Thursday, July 20, 2017

Msgr. Swetland’s confusions


Msgr. Stuart Swetland is a theologian and the president of Donnelly College.  You might recall that, almost a year ago, he gained some notoriety for his bizarre opinion that having a positive view of Islam is nothing less than a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy.  As that episode indicates, the monsignor is not the surest of guides to what the Church teaches.  If there were any lingering doubt about that, it was dispelled by his performance during my radio debate with him last week on the subject of capital punishment.

In the course of our exchange, Msgr. Swetland let fly a barrage of false statements and fallacious arguments (not to mention continual interruptions and an insult or two).   But two of his claims stand out as especially grave.  First, the monsignor claims that the Church could in the future teach that capital punishment is “intrinsically evil.”  Second, he claims that, whether or not capital punishment is intrinsically evil, Catholics are now obliged to oppose it in practice.  As Joe Bessette and I show conclusively in our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, both of these assertions are false.  Msgr. Swetland no doubt means well, but he is seriously misrepresenting Catholic doctrine.  Let’s consider his claims in turn.

Msgr. Swetland versus Catholic doctrine on scripture

Msgr. Swetland tells us that while the Church historically has taught that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, she is nevertheless “coming to recognize it as intrinsically evil.”  He acknowledges that the Church has not gone so far as explicitly to teach this, but he thinks that she could do so in the future, and evidently this is a change he would welcome.  For the thesis that capital punishment is an “intrinsic evil” is, he says, a “theological speculation” which he personally favors.  In the monsignor’s opinion, “it’s always wrong to choose death – God never chooses death.”

That “God never chooses death” would be a surprise to Ananias and Sapphira, Korah, the firstborn of Egypt, and countless others who are described in scripture as having been slain by God.  But putting that aside, capital punishment is certainly sanctioned throughout scripture, as we document at length in the book.  Judging from an essay Msgr. Swetland contributed to a volume on Catholicism and capital punishment, he has been influenced in his thinking on this subject by “new natural law” theorist and death penalty opponent E. Christian Brugger (whose book on capital punishment Joe and I respond to at length in our own book).  But even Brugger acknowledges that capital punishment is sanctioned throughout scripture.  For example, Brugger admits that existing attempts to reinterpret Genesis 9:6 (the verse quoted in the title of our book) are not convincing, and that the passage remains a “problem” for views like his own. 

Now, as Joe and I also note in the book, it is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church that scripture cannot teach error where matters of faith and morals are concerned.  Note that we are not saying that scripture teaches error on other matters.  The point is that, whatever one says about that issue, that scripture is inerrant at least on matters of faith and morals is undeniably a doctrine of the Church.  The Church also lays down clear criteria concerning how scripture can be interpreted.  Hence, the First Vatican Council says:

These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author

[I]n matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which Holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture.

In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.

End quote.  Now, the Church has always held, and still holds, that the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is taught in scripture.  And as even Brugger admits, there was a “consensus” among the Fathers of the Church that the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is taught by scripture.  This shows, all by itself, that to say that capital punishment is “intrinsically evil” is manifestly irreconcilable with Catholic orthodoxy.  For if scripture cannot teach moral error and the consensus of the Fathers on what scripture says also cannot be in error, and the Fathers hold that scripture teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, then capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, and that’s that. 

Msgr. Swetland’s “theological speculation” that capital punishment is intrinsically evil is, accordingly, simply heterodox.  He has no right as a Catholic theologian to entertain it or to teach others that it is within the range of legitimate theological opinion.  In 1976, under Pope Paul VI, a Vatican commission on capital punishment stated:

That the state has the right to enforce the death penalty has been ceded by the church for centuries… The Church has never condemned its use by the state… The Church has condemned the denial of that right. 

In stating this, the commission was echoing the solemn teaching of previous popes like Innocent III, who required that the Waldensian heretics affirm the state’s right in principle to resort to capital punishment as a condition of their reconciliation with the Church.  (The relevant texts can all be found in our book.)

As these remarks indicate, and as Joe and I demonstrate in the book, there are several lines of argument that show that the judgment that capital punishment is “intrinsically evil” is heterodox.  But the scriptural considerations are the ones that came up in the debate, so let’s focus on those. 

