not abortion is morally acceptable, and, if it is, until what stage in the development of the substance which is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm? (I will be using, as much as possible, the term substance created by human fertilization, rather than the less morally neutral terms such as: human baby, human fetus, etc. This will not be satisfactory for those who are pro-life activists, who will probably say that I’m giving too much to the pro-choice activists. Please forgive me for this; if someone so desires, they may read baby, or human fetus into the text, it won’t change the effect of the argument.) I would like to advance the following argument, based upon the progress that we have made so far (See: What it means to be a Human Person, parts 1-13). The following argument seems to demonstrate that abortion, from the moment of fertilization onward, is pre-meditated murder (Pre-meditated murder is defined as planning to kill a human-being, and following through on the plan, thereby successfully killing the human being; or, in other words, successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action.). The argument is based upon an Aristotelian conception of human nature, and, as such, this is not a religious argument. Furthermore, if the argument is valid, and sound, then it is a morally objective fact, based upon human nature. Now, Aristotle defines humans as rational animals (a view which I exposed in What it means to be a Human Person, parts 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13. Those who can read French can also look at the blog post: La Recherche d’une Fondation pour des Décisions Morales, and Les Fins Humaines : La Base de la Moralité.)
The Argument is as follows:

(1)   An X is human if and only if X has a rational form.
(2)   X possesses a rational form if and only if X is either actually thinking rationally, or in potency to rational thought.
(3)   The substance created by human fertilization is in potency to rational thought.
(4)   Therefore, the substance created by human fertilization possesses a rational form.
(5)   Therefore the substance created by human fertilization is human, by definition.
(6)   Pre-meditated murder is successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action. (If X is killed according to a pre-established plan, and X is a human, then X is the victim of pre-meditated murder.)
(7)   The substance created by human fertilization is killed according to a pre-established plan when it is aborted.
(8)   Therefore, killing (aborting) the substance created by human fertilization any time after fertilization is the moral equivalent of pre-meditated murder.

A consequence of this argument is that, if it is morally wrong to commit pre-meditated murder, then it is morally wrong to kill the substance created by human fertilization. Therefore, Abortion is pre-meditated murder.

For those who are interested I worked this argument out using predicate logic, and it seems to be valid.[1] (Perhaps a better logician than I would disagree. I would appreciate any comments on this point.) The soundness of this argument depends, of course, upon the truth of each of the premises.

Premise 1 is, essentially, the Aristotelian definition of human nature. I exposed, and attempted to defend this definition in the posts mentioned above, and, so, I will not take the time to defend them here.

Premise 2 follows upon premise 1. I use the terms actually and potency in the Aristotelian sense, where that which is in potency to A, does not actually possess, or is not actually in a state of, A; but, that which is in potency to A, due to its form or nature, and given a certain maturity and properly functioning organs, will possess, or be capable of being in a state of, A. So, for example, though an acorn is not yet a tree, it is in potency to be a tree. Though a child is not yet an adult, it is in potency to being an adult and to all of the capacities that an adult has. The term actually, or, in other words, to be in act, refers to the fact that, if something is actually A, then it is in possession of, or is currently in a state of, A. So, the acorn is in potency to being a tree, but it is actually an acorn (a nut). A child is in potency to being an adult, but it is actually a child.  With these concepts in mind, premise 2 is simply stating that a being with a rational form is either actually in the act of reasoning (such as I am right now, and as the reader is as they read these words), or said being is not actually reasoning at the time being, though they are in potency to the act of reasoning, such as a person who is sleeping or is in a coma, or a one year old child who cannot yet reason.

Premise 3 is, perhaps, a point of friction; however, it follows upon premise 2, and it is based upon 2 facts. First of all, though the substance that is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm is not actually capable of reasoning, it is in potency to the act of reasoning. This is an empirical observation based upon the fact that, unless the substance which is the result of human fertilization dies prematurely, or has malfunctioning hardware, it inevitably is not only capable of reasoning, but will spend most of its waking hours involved in some form of reasoning. Secondly, based upon our definition of potency, if it is not actually reasoning, but will be able to reason, then it is in potency to rational thought. There may be a problem here: do we say that a thing is in potency to rationality because it has a rational form, or do we say that a thing has a rational form because it is actually in the process of reasoning, or is in potency to rational thought? This is an interesting question. For the time being, anyways, I am of the opinion that when we say that something has a rational form we are performing an act of classification. Therefore, though form precedes rationality in the substance itself (metaphysically), the observation of rationality (actually or only potentially) in a subject precedes the categorization (epistemologically). For Aristotle, the form is in the thing itself, and our classification of things into their various genus’s and species is an act of the intellect. Things are what they are due to their form; we know that they are what they are due to the intellect’s abstraction of the form from its observation of the thing. Therefore, the above problem is not really a problem; it simply brings up the distinction that we have just made. The answer to the dilemma above is “yes”. 

As noted above, Premise 4 follows upon Premise 3 epistemologically. Though, we could, it seems, change the order of these two premises without greatly affecting the argument, if we wanted to put more emphasis upon the metaphysical nature of the substance in question than on our knowledge of its nature. Is the argument, therefore, circular? It does not seem to be circular; neither does it seem to beg the question. Rather, the first four premises seem to be the result of empirical observation.

Premise 5 is the conclusion of the first 4 premises, and if the first four premises are true, then Premise 5 would appear to follow necessarily. Now, as the following premises would appear to demonstrate, if premise 5 follows upon premises 1-4, then we are put into a nasty situation as regards abortion, at any stage of development from fertilization on.

Premise 6 is a simple definition of pre-meditated murder. Perhaps someone would want to add certain nuances; however, I believe that this definition gives an appropriate summary of what is generally viewed as pre-meditated murder. (Exceptions are simply that, exceptions. They do not remove the fact of the general observation.)

Premise 7 is assumed for the logical argument, but it is a fact of modern reality. Every day (and I am sorry if I under-estimate the number) thousands of abortions are carried out, around the world, at almost every stage of the development of the substance that is caused by human fertilization. Usually, killing after birth is seen as murder, and treated as such, however, doctors, patients, politicians, and activists, seem to be able to find reasons to rationalize killing the substance in question at any stage of its development. Therefore, premise 7 is not really up for debate here.

Premise 8 is simply the conclusion of premises 1-7. Logically it seems to follow, and if I have been successful, then this argument is not only logically valid, but the conclusion is also true. 

I guess I will leave it up to the reader to decide what to do with this argument.


[1]The Argument seems to work out as follows (Any comments would be appreciated):
1. ∀x (Hx↔Rx)                        A 
2. ∀x (Rx ↔(Tx v Px)              A
3. ∀x ((Kx & Hx) → Mx)         A 
4. Pf                                          PA 
5. Hf ↔ Rf                               1∀O 
6. Rf ↔(Tf v Pf)                       2∀O 
7. (Tf v Pf) → Rf                      6↔O 
8. Tf                                         PA 
9. Tf v Pf                                  4vI 
10. Rf                                      7,9→O 
11. Tf→Rf                               8-10vI 
12. Rf→Hf                               5↔O 
13. Hf                                      10,12→O 
14. Pf→Hf                                4-13→I 
15. Kf                                      PA 
16. (Kf & Hf)→Mf                  3∀O 
17. Kf & Hf                             13, 15&I 
18. Mf                                     16,17→O 
19. Kf→Mf                             15-18→I 

Domain Key
Hx = x is a human 
Rx = x possesses a Rational Form 
Tx = x is actually thinking rationally 
Px = x is in potency to rational thought 
Kx = x is killed according to a plan 
Mx = x is the victim of a pre-meditated murder 
f = the substance created by human fertilization

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Modern Movies and an Ancient Critic

    Frederick Copleston, in his exposition of Aristotle's theory of Aesthetics, makes an interesting comment which is all too applicable to modern films.

    He says,

   "The getting-up of the mise en scène is 'more a matter for the costumier than for the poet.' It is a pity that Aristotle's words on this matter have not been heeded in later times. Elaborate scenery and spectacular effect are poor substitutes for plot and character-drawing."[1]


    It is an unfortunate fact that many, if not most, modern films put more emphasis on the visual effects then on the plot and the development of character. It is, perhaps, a sign of the moral and intellectual depravity of our age, that people in general are seeking bigger and flashier, rather than artistic and moral excellence, both in the message of the art and in the presentation of the art.


[1]Frederick Copleston, Greece & Rome, part 2, in A History of Philosophy (1946; repr., Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962), 1:106.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The State of "the Mind" in the Church

     I recently came across an interesting blog posting by Randall Smith called Thinking in Church and with the Church. To read the full posting follow this link. I will quote some interesting thoughts below.

    "Theology is about growing in your understanding of the faith.  And growing in your understanding of the faith is an important part of what it means to have a living faith.  First of all, you need to know what you believe in order to say you believe at all.  
Consider how odd would it be if, hearing a person repeat over and over: “I believe; I really, really believe,” you asked: “That’s interesting; what do you believe?” – and the only response the person could give was: “I don’t know, but I know I really believe.”  
Living in the South, I hear a lot of Pentecostal preaching about the name of Jesus.  “Do you believe in Jee-zus?”  “Yes!,” the crowd shouts.  It would be more than a little embarrassing if a member of the congregation were asked: “Who is this Jesus?” and the reply was: “I have no idea. I just love the name Jee-zus.”  You need something to believe in or, as in Christianity, some one.  And you need to know at least a little bit about what that something or someone is.  A faith that isn’t growing is a faith in the process of dying."

Smith asks a rhetorical question that is very powerful. "If you have a Ph.D. in law, economics, or science, but have nothing more than a third-grader's understanding of your faith, which do you suppose is going to dominate your life?"

We need to be growing in our knowledge of God all the time. Smith makes an interesting comment about our faith. The Scriptures say our faith should be “child-like” – that is to say, simple, honest, and trusting.  This is very different from saying that our faith should be childish. When adults have a “childish” faith, it becomes something they force on their children, even when they aren’t especially interested in it for themselves.  But the faith ceases any longer to have much to do with the realities of daily life – especially with the really big and really difficult moral questions.

Once the Christian mind has been extinguished who will be left to teach the doctrines of the true Christian faith? The problem has been put this way by Michael Marshall, “The problem for the church in every age is to find a sufficient supply of men and women who know the content of the Christian faith and who are able to communicate it in user-friendly language and in a manner that is accessible to a particular generation and culture.”[1] I fear that the church is full of great communicators, but is severely lacking in men and women who have a profound knowledge of the doctrines of the Christian faith.


[1]Michael Marshall, Flame in the Mind: A Journey of Spiritual Passion (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 30.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thomas Aquinas on Faith


Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologiae II-II, Question 2, addresses the question of faith. From the first article we can see that he follows in the footsteps of St. Augustine. The question that is addressed in the first article is “Whether to Believe is to Think with Assent?”[1] After considering 3 objections to the contrary, Aquinas answers, “On the contrary, This is how to believe is defined by Augustine.”[2] Aquinas goes on to elaborate Augustine’s definition by distinguishing between, three senses in which we use the word think. The first sense is the general sense and seems to imply, for Aquinas, knowledge, that is, the end of the thinking process. This sense is what is behind the affirmation “I think X.” X is a conclusion, an object of knowledge. Aquinas claims that if faith is to think with assent in this first sense, then even those objects of knowledge which have been gained through science must be said to be the objects of faith, which is ridiculous. Aquinas says, “If to think be understood broadly according to the first sense, then to think with assent, does not express completely what is meant by to believe: since, in this way, a man thinks with assent even when he considers what he knows by science, or understands.”[3] The third sense that Aquinas gives is the definition of the term, that is, “an act of the cogitative power.”[4] This third sense is too general because it includes both the first and the second sense; therefore it cannot be the third sense of to think.

