Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faith and Morals, Truth and Values, Intellect and Will, Is and Ought

It struck me as rather absurd today that some people claiming to be Catholics or Christians can accept the Resurrection but then claim they can't see their way to accepting some of the Church's moral teachings. To me this just seemed ridiculous; if you can believe a man rose from the dead(!) and preformed a variety of miracles and at the end flew up into the sky...at that point, you can surely believe anything, so can it really be that hard to accept the rather mundane and non-supernatural proposition that contraceptive sex is wrong?

Dissenters just seem a little absurd here. If you are going to adopt a sort of raw naturalist pragmatism, fine, but then don't believe in miracles either! The world can't be enchanted as regards "is" but disenchanted as regards "ought."

Ah, but, I realized, that's just the thing: we're talking about two different classes of proposition here. This is perhaps why the Church speaks of "Faith and Morals" as two separate things (though both covered by Her infallibility).

The sorts of dogmatic claims in the first category refer to "Truths" regarding a historical event or even something like the nature of Christ or the Trinity or the Real Presence in the Eucharist. These are intellectual propositions, truth claims regarding some "is" (or was) in the World, although the Will ultimately is what moves the Intellect to assent to them.

But since they are rather beautiful ideas (note: a value judgment), and have a narrative drama to them, the Will is not so resistant to accepting such things in many (although there is a type, of course, increasingly common: the hard skeptic or materialist, who thinks all such non-falsifiable claims are superstition or even cognitively meaningless; he, I think, does not understand the relationship between Thought and Reality.)

However, the second category of "morals," is no longer proclaiming Truths, but rather Values. These are not propositions (not directly at least) about how things are, but propositions about how things should be; they are statements of ought rather than is (and even when rooted in an "is" claim about human nature and happiness, the very idea of a "nature" or "happiness" is itself, actually, ultimately a value judgment or definition).

These, it seems, people are much more resistant to accepting, especially without a rather large force of social coercion to do so. But this only makes sense given Christian Anthropology and our notion of the Fall. Being value judgments (albeit absolute ones) rather than truth claims, they would ultimately be more primarily seated in the orientation of the Will (towards a certain notion of the good) rather than in the assent of the intellect, even though (in a process opposite that of truth claims, where the Will is what moves the Intellect to assent) it is Reason which is supposed to order the Will in these cases.

But, of course, fallen man has fallen concupiscence, and the very problem is that the Will rebels against Reason, is not docile, will not obey even divinely constituted Authority. It is rather easy to make the Intellect submit to the Will. It is harder to ask that Will submit to Reason, exactly because the intellect is not really the active "agent" force (as it is the Will to which we attribute agency! Only the Will could be the one doing the "asking" in the first place.) The higher appetite is supposed to orient us towards the real good, but many people are blinded by sin, blinded by their own selfishness.

For dogmatic truths (is-claims), some people might say they are "not convinced" intellectually, but few would say they simply don't want to believe these things except inasmuch as the ideas do not yet appear beautiful enough to overwhelm whatever competing ideas or intellectual values are competing for the Will's assent. This is rather easier a problem for apologists to "solve" as it would involve only building-up these ideas in the intellect enough (which is susceptible to external guidance or influence) until they do.

However, for moral claims (ought-statements), the very difference from is-claims I explicated above means that "not convinced" is rather a red herring here, whatever else people say. The reality is, because submission to value judgments ultimately rests in the Will, in an attitude or orientation regarding the nature of the Good, the desirable, it's very possible that no amount of intellectual persuasion or demonstration of the reasonability of a moral claim will ever be useful in getting people to accept it (and so, for moral claims, "not convinced" amounts to merely a self-justifying excuse.) A moral claim is a value judgment, not an "is" statement, and as such "intellectually convinced" doesn't even really make sense as a category for judging it. You can present evidence for an "is," but you can't really do so for an "ought." For an ought, you can only try to evoke love and joy.

No, when it comes to moral outlook, people are either moved by grace, moved by the implications of the truth "is" claims to a new vision or outlook of the good or "ought" (that starts with humble obedience to the Church)...or they aren't, likely because of being blinded by their own self-will, blinded by sin which in this way darkens the intellect (by establishing the Will in a habit of being bent towards other goods).

And so you wind up with many absurd people who apparently can believe a man walked on water and turned water to wine and rose from a tomb...but who, pathetically weak-willed, just can't make the leap to embracing the Good that He is in its fulness. So they'll know Him, and yet they will not truly love Him; rather they'll "go away sad" because He said to sell it all and "they have very much," or they will keep their distance as if anything but total surrender is acceptable to Him, or they'll worship an idol in their head that merely looks the same as Him (but which does not make the same demands on them that the real Him, mediated by the community, by the Church, does.)

If belief in the Resurrection does not lead to us transforming our notion of the good in humble obedience, if it remains a beautiful "is" that, nevertheless, does not get the total and absolute submission of our "ought"...then it is utterly useless in terms of our salvation. For even the devils believe and tremble, but yet they will not serve.

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