During our debate, I repeatedly asked Msgr. Swetland if it was his opinion that scripture teaches moral error.  And it is telling that Msgr. Swetland repeatedly failed to answer that question directly.  He didn’t say “Yes, scripture teaches moral error” – and to do so would, of course, put him at odds with the First Vatican Council and with various papal statements on the inerrancy of scripture – but, interestingly, neither did he say “No, scripture never teaches moral error.”  What he repeatedly did instead was to try to dodge the question by changing the subject, in (by my count) four different ways.  Let’s consider them one by one: 

1. The “development of doctrine” canard: Msgr. Swetland claims that the thesis that capital punishment is intrinsically evil would be a “development” of past Catholic teaching.  In fact, of course, it would not be a “development” at all, but an outright rejection and reversal of past teaching.  Orthodox Catholic theorists of the “development of doctrine” – most famously, Cardinal John Henry Newman – are always careful to distinguish a true development from a reversal or corruption of doctrine.  A development never contradicts what the Church has solemnly affirmed in the past.  It simply makes explicit what was previously only implicit in the tradition.  It may involve closing off certain theological options that had previously been left open to free discussion.  But what it cannot do is to take some proposition that scripture and tradition have positively asserted and then go on to negate it.  That would be to introduce a contradiction into the tradition, and thereby to falsify the Church’s claim to preserve intact the deposit of faith.

Msgr. Swetland repeatedly cited slavery as an example of something the Church previously approved of but later condemned, at the Second Vatican Council.  He claims that for the Church to teach the intrinsic immorality of capital punishment would be to make a similar change.  But as I tried to explain during our exchange, the monsignor grossly oversimplifies and misrepresents the history of Catholic teaching on slavery.  What most people think of when they hear the word “slavery” is chattel slavery, which involves complete ownership of another person, the way one might own an animal or an inanimate object.  This is indeed intrinsically gravely evil, and the Church condemns it.  But the Church has always condemned it.  It is not some novel or recent teaching.

There are, however, other practices that are sometimes loosely labeled “slavery” but which are very different from chattel slavery.  For example, there is indentured servitude, which is a contract to give the right to one’s labor to another person for a prolonged period of time – for example, in payment of a debt.  And there is penal servitude, which involves forcing someone to labor as part of a punishment for a crime.  Catholic theologians have long regarded some of these practices as so morally hazardous, and in particular as posing a serious enough danger of degenerating into chattel slavery, that in practice they ought not to be employed.  But the Church has not condemned them as intrinsically immoral the way chattel slavery is.  Indentured servitude, after all, is essentially an extreme version of an ordinary labor contract, and penal servitude is an extension of the loss of liberty any justly punished prisoner is already subject to. 

This is not to deny that some individual Catholics have in the past fallaciously blurred the differences between these different practices so as to try to justify what amounts to chattel slavery, or that in the past some Catholics have positively approved of institutions like indentured servitude and not merely allowed that they might be permissible in principle.  But when the relevant distinctions are made, it is clear that it is simply not true to say that the example of slavery shows that the Church herself once regarded as legitimate something she later condemned as intrinsically immoral.  What she now regards as intrinsically immoral (chattel slavery) she always regarded as intrinsically immoral.  What she has historically held is not intrinsically immoral (indentured servitude and penal servitude) she still has not condemned as intrinsically immoral.  There simply has been no change of the sort Msgr. Swetland claims there has been, and which his argument requires there to have been.

The monsignor alleges that Gaudium et Spes 27 conflicts with my position, but it does no such thing.  The passage is a general condemnation of practices that conflict with human dignity, and it gives a long list of examples, including not only slavery but also “deportation,” “attempts to coerce the will,” and “disgraceful working conditions.”  What it does not do is to define any of these terms precisely or to make clear which practices are intrinsically evil and which are evil only given certain circumstances.  Is Gaudium et Spes teaching that it is always and intrinsically wrong to deport someone (including, for example, sending a dangerous criminal back to his home country to be prosecuted)?  Is the document saying that it is wrong to threaten a child with punishment if he does not do his homework (since this in some sense coerces his will)?  Is it claiming that it is wrong to employ people in treating sewage or cleaning toilets, in coal and salt mines, or other unpleasant or dangerous occupations? 