Logically, if there are only three options, and the first and the third are not the proper ways of understanding to think, then the second sense of to think must be the correct sense. Leaving the question of whether or not there are only three senses of to think to another time, we will look at Aquinas’s explanation of the second sense. Aquinas says that the second sense of to think refers to the actual process, or act, of thinking prior to the arrival at a conclusion. “In this way thought is, properly speaking, the movement of the mind while yet deliberating, and not yet perfected by the clear sight of truth.”[5] So, to think, in the second sense, is an unfinished process by which the thinker tends towards, though they have not yet arrived at, the truth. In this way alone, can we understand Augustine’s definition of to believe. To believe is not to possess the truth, and it is not, therefore, knowledge. Yet, to believe implies a conviction of the truth of the object of belief which is equal to the conviction of the truth of an object of knowledge. In other words, the believer is as convinced of the truth of the object of belief as the knower is of the object of knowledge (which is necessarily true). Aquinas says, “But this act to believe, cleaves firmly to ones side [is firmly convinced of the truth of one side of an argument, for example that God is triune], in which respect belief has something in common with science and understanding [because science and understanding also cleave firmly to one side of the argument due to the knowledge of the truth of that side and the falsity of the opposite opinion, for example that it is true that “Australia is a continent in the southern hemisphere.”]; yet its knowledge does not attain the perfection of clear sight, wherein it agrees with doubt, suspicion and opinion.”[6]

Belief, therefore, is like knowledge in its conviction of the truth of the proposition, but it is like, as Aquinas states, doubt, suspicion and opinion in the sense that the proposition is not the object of knowledge for the person in question, or, in other words, the proposition is not seen to be true by the person in question. Therefore, belief is accepting voluntarily the truth of a proposition (that is not, or cannot, be seen to be true by the believer) based upon the authority of an intellect which offers the proposition for belief, and which has sees the truth of the proposition.
                                                                                                        


[1]ST II-II, 2,1.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Faith and Reason: Is there a Conflict?

       The relationship between faith and reason is, in our modern times, seen as a stressful relationship. Many people, having a religious bent, whether they be Christians or otherwise, seem to think that faith and reason are two archenemies, and that ultimately faith is the victor. On the other hand, many people who despise religion, holding to the same view of a war between faith and reason, think that reason will ultimately reign supreme. Belief, a synonym of faith, is treated with contempt by authors such as Valerie Tarico, who, in a recently published article treats belief as an anti-rational action that is applauded, primarily, by religious people.[1]

         Daniel Dennett, for example, in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, talks a lot about belief without ever giving a precise definition of it. Reading through the book we can glean some hints at what he might mean by belief. He differentiates between what he calls “the faith of religious belief”,[2] and some form of simpler faith, which he describes as “the practical, always revisable policy of simply trusting the first thing that comes to your mind without obsessing over why it does so.”[3] This “simpler faith” is also what he calls “common knowledge”.[4] Later on Dennett differentiates between what he calls belief “in the weak sense”,[5] and belief “in the strong sense”.[6] Though his definitions are not clear, it seems that a person who has a weak belief knows that the object of his belief does not exist, yet they devote their life to studying that object. Whereas a person who has a strong belief thinks that the object of their belief exists, even though it does not, and they devote their lives to studying it. How belief “in the weak sense”, qualifies as belief is hard to understand, however, an earlier statement by Dennett may help us to understand his usage of the term belief. “Do I believe in witches? It all depends what you mean. If you mean evil-hearted spell-casting women who fly around supernaturally on broomsticks and wear black pointed hats, the answer is obvious: no, I no more believe in witches than I believe in the Easter bunny or the Tooth Fairy. If you mean people, both men and women, who practice Wicca, a popular New Age cult these days, the answer is equally obvious: yes, I believe in witches; they are no more supernatural than Girl Scouts or Rotarians.”[7] In this paragraph he seems to equate belief with thinking about something that exists,[8] which, however, does not really help us to understand his distinction between strong and weak belief. In his explanation of weak and strong belief, the object of the belief does not exist; the difference between the person with weak belief and the person with strong belief is that the person with weak belief knows that the object of belief does not exist, whereas the person with strong belief thinks that this same object does exist.[9] In his statement, on page 211, Dennett does not believe in something that he knows does not exist, which means that he does not even have weak belief about that object.[10] Perhaps, then, belief is, for Dennett, more than just thinking about the object of belief, but devoting one’s life to the study of it as that is the thing that is common between the person with weak belief and the person with strong belief. This however does not fit with his claim, on page 211, that he believes that witches, in a non-supernatural sense, exist.[11] Belief, used in this sense seems to mean, for Dennett, knowledge. He knows that they exist; therefore he is able to say that he believes that they exist.

