Essay for The Federalist


Just published today at The Federalist is an essay of mine analyzing, and providing some broader philosophical context, the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision regarding abortion and SB95. An excerpt:

The framers at Wyandotte in the times of “Bleeding Kansas” could see well enough, despite their limitations, the truth in the phrase “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights.” Because of this, they constituted Kansas a free state, without slavery. Stegall has shown us that the killing of unborn children in Kansas, a state “birthed in the crucible of pitched battle between two opposed and irreconcilable ideas—government by consent or consent by government,” can only be declared a natural right by undermining the political liberty of its citizens.


New essay: The CRISPR Conundrum


Over at Arc Digital, a new essay of mine about CRISPR. An excerpt:

The Cartesian project of the mastery and possession of nature—now embodied by CRISPR—would recognize no boundaries of a Stoic “Nature.” The prospect of vast amounts of money to be earned and power to be gained from procuring and selling CRISPR technology impels many no less vehemently than the prospect of ending human suffering, disease, and aging itself. So where will the limits be?

Waldstein on Integralism

b5d968115bd99222b5e78b7297b9e281.jpgFor those interested in a deeper, theological and metaphysical defense of integralism, consider Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent essay at Church Life Journal, “Integralism and the Logic of the Cross.” It is in response to an earlier CLJ essay by Timothy Troutner, “The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals.” Troutner himself cites an earlier essay by Pater Edmund at CLJ, “What Is Integralism Today?”

Most especially helpful was the use that Pater Edmund makes of the centrality of St. Benedict’s Rule as an exemplar cause of even secular order in the Middle Ages—no surprise there, coming from a Cistercian. A sampling of the newest essay:

Troutner accuses integralists of uncritically accepting everything about Christendom that liberals reject, thus blinding their eyes to the errors of Christendom. But integralists have always distinguished abuses of power in Christendom and its proper uses. It is Troutner who uncritically accepts liberal rejections of the use of temporal power for spiritual ends an sich. Troutner manifests here a view of temporal power as so deformed by libido dominandi that it can never be used for good ends. On Troutner’s view, grace does not heal, elevate, and perfect man’s political nature, rather it replaces it with an inclination to a vague and inconsistent anarchism. Moreover, Troutner’s contention that integralists promote a worldly understanding of power not formed by Christ’s kenotic love, misunderstands both the form of power in Christendom and (more importantly) Christ’s love. Christ self-emptying in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion is meant to restore and elevate the hierarchy of creation wounded by sin, not to replace it with egalitarianism. Nor was the Church’s juridical understanding of herself in Christendom an imitation of worldly power, unaffected by Christ’s kenosis. In fact, the very opposite is the case: the form of temporal politics in Christendom was a conscious imitation of the hierarchy of the Church and the rules of the monastic orders. And the ruler was always understood as an image of Christ, bound to give himself for the common good of his commonwealth just as Christ offered himself for the Church.

The primacy of the speculative and roots of the modern approach to nature

St. Thomas argues as follows when answering the question whether the practical and speculative intellects are numerically diverse powers:

The practical and speculative intellects are not diverse powers. The reason for this is that . . . that which is accidentally related to the ratio [or account] of the object which bears on some power does not diversify the power. For, it happens to be the case that the thing with color be a man, or large, or small. Whence all things of this sort are apprehended by the selfsame power of sight. However, it happens to be the case in regards to something apprehended by the intellect that it be ordered or not ordered to operation [opus]. Yet this is how the speculative intellect differs from the practical intellect. For the speculative intellect is that which does not order what it apprehends to operation but only to the consideration of the truth, while the practical intellect is that which does order what it apprehends to operation.

[I]ntellectus practicus et speculativus non sunt diversae potentiae. Cuius ratio est quia, ut supra dictum est, id quod accidentaliter se habet ad obiecti rationem quam respicit aliqua potentia, non diversificat potentiam, accidit enim colorato quod sit homo, aut magnum aut parvum; unde omnia huiusmodi eadem visiva potentia apprehenduntur. Accidit autem alicui apprehenso per intellectum, quod ordinetur ad opus, vel non ordinetur. Secundum hoc autem differunt intellectus speculativus et practicus. Nam intellectus speculativus est, qui quod apprehendit, non ordinat ad opus, sed ad solam veritatis considerationem, practicus vero intellectus dicitur, qui hoc quod apprehendit, ordinat ad opus. ~ St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 79, a. 11, c.; cf. In Ethic., I, lect. 1, nn. 1–2

Now, in answering the question, St. Thomas requires as a premise that “it happens to be the case in regards to something apprehended by the intellect that it be ordered or not ordered to operation.” That is, it is accidental to the objects of intellectual apprehension that they are in fact ordered to operation or not, and it thus follows that it is accidental to the objects of intellectual apprehension that they are orderable to operation or not. Now, the connatural object of the human intellect is categorical being—ens—and, consequently, the natures of beings. It follows that it is not per se to the natures of beings that they are orderable to operation, namely, the operability in question here, human operation. It is accidental to beings that they can be worked on by us.