No one claims that Gaudium et Spes teaches any of these things.  Its passing references to deportation, coercion, working conditions, etc. don’t address every question that might arise about these topics, because the passage in question isn’t trying to do that in the first place.  It is simply making a general statement about human dignity and providing some brief illustrations.  But by the same token, its passing reference to slavery is not trying to address every question that might arise about indentured or penal servitude, the proper interpretation of biblical passages that refer to slavery, etc. 

This account of the history of Catholic teaching vis-à-vis slavery is not, by the way, some eccentric view of my own.  It is common among mainstream theologians faithful to the magisterium of the Church.  Interested readers should get hold of Fr. Joel Panzer’s book The Popes and Slavery.  Some useful articles can also be found online here, here, and here.

Writers who claim that the Church made some radical about-face on the subject of slavery tend to be “progressive” theologians who are keen to use the example to justify radical changes to Catholic teaching on other matters – especially sexual morality – and to portray the Church of the past in a negative light.  Why the monsignor would have any truck with such people, I have no idea. 

2. Ignoring the distinction between permitting and commanding:  A second way Msgr. Swetland tried to dodge my question about whether he thinks scripture has taught moral error is by insinuating that scripture merely “permitted” capital punishment.  Now, to “permit” something is of course not necessarily to approve of it.  Suppose a prickly neighbor of yours keeps taking fruit from a tree in your front yard without asking you first.  But suppose also that you can live without the fruit and want to remain on good terms with this person, so that while you’d prefer that he not do this, you let it slide.  You are permitting him to take the fruit even though you do not approve of him doing so. 

Now, if scripture were merely permitting capital punishment in this sense, then there would be no reversal of scriptural teaching if the Church were to condemn it as intrinsically evil.  But as I pointed out to Msgr. Swetland, scripture goes far beyond merely permitting capital punishment.  There are many scriptural passages which positively approve of or even command capital punishment.  For example, the Mosaic Law commands capital punishment for various offenses as part of the everyday system of criminal justice in ancient Israel.  To be sure, that does not entail that those commands have application today, any more than other parts of the Mosaic Law do.  But it does entail that, if capital punishment is (as Msgr. Swetland thinks it is) “intrinsically evil,” then we have to say that God commanded the Israelites to carry out intrinsically gravely evil acts as part of everyday life in Israel.  It would be like God, through Moses, commanding the Israelites to perform abortions with regularity.  How can this supposition possibly be reconciled with the Church’s de fide teaching that scripture does not teach moral error? 

Nor is positive approval of capital punishment (as opposed to mere permission) by any means limited to the Mosaic Law.  It can also be found, for example, in Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:1-4.  (In the book, Joe and I address at length attempts by Catholic opponents of capital punishment to reinterpret these passages.)

3. Ignoring the difference between prudential judgments and judgments of principle: A third way the monsignor attempted to avoid directly answering my question was by asking me questions.  For example, he asked me if I would approve of applying the “eye for an eye” principle by gouging an offender’s eye out.

My answer to him was that I would not approve of applying it in that way, but not because doing so would be intrinsically wrong.  It would not be intrinsically wrong.  Consider the monstrous Lawrence Singleton, who raped a fifteen-year-old girl and cut off her forearms with a hatchet.  This poor woman has to spend every day of the rest of her life not only disabled, but reminded of everything he did to her.  Now, did Singleton deserve to have his own arms cut off as punishment?  Absolutely he did.  However, I would disapprove of actually meting out such punishments, to Singleton or to anyone else.  For the moral hazards of routinely inflicting such gruesome punishments are simply too great.  But this is a prudential judgment about how to apply moral principle, not a judgment to the effect that such punishments are intrinsically wrong.

The point is that to disapprove of extreme punishments like the ones in question does not commit one to saying that scripture approves of what is intrinsically immoral.  Hence, if the monsignor meant to insinuate that the “eye for an eye” principle is an instance of scripture teaching moral error – though again, he does not explicitly say that – the example would not in fact support his case.