Dennett is not, in this book at least, clear about what belief, in any sense of the word, is. Trying to discover what he means by belief is a frustrating endeavor, because his use of the word changes all too frequently. It is, therefore, impossible to say what he means by belief, although he does differentiate, as we noted above between simple belief and religious belief, weak belief and strong belief.

There is a place in his book where he describes belief in a different way from the above descriptions, he says, “We all trust the experts about many things, and these are your experts.”[12] To keep this statement in context, we must note that he is describing what he sees as the lamentable state of North American disbelief in Evolution. He claims that many Christians simply trust their leaders, who are their authorities, when their leaders tell them that evolution is false. He goes on to lament that there are no reputable scholars who deny evolution; therefore these poor Christians have misplaced their trust. This does not seem to be, for Dennett, a description of belief; however, this statement does coincide with a definition of belief that dates back, at least, to St. Augustine. Augustine describes belief as follows: “for belief is simply consenting to the truth of what is said, and consent is necessarily an act of will.[13] Belief, therefore, according to Augustine is, simply put, voluntary assent to the truth of an affirmation. This coincides quite nicely with what Dennett seems to be saying in the preceding quote, that, “We all trust the experts about many things.”[14] Now, I might add that belief is not belief if we know already the truth of an affirmation, so, we could add to this definition of belief, that belief is voluntary assent to the truth of an affirmation, of which we have no previous knowledge. However, Dennett’s point, in the context of the above quote, is well taken, and it should be noted that belief, as it is not based upon one’s own knowledge, must be based upon the knowledge of another. If that other is not a qualified authority, then that belief is misplaced. So, we should add to our definition the idea of an authority. Belief, then, is voluntary assent to the truth of an affirmation (of which we have no previous knowledge) by a recognized authority.

          Augustine’s equation for how we arrive at knowledge is well-known, “We cannot deny that believing and knowing are different things, and that in matters of great importance, pertaining to divinity, we must first believe before we seek to know.”[15] We must, according to Augustine (and note, that in the context he is referring primarily to “matters of great importance, pertaining to divinity”[16]), believe in order to know. It seems that this equation does not apply only to matters pertaining to divine subjects, but to all subjects. That is, in order to gain knowledge of mathematics, one must first believe the teacher (authority) who tells one how to perform mathematical equations. This belief is the road to knowledge, even of things that are, once examined, evident to the human mind. Therefore, belief is necessary for all knowledge, and, there is, therefore, no conflict between faith and reason.

            A further consequence of the above observations is that every true proposition can be at the same time an object of belief and an object of knowledge, but not at the same time for the same person. Once one knows the truth of a proposition, based upon one’s own experience (sensorial or intellectual in the case of demonstration) of the reality which the proposition is designating, then that proposition is no longer an object of belief, but of knowledge. Belief, ideally, leads to knowledge. Therefore, a true proposition (such as “Australia is a country located in the southern hemisphere.”) can be knowledge for one who has been there and an object of faith for the person who simply accepts the authority of the one who has been there. Ideally one should verify, when possible, those propositions which are objects of belief. It is not always possible for everyone to verify every proposition, therefore, most people simply believe most of the propositions that they think that they know. This is simply a reality for human beings due to our limitations.

            One might object that I am piling “religious faith” in the same pile as “simply faith”, according to the distinction made by Dennett.[17] There is a difference between the objects of belief in the domains of, for example, mathematics, and divine revelations. Aside from the obvious differences (what we are asked to believe), the difference, as related to faith, is the identity of the authority that is to be believed. As far as faith is concerned, the content of the belief (whether it be a mathematical equation or the trinity), is not important, as the truth of the content is offered by an authority as an object of belief.[18] What is important is whether or not the authority in question is worthy of belief.