Since all that is per accidens is reducible to what is per se, we must point out to what the accidental in this case is accidental: human nature itself. What determines whether or not the nature of a being is operable by us and therefore orderable to operation is the possibility within our nature in regard to the nature of the being (whether substance or accident, including acting and suffering) in question (cf. Ethics, III.3 and VI.2). In and of themselves, natures are not per se operable by us, but only within the technical and moral parameters of possibility and permissibility. Natures—all natures—thus have, to various degrees, a inviolable or sacred character because of their priority over and against ourselves (and this includes our own nature, since material individuals are not their own natures), and attempts to draw the lines of the technical and moral parameters of our operability consequently distinguish theories of ethics. (Perhaps angelic ‘ethics’ must therefore be founded metaphysically on the distinction of essence and existence and not nature and supposit.)

What if the contrary were in fact the case? That is, take this statement contrary to the one in the previous paragraph: “In and of themselves, natures are per se actionable by us.” Here we must make the case sharper—the original claim (in order for St. Thomas’ argument to be valid) must be: “No natures as such are per se actionable by us.” The opposing claims could either be “Some natures as such are per se actionable by us,” or “All natures as such are per se actionable by us.” Either claim, if true, would result in the fact that the practical intellect is a numerically different power that the speculative intellect. On the basis of the particular claim, there would exist by nature some natures in the order of being—much like there now exists the accidental beings of technology—whose to be’s were nothing more than tools or artifacts. The stronger, universal claim would result in the complete duplication of speculative and practical realms in the universe, which would run parallel to each other. There would be speculative truths about things, but these truths would be malleable at will, for their very natures are operable. Which world would come first? Since our very own natures—those of ourselves and our neighbors—would be part of this parallel system of unsystematically malleable truth and fiction, it is unavoidable that the purely creative intellect would come first. Its strictures would be no god and no man.

The consequences of this universal counterfactual, the heart of modern philosophy, are delineated by De Koninck (p. 73 ff). Such consequences result directly from an inability to see the implicit basis of St. Thomas’ argument and its assumption of the primacy of speculative truth.

De Koninck on “The Great State”

An excerpt from reading Vallée’s introduction to De Koninck’s Œuvres, II.3:

The Great State [Le Grand État] is an evil in itself, writes de Jouvenal, for a fundamental reason relating to the very nature of the human mind. Incapable of considering the innumerable relations linking a great quantity of objects, it considers them only by reducing them to a small number of classes, a number determined in advance by the quality of the mind. If, then, the quantity of objects is greatly increased, it must happen that the classes embracing each of the growing quantity of objects be of the sort that, if the objects have an individuality, the classes constituted by the mind be a view increasingly distant from reality. . . .  The administration of a State is necessarily, especially blind to individual realities insofar as the State is the larger. It is more inhuman, more geometric, more automatic. . . .

Now, what prevents the Great State from being a political society, that which renders it ineluctably despotic, is not simply the fact that the human mind is incapable of considering the innumerable relations linking a great quantity of objects. The characteristic difficulty arises from this, that the objects in question are despite everything political animals. That man is by nature a political animal is one of these necessities that liberty presupposes but which the Great State cannot tolerate except in name. The Great State faces the past, customs, at all types of contingencies which have shaped persons, peoples, and their diversity. It is this matter—so complex, heterogeneous—which men are . . . [and] which the Great State is constrained to homogenize.

~ C. De Koninck, “La Confederation, rempart contre le Grant État,” 80, 81 (Œuvres II.3; translation mine)

One wonders whether or not the advent of modern computing technology—the aid to a massive bureaucracy and its the “homogenization” that De Koninck critiques—in fact overcomes the “epistemological-political problem” in the first paragraph. It strikes me that the answer is no, for the reason given in the second paragraph. These thoughts are a work in progress.

Street-Level Scientism

Comments are welcome on these initial thoughts concerning everyday scientism. An excerpt:

If science cannot be the only type of certain knowledge, why is it so commonly taken to be such? This disposition to accept science, without discretion, as the sole or ruling source of knowledge is a common malaise. It is street-level scientism.

Street-level scientism is the philosophy that the everyday person, and persons every day, adopt in an unreflective manner. It is not an explicit theory, but rather a practical attitude. Indeed, it even afflicts scientists themselves insofar as they are similarly situated to laymen with respect to those sciences that are not their specialty.

Many thanks to the folks at Ethika Politika for publishing this essay. Everyone should also read their interview with Professor George.

Fifth Solvay Conference, 1927