4. The “fundamentalist” smear:  The fourth way in which Msgr. Swetland attempted to dodge my question was by a hand-waving reference to “difficult passages in scripture” and the accusation that my own reading of the specific passages that conflict with his view about capital punishment is “bizarre,” “not very Catholic,” and “sounds very fundamentalist.”

The truth, of course, is that my reading of the relevant scriptural passages is simply the reading one finds in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, in two millennia of papal teaching, and in two millennia of mainstream Catholic theology.  No Catholic theologian with a reputation for orthodoxy found these passages remotely “difficult” until about forty years ago, when Germain Grisez and other “new natural lawyers” invented their novel doctrine that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, and decided to try to find some way to change Catholic teaching to conform it to their personal theory.  To label my reading of the relevant passages “bizarre” and “not very Catholic” is, frankly, Orwellian.

As to the charge of “fundamentalism,” Msgr. Swetland never explains how Joe and I are guilty of that.  Is he claiming that we simply dogmatically appeal to scriptural proof texts, without giving arguments for the correctness of our reading or engaging with alternative readings?  As anyone who has actually read our book knows, that is precisely the opposite of the truth.  In fact we engage the exegetical disputes at length.  But then, the “fundamentalist” label is rarely intended as a serious tool of theological analysis.  Its use is rhetorical, a smear by which “progressive” theologians attempt to shut down debate.  Again, why Msgr. Swetland would think it a good idea to ape their tactics, I have no idea.

The irony is that it is Msgr. Swetland himself who is engaging in dogmatic proof-texting.  In particular, he repeatedly cites a remark from Pope John Paul II, or a passage from the Catechism or from some other church document, as if it suffices to prove his case – completely ignoring the fact that the correct interpretation of these sources is itself precisely part of what is at issue between us.  This question-begging procedure exhibits exactly the kind of dogmatic and simplistic thinking of which he accuses Joe and me.

Msgr. Swetland versus Pope Benedict XVI

Let us turn now to Msgr. Swetland’s other major error.  He claims that, even if he is wrong about capital punishment being intrinsically evil, Catholics are nevertheless now obligated to oppose it in practice.  Says the monsignor:

For prudential reasons, the bishops in the United States have said no Catholic can, without disobeying the bishops, be supporting… the death penalty in the United States.  So, while theoretically we can talk about this, practically Catholics in the United States are bound, I believe, under the power of the teaching authority of the bishops in the United States to oppose the death penalty on prudential reasons.

End quote.  Now, there are several reasons why this cannot be correct, which Joe and I spell out in the book.  But one consideration I raised in the radio debate with Msgr. Swetland is a 2004 statement from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (that is to say, the chief doctrinal spokesman of the Church next to the pope), and later to become Pope Benedict XVI.  Ratzinger wrote:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.   While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.  There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

End quote.  Now, it could not be clearer that what Cardinal Ratzinger is saying here flatly contradicts what Msgr. Swetland alleges.  The monsignor says that Catholics cannot be “at odds with” the pope on the subject of capital punishment.  Cardinal Ratzinger says that they can be.  The monsignor says that there cannot be “a legitimate diversity of opinion” among Catholics about “applying the death penalty.”  Cardinal Ratzinger says that there can be. 

The way Msgr. Swetland tried to get around this problem during our exchange was by seriously misrepresenting what Cardinal Ratzinger said.  He insinuated that what Ratzinger was saying was merely that “there is room for legitimate disagreement about the theoretical permissibility of the death penalty.”  The monsignor alleges that “at least now we all have to oppose it in practice, even if we can speculate about it in theory.”  In other words, Msgr. Swetland’s contention appears to be that what Cardinal Ratzinger was saying in 2004 was merely that Catholics can disagree about whether capital punishment is intrinsically evil, but that the Cardinal was not denying that Catholics have to oppose it in practice.

But there are several reasons why this cannot be what Cardinal Ratzinger meant.  Indeed, the monsignor’s reading is, frankly, absurd. 

First, Ratzinger explicitly says that a Catholic may be “at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment,” that “it may still be permissibleto have recourse to capital punishment,” and that “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.”  He is talking precisely about practice, not theory.  

Second, Msgr. Swetland’s interpretation cannot possibly make sense of Ratzinger’s statement that a Catholic may be “at odds with the Holy Father” on this subject.  Pope John Paul II never said that capital punishment is intrinsically evil.  On the contrary, he explicitly taught that it is not intrinsically evil.  So, what Catholics who support capital punishment may legitimately be “at odds with” the pope about is not the question of whether capital punishment is intrinsically evil, since the pope never said that.  The only thing left for them to be legitimately “at odds with” the pope about is whether capital punishment is advisable in practice – precisely what Msgr. Swetland falsely says Catholics cannot disagree about.

Third, Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement that “it may still be permissible… to have recourse to capital punishment” is flatly incompatible with the claim that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong.  It is quite ridiculous, then, for the monsignor to suggest that what Ratzinger is saying is that Catholics can disagree about whether capital punishment is intrinsically evil.  His remarks in fact rule out the opinion that it is intrinsically evil!

Fourth, the context of Ratzinger’s 2004 statement was a presidential election in which there was public controversy over whether Catholic politicians who support abortion should be denied Holy Communion, whether Catholics who vote for candidates favoring capital punishment are comparable to Catholics who vote for candidates favoring abortion, whether voting for a candidate who supports abortion is formally cooperating in evil, etc.  In other words, what was at issue was precisely the attitude Catholics ought to take toward certain actual practical policies, not abstract theoretical questions. 

Since Msgr. Swetland puts emphasis on what the U.S. bishops, specifically, have said, it is also worth noting that a 2004 document put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and written by Archbishop William Levada (later to become Prefect of the CDF himself) repeats almost exactly the language of Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks about the legitimate diversity of opinion on the matter of capital punishment. 

In short, both the CDF and the USCCB have explicitly rejected Msgr. Swetland’s opinion that Catholics are obligated to oppose capital punishment in practice.

Some other bad arguments

Finally, let me address briefly some other remarks made by Msgr. Swetland during our debate.  The monsignor suggested that the fact that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Egypt, China, and other disreputable regimes apply capital punishment should make us wary of U.S. support for the practice. 

But this is just silly.  You might as well argue that opposition to abortion and “same-sex marriage” is suspect, on the grounds that such opposition is strongest in countries dominated by Islamists.  Now, Msgr. Swetland is, of course, opposed to abortion and “same-sex marriage.”  He would no doubt say, correctly, that Catholics should remain opposed to these things whether or not this puts them in some bad company.  But Catholics who favor capital punishment can say exactly the same thing.  That some bad regimes uphold capital punishment doesn’t show that there is anything wrong with capital punishment, any more than the fact that some of the same regimes oppose abortion and “same-sex marriage” shows that it is bad to oppose abortion and “same-sex marriage.”

In reply to the examples I gave of ways in which capital punishment deters certain kinds of murder, Msgr. Swetland alleged that this sort of argument would require extending the death penalty further and further until even petty theft is punishable by death.

But this objection is ridiculous.  Is the monsignor saying that my position would as a matter of logical consistency require the execution of thieves?  That is simply not the case.  As Joe and I explain in the book, considerations of deterrence apply only after it has already been determined that a punishment is proportionate in its severity to the gravity of the offense.  But capital punishment is not proportionate to the crime of petty theft.  Hence it is ruled out from the get go, whether or not it would deter such theft.

Is the monsignor claiming instead merely that maintaining capital punishment will tend as a matter of contingent, sociological fact to lead to execution even for minor offenses?  If so, then the claim is manifestly false, and the argument a textbook example of the slippery slope fallacy.  Msgr. Swetland cites no causal mechanism – for example, no account of any sort of legal process or political developments – by which the execution of murderers will lead a society to start executing for petty theft and the like.  Furthermore, many states in the U.S. have had capital punishment for decades or even centuries, and it has not led to the draconian applications the monsignor claims must follow.

Finally, I want to address the following remark Msgr. Swetland made during our exchange:

I find no imprimatur on this book and it is not Catholic teaching.  You think it’s Catholic teaching but you didn’t bother to get an imprimatur, for good reason, no one would give you one, because it isn’t what the Church teaches.