            At this point we recognize that the believer must, if they are to be a rational person, use their intellect, before believing the authority in question, to determine whether or not the authority in question is worthy of belief. You don’t trust just anybody; you trust the qualified authority, the one who knows. When it comes to questions of mathematics, for example, the believer (or the believers’ parents) should find out first of all whether or not the teacher is qualified to teach. We don’t have to prove the existence of the teacher; rather we must see that the teacher is qualified. With theological matters the method is inversed. If God (at least as described by classical Christian theology) exists, then he is the ultimate authority. With God it is his existence that must be proved not his qualifications.

Here is not the place to lay down arguments for God’s existence, but, it should be noted that, if, as the Aristotelian/ Thomistic tradition of philosophy claims is true, the fact that God exists can be demonstrated, then, “that God exists” is not a question, by definition, of belief, but of knowledge, for the person who understands the demonstration. As noted above, most propositions will only be objects of knowledge for some people, and objects of belief for most people, due to the limitations of the human race. As such, even if it is possible to prove that God exists, the proposition “God exists” would still be an object of belief for all those who voluntarily accept this proposition based upon the authority of the person who worked out the demonstration, rather than working out the demonstration for themselves. So, at this point the question is, can it be proved that God exists. If so, then what God says is eminently worthy of belief. If not, then nothing that claims to be God’s words is worthy of belief.


[1]Valerie Tarico, “Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science,” in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, ed. John W. Loftus (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010), 47-64.

[2]Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), 160.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid., 213.

[6]Ibid., 212.

[7]Ibid., 211.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Ibid., 212-13.

[10]Ibid., 211.

[11]Ibid.

[12]Ibid., 60.

[13]Augustine, “The Spirit and the Letter,” in Augustine: Later Works, ed. John Burnaby (1955, repr., Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 238.

[14]Dennett, 60.

[15]Augustine, “On Free Will,” in Augustine: Earlier Writings, ed. J. H. S. Burleigh (1953; repr., Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006 ), 137.

[16]Ibid.

[17]Dennett, 160.

[18]It may be objected that with mathematical equations, once believed, the believer can then verify the conclusions; whereas with theological affirmations verification is strictly impossible. However the objector must accept the fact that, if God exists, then regardless of whether or not we can verify what he says (for example the existence of the trinity), he will be the ultimate authority and it is only wise to believe what he says. Therefore, it can be seen that even the verification of the affirmation is of secondary importance to whether or not the authority is worthy of belief.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inspiration from Augustine

    This morning I came across a well-known prayer of Augustine, in the book Flame in the Mind by Michael Marshall (p. 18), which I find particularly interesting, and well worth sharing.

    "O God, you are the light of the minds that know you,
     The joy of the hearts that love you,
     And the strength of the wills that serve you.
     Grant us so to know you that we may truly love you;
     And so to love you that we may fully and freely serve you,
     Whose service is perfect freedom,
     In and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

    This prayer reflects something which I have frequently taught in churches and youth groups. In order to truly love and truly serve God, one must first know God as much as he can be known by finite human minds.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Les Fins Humaines : La Base de la Moralité

Dans ma dernière publication sur le blog, j’ai parlé des fins et de la fin ultime de l’homme. Je voulais regarder plus en profondeur la question d’une fin pour démontrer que les jugements moraux sont basés sur la nature humaine et que les fins sont intrinsèques à cette nature.

