Thursday, December 27, 2007

Important Principles in Scholastic Moral Philosophy

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

•The “ought” is grounded in the “is” i.e. the nature or essence of human being, (the ought must be perfective of human essence or nature).

•A morally illicit means (object rationally chosen) may never be utilized in the pursuit of a desired end (intent) codified in scripture (Rom. 3: 8) as “never do evil that good may come of it.”

•The means, end and circumstances must all be morally licit for the proposed moral action to be justified.

•Both the first and second principles of the Natural (moral) Law are presupposed; “do good and avoid evil” “treat your neighbor fairly.” The first categorical imperative of Emmanuel Kant’s ethic which addresses universality of applicability (only do those moral acts which you would wish to see universalized) is similar to and in a sense derivative of the first principle of the Natural Law and “right reason.” The second categorical imperative of Kant’s ethic (never treat another person as a “means” but only as an “end”) is roughly equivalent to the second principle of the Natural Law (treat your neighbor fairly).

•It is impossible for something to be morally right for one person and wrong for another. Such a relativistic formulation denies the existence of moral absolutes which flow from the Natural (moral) Law. It might be advantageous to act in a given way in a set of circumstances in order to achieve a goal which is non-moral in nature, e.g. heading east in traveling from Los Angeles to New York given the physical/spatial realities of each location. This is a non-moral calculation. Few circumstances in human life are completely non-moral in this sense. Most have some bearing on morality that is a moral component which must be duly considered.

US foreign policy is a good example; what might seem advantageous from a purely utilitarian (practical) perspective might upon careful analysis actually be immoral. For example, one might prefer that a given foreign government did not exist or could be replaced but to actually force such a thing to occur would violate well-accepted moral norms which should never be transgressed such as “it is never morally licit to intentionally kill the innocent” or “offensive wars of aggression are immoral in principle as they exceed the so-called right of self-defense” (to do so is to violate the first and second principles of the Natural Law or right reason) in this case an example of doing evil (an intrinsically evil act) that good might come of it.

•It is extremely enlightening to consider what would happen if everyone were to act as one proposes, while evaluating a moral question. This is to make use of the principle of universality one which flows from a fixed human nature or anthropology that is to say, we assume that all human beings (in the metaphysical not monetary sense) are inherently of equal value and worth.

In scholastic moral philosophy one must assume that all human beings are equal in this sense and that human nature (essence) is fixed not changing, evolving or alterable by external circumstances. This is the case first because it is true and demonstrably so but also to be certain in practice, that some human beings are not inadvertently or purposefully rendered "inhuman", sub-human or otherwise in some sense less than human for utilitarian purposes.

For example, under Nazism, the Jews were rendered inhuman or sub-human in order to make killing them palatable to the masses. In America, African slaves were considered property rather than human beings with an intrinsic human worth and dignity equal to any other; in order to justify their continued enslavement. Finally, many Zionist's in Israel consider Palestinian Arabs to be the equivalent of wild beasts--essentially sub-human nuisances (leading Israeli Zionists have said, "the only good Arab is a dead Arab") not deserving of equal treatment. Tragically, Israeli civil rights laws tend to reflect this immoral bias. All "3" examples illustrate the need to apply moral norms universally while assuming a fixed human nature.

•It is morally legitimate to be tolerant (respectful) of other persons as human beings but not tolerant (in the sense of accepting) of their immoral acts if on careful analysis those acts are clearly immoral. One must never be tolerant of immorality (actions of an immoral nature) since morally illicit actions are self-reinforcing--these behaviors eventually become normalized. It is unfair to all of our neighbors that is, the "common good” not to identify immoral behavior as such since it leads to a lack of human flourishing rather than the authentic good which should be each human being’s birthright.

One does not have the right in exercising one's personal freedom to behave immorally and to negatively impact the common good. To do so is to violate both the first and second principles of the Natural Law. There is much confusion today about this concept largely due to mistaken post-Enlightenment notions of moral relativism which are intellectually bankrupt; fundamentally because they are contradictory (self-referentially absurd). This is part of a much larger epistemological problem having to do with post-modern errors related to the nature of truth.

•A person’s humanity from the moral perspective cannot be altered including by the performance of immoral acts. It exists as part of that person’s being until death. As such, it is never morally licit to treat human persons as if they were not human because of circumstances or external conditions etc. For this reason, prisoner’s of war and other convicted felons (for example), must be treated humanely. Hence we have prohibitions against torture while cruel and unusual punishment are proscribed. Human Rights flow from basic human dignity and are derived from a fixed human nature or anthropology; otherwise they do not exist at all. As such, they cannot be legislated away without said laws being groundless.

Human rights are also universal to time and place and are applicable to all of humanity. The only moral philosophy which is capable of entirely grounding human rights is the so-called Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis.