Thursday, April 26, 2007

Inspiration? Or cause for sadness and regret? Or both.

I attended Sarah H's dissertation defense this morning. I saw her once last year, but did't get a chance to talk to her. I learned today that she had a somewhat serious accident 3-4 years ago, and is now a mother--she seems to be doing well, though I didn't get a chance to ask her where she is teaching now, etc. We are part of the same class; I don't know how many others have finished--I know Serena P. is done, I think N. Strand too. Joseph T. who entered the PhD program 2? years after us is done (he did his M.A. at BC and started that program at the same time as us). Sarah finished despite having had to recuperate from her accident and her responsibilities as a mother. What can I say about my own failure to finish. May God give me the opportunity to do penance for all that wasted time.

Sarah's dissertation is a preliminary development of a role-based morality. She would like to maintain that all duties/responsibilities are ultimately rooted in some sort of role. There are no role-independent duties.

Jonathan H. asked what would the stadards be which would enable one to adjudicate between conflicting demands of different roles that one has. I was thinking of formulating a question along the same lines, but would also add something about citizenship, and whether communities are delimited simply because of convenience or if there is some more reasonable basis for being more attentitve to the demands of one community than to another. Would she support moral "particularism" like Aquinas and Thomas Fleming or would she support moral "universalism," such as that of liberalism? In response to Jonathan, Sarah referred to Henry Richardson's specification of norms.

Jason T. brought up Rousseau, Emile, and power relations. I'm not sure if he was defending a liberal egalitarian order, but it sure seemed like it. Not all power relations are abusive or unjust.
There are real distinctions in function, upon which hierarchy is grounded; legitimate exercise of power and not mere arbitary impositions of the will. There is a distinction between authority and power, and not all have authority equally. Besides, is it wise to offend those who have power and can retaliate by presuming equality, even if such a claim is justified? Surely, even if the weight of tradition can be discounted because tradition supports an unjust system, something is to be said for showing outward respect towards the elites so as to not bring harm upon one's self and own's own.

If I do finish my dissertation and defend, I will have to type up my presentation and rehearse, instead of doing it on the fly. That is a lesson I have learned from being inadequately prepared for the presentation of conference papers. This way, I can make sure my arguments are clearly presented and thus have the air of persuasiveness, if they are not convincing in themselves because of my own weaknesses.

Sarah did talk about care, citing in response to a question Frankfurt's explanation of love, which is directing of the will towards action. I wonder how much of "care ethics" neglects this part of intentionality, or separates the means from the end when it comes to evaluating the former, so that the weight of evaluation falls completely on the end (as in proportionalism). What's the etymology of the word care, and what is its original meaning?

At Noon, Professor Anthony Celano of Stonehill College came to talk about his work on phronesis in Aristotle and the medievals. (Here is an article he wrote for the SEP on medieval theories of practical reason.)

One way Professor Celano differentiated Aristotle and Aquinas was as follows: according to Aristotle, one can deliberate both about ends and means. This is limited by Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, since they posit there being only one ultimate end for all men. Prudence deliberates only about the means. Is this an accurate representation of Aristotle's teachings on phronesis? Something I should look into for the dissertation.

Do Aquinas and Albertus Magnus reject Aristotle's ethics? Perhaps, but not in the way he thinks--Aristotle not only did not know about our supernatural end, but he was wrong about our proper "natural end"--happiness for him is rooted in the self, even if it is the self imitating the divine. He did not know about the natural love of God, and it is probably that this is so because of original sin. Because of original sin, the natural love of God is no longer possible. If it were possible to construct a natural ethics, it would be analogous to Aquinas' theological ethics, with both being grounded in God as our end but in different ways, the latter on the level of what is possible by grace, the former on the level of healthy nature, uninjured by original sin (and ordered only to a natural end).

It is true that Aristotle does not talk about synderesis as a distinct intellectual virtue. Is it incongrous with his account? I do not think so--we see that he acknowledges the existence of nous as an intellectual virtue; synderesis is like nous, but involves reason as it is ordered to action.

Prof. Celano also argued that Aquinas and Albertus Magnus are bound by their Christian Faith to posit many first principles of practical reason, corresponding to the order of natural inclinations. This Aristotle does not need to do. For Aristotle, Celano asserts that murder can be good, so long as the intention is good. I think this is erroneous--"exceptions" are not really exceptions to a rule--rather the specification of an action is changed by circumstances or by the object itself, so that what may seem like murder to the uneducated is actually a different moral act entirely. I am not sure if I would accept the interpretation that the order of natural inclinations provides a way of ordering goods. Finnis and Grisez may be correct on this point.

On the other hand, I need to see how the New Natural Law Theory characterizes the ultimate end and how its explanation differs from the "inclusive" account of Dr. McInerny and Fr. Ashley. The key may be distinguishing between the end, and the object of the external act, whatever it may be.

To simplify: there is one end, God, but many different means of attaining this end, prayer (or the contemplative activities), corporal works of mercy (or "active" activities), and so on. However, these acts do not attain their object, God, equally, and some may not attain God directly as an object, but only as an end. Hence, some acts are better than others in so far as they attain God to a greater degree, or participate in God to a greater degree. In this way prayer/contemplation is a better form of happiness than other acts.

Are all things ordered to contemplation? No, contemplation is one form of subjective beatitude. It is better to say that all things are ordered to God as the end, not to a particular form of subjective beatitude? "Union with God" is still subjective beatitutde, and is not the same as God--one is ordered to the other.

I believe this line of reasoning can be used in understanding Aristotle on ultimate end and happiness, and resolving the question of whether eudaimonia is a dominant good or an inclusive one, and so on.

I told my director I would try to finish a chapter soon and give it to him. At this moment I "feel" like working, but whether I can follow through today... that remains to be seen. Dr. Brown thinks Professor Celano is wrong--it would be good to see what the sources of disagreement are, but I think I should work on the dissertation. Maybe I'll ask him after I've turned in something.

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