J’ai dit antérieurement que la fin d’une chose est déterminée par sa nature. Alors dans cette publication, nous allons bâtir un argument, basé sur des définitions, qui va démontrer que la moralité humaine est basée sur sa nature. La nature d’une chose, selon Thomas d’Aquin, semblerait être l’essence d’une chose quand on la considère en fonction de sa propre fonction.[1] Étienne Gilson a dit ceci, « On sait d’ailleurs que, dans le sens Aristotelien, ‘nature’ est la source intérieure et directe de l’activité et des actions de n’importe quel être. »[2] Donc, on dit que l’essence d’un humain est animale rationnelle. Ceci inclus le genre – animal, et la différence – rationnelle. Un animal est un être composé de matière et de forme qui a en lui le principe de son propre mouvement. (Le mot principe à comme sens : la source). Le mot rationnel fait référence à la capacité de raisonner. Quand on dit qu’un homme est un animal rationnel, on donne la définition (essence ou quiddité) de l’homme. La rationalité est ce qui différentie les hommes des autres animaux. Alors, quand on parle de la nature humaine, selon la définition donnée auparavant, on met l’emphase sur sa rationalité, ce qui est la propre fonction de l’homme.

Maintenant, on a commencé en disant que la fin d’une chose est déterminée par sa nature. La nature humaine est « animale rationnelle », alors, sa fin doit avoir un lien avec la rationalité. Une fin est le but vers lequel un être a tendance à se diriger. On sait qu’une chose à une fin quand on voit qu’il a une tendance habituelle à se diriger vers un bien.[3] Par exemple, la nature d’un réfrigérateur est d’être une machine qui préserve la nourriture par le froid. Alors, la fin d’un réfrigérateur est de préserver la nourriture en la gardant froide. On juge un réfrigérateur selon s’il obtient, ou non, sa fin. C'est-à-dire, on dit qu’un réfrigérateur est bon s’il préserve la nourriture, et on dit qu’il est mauvais s’il ne préserve pas la nourriture. Ceci est un jugement objectif basé sur la nature du réfrigérateur et selon s’il accomplit, ou non, sa fin.

Ces observations nous démontrent quelque chose d’autre: le bon, ou le bien, est relié à la fin. C'est-à-dire, la fin d’une chose, basée sur sa nature, est son propre bien. Une chose est bonne dans la mesure qu’elle accomplit sa fin ou son but. Selon Edward Feser, de bonnes actions morales ne sont que des cas particuliers de la notion générale du bien.[4] La notion générale du bien décrit le bien comme étant la chose, qui est désirable en soi (On ne parle pas de ce qu’on peut percevoir comme étant désirable, parce qu’on peut se tromper. On parle plutôt de ce qui est désirable « en soi », c'est-à-dire, même si on ne le reconnaît jamais.), et la chose vers laquelle chaque être se dirige selon sa nature. La fin de chaque être est donc son bien, et chaque être est bien dans la mesure qu’il obtient son bien – c’est-à-dire, sa fin. Alors, le bien de chaque être se base sur sa forme ou sa nature. Ainsi, quand on juge un être en disant qu’il est soit bien, soit mauvais, c’est un jugement objectif basé sur la nature de l’être en question.

Si on applique maintenant ces définitions à l’humain, on doit dire qu’étant un animal, comme on l’a défini auparavant, il a plusieurs fins qui, en les accomplissant, fait de lui un bon animal – c'est-à-dire, un animal qui accomplit ses fins. C'est-à-dire, de se nourrir, de grandir, de se reproduire, etc. (Ce sont les caractéristiques de base d’un être vivant.) Avec plus de précision, un animal est un être qui est capable, par ses sens, d’interagir avec ses environs, étant la source de son propre mouvement et de ses propres actions. Un bon animal est celui qui accomplit ceci selon son espèce. On juge un animal bon seulement s’il accomplit ces fins. Donc, un bon lion est celui qui réussit à se reproduire, à tuer d’autres animaux pour nourrir ses petits, etc.

Mais, il y plus que cela pour l’humain. Comme nous l’avons dit plus tôt, l’humain a une forme rationnelle. La chose qui fait la différence entre une action qui est simplement, animale et une action qui est humaine, est ce qui détermine si l’action est morale ou amorale; c’est la rationalité. Alors, la fin humaine, basée sur notre nature, est d’être rationnel.

Pour un humain, les actions animales doivent aussi être accomplies, mais, on dit qu’elles sont maintenant des actions humaines parce que l’être humain a la capacité de raisonner, il a donc la capacité de choisir ses fins et la capacité de choisir comment agir pour obtenir ces fins (ou, même, de ne pas poursuivre une fin qui est perçue comme étant bonne. Cette décision est basée sur une autre fin qui est vue comme étant meilleure.) Par exemple, une personne à qui on offre un Big Mac de McDonalds, refuse de le manger même si elle a faim, peut voir que l’hamburger est bon mais elle pense à une autre fin – la santé – comme étant plus désirable. Alors, les actions humaines sont jugées bonnes, ou mauvaises, en fonction de la rationalité et ce jugement est un jugement moral. Alors, la moralité humaine est basée sur la nature humaine, rationnelle. Un acte humain bon est rationnel et un acte humain mauvais n’est pas rationnel.

Edward Feser donne une bonne explication de cela : «En bref, la position de Thomas d'Aquin est essentiellement ceci: la raison pratique est dirigée par la nature vers la poursuite de ce que l'intellect perçoit comme étant bon; ce qui est, en fait,  la réalisation ou l’accomplissement des différentes fins qui sont inhérentes à la nature humaine. Une personne rationnelle percevra cela et, en conséquence, dirigera ses actions vers la réalisation ou l'accomplissement de ces fins. En ce sens, la bonne action est tout simplement ce qui est « conforme à la raison» (ST I-II.21.1; cf. ST I-II.90.1), et la question septique de la morale «Pourquoi devrais-je faire ce qui est bon? » propose une réponse évidente: parce que d’être rationnel est simplement (en partie) de faire ce qui est bon, d’accomplir les fins ordonnées pour nous, par nature.»[5]

Alors mon argument est le suivant :

(1)   Une nature, par définition, est l’essence d’une chose quand on la considère selon sa propre fonction.

(2)   La nature humaine est « animale rationnelle ».
a.       La rationalité est la propre fonction d’un humain.

(3)   Une fin, par définition, est le but vers lequel un être a tendance, en temps normal, à se diriger selon sa nature.

(4)   Le bien, par définition, est ce qui est désirable en soi et ce vers quoi chaque être se dirige selon sa nature.

(5)   Alors le bien d’une chose est sa fin, qui est basée sur sa nature.

(6)   Ainsi le bien pour un être avec une nature humaine est :
a.       Étant un animal :
                                                                          i.      La nutrition, reproduction, et croissance
                                                                        ii.      L’interaction avec le monde extérieur par les sens, la sexualité
b.      Étant un humain :
                                                                          i.      D’être rationnel.

(7)   La fin qui différentie les humains des animaux est d’être rationnel.

(8)   Donc, la moralité humaine se base sur la nature rationnelle de l’homme.

(9)   Dans ce cas, une bonne action humaine est une action rationnelle.
a.       Alors une mauvaise action humaine est une action qui est irrationnelle.


[1]Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto, ON : Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983).

[2]Étienne Gilson, Moral Values and the Moral Life : The Ethical Theory of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Leo Richard Ward (Hamden, Conn: The Shoe String Press, 1961), 55. « Of course, we know that, in the Aristotelian sense, ‘nature’ is the inner and direct source of the activity and doings of any being.” Translation mine.

[3]John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas : From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (Washington D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 480-81.

[4]Edward Feser, Aquinas : A Beginners Guide (2009; repr., Oxford : One World, 2010), 176.

[5]Ibid., 185. “In short, Aquinas’s position is essentially this: practical reason is directed by nature towards the pursuit of what the intellect perceives as good; what is in fact good is the realization or fulfillment of the various ends inherent in human nature; and thus a rational person will perceive this and, accordingly, direct his or her actions towards the realization or fulfillment of those ends. In this sense, good action is just that which is ‘in accord with reason’ (ST I-II.21.1; cf. ST I-II.90.1), and the moral skeptic’s question ‘Why should I do what is good?’ has an obvious answer: because to be rational just is (in part) to do what is good, to fulfill the ends set for us by nature.” Traduction est le mien.f