End quote.  Now, there are two problems with this statement.  First, whether to get an imprimatur for the book was the publisher’s decision, and their general practice is not to seek an imprimatur except where canon law requires one.  Since our book does not require one, the publisher did not seek one.  That’s all.  It was not a matter of trying to get an imprimatur and failing. 

Second, the monsignor’s remark here is quite hypocritical.  As I mentioned above, Msgr. Swetland contributed to an anthology on the subject of Catholicism and capital punishment, and he also relies on Brugger’s book on the subject.  But neither of those books has an imprimatur either!  So, if the monsignor does not take the absence of an imprimatur to be problematic in the case of these other books, he cannot consistently pretend that it is problematic in the case of mine.

In summary, then, Msgr. Swetland:

-endorses a positon (to the effect that capital punishment is intrinsically evil) that cannot be reconciled with scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the teaching of the popes, and which is therefore heterodox

-repeatedly declined to say whether or not he thinks scripture has taught moral error

-persistently ignored the crucial distinctions between development versus reversal of doctrine, scripture’s permitting something versus its positively commanding something, and changes in moral principle versus mere changes in prudential application of principle

-seriously misrepresents what Cardinal Ratzinger stated in his 2004 memorandum

-commits several other blatant fallacies.

I don’t want to be too hard on Msgr. Swetland.  I don’t for a moment believe that he is deliberately misrepresenting or denying Catholic teaching.  I believe that he is sincere and well-meaning.  But I also believe that he is seriously confused, and that he is also sometimes unjust and uncharitable toward faithful Catholics who disagree with him.  I also believe it is important, for the good of the Church, to call attention to the grave deficiencies in arguments like the ones he has given.  When even a professional moral theologian who intends to be faithful to the Church presents arguments of such poor quality, it should be obvious that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of abolitionism.  Churchmen and other Catholics have for too long been relying on sentimentality and simple-minded slogans, and ignoring the vast wealth of scriptural, theological, philosophical, and social scientific arguments that support capital punishment.  Part of the reason Joe and I wrote our book is to contribute to correcting this imbalance, and fostering a more sober and theologically responsible debate.

187 comments:

  1. The modern opposition to capital punishment is pseudo-moral at best. It could largely be reduced to a superficial aesthetic judgement that "violence", regardless of context, can only be "evil".

    People will readily condone cruel and unusual punishments so long as these are antiseptic and "sterile" in typical bourgeois fashion, as is the case with long-term imprisonment (naturally, the violations that happen inside prison walls are inivisible, so we can pretend that they don't exist).

    A morally lofty and consistent nation could, quite unproblematically, execute each and every traitor and murderer.

    Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about "slavery" (depending on how this word is construed). The cosmos is intrinsically hierarchical, and some men are certainly unfit to be endowed with "freedom" (especially in the egalitarian sense).

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    1. To counteract this dysgenic trend, it would be necessary for society to be reorganized "from above" into a hierarchy consonant with natural law and individual aptitudes. The idols of Americanist "freedom" and democracy must be smashed.


      This is why I see no point in the more superficial varieties of ecumenism. The real challenge for the Church is not to appeal by concession after concession to the ignorant multitudes, from whom can only proceed more ignorance, but to appeal to those with genuine intellectual and artistic gifts.

      We need patriarchy, "heteronormativity", public processions and festivals, and family values. Above all, we need to take seriously the exposition and assimilation of pure doctrine, and not simply reduce it to postmodern effective agnosticism limited by Kant's intellectual myopia.

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    2. What are you talking about?

      Most people I know who oppose the death penalty oppose it on the following grounds.

      - The legal system is fallible and will eventually condemn an innocent man to death.

      - The state murder of an innocent man is grievously wrong; much more so than a typical murder.

      - For this reason, the death penalty cannot be law.

      That is not based on 'aesthetics' or anything else. It is a perfectly logical argument and impossible to refute.

      You can disagree with it by saying that the death of x number of innocent men is worth the price paid. But that does not refute the argument.

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    3. Hello,

      I am taking the liberty of stating your argument syllogistically.

      Premise 1: There is a risk that innocent men will be unjustly condemned to death.

      Premise 2: When this does happen, it is worse than a "regular" murder.

      Conclusion: There can be no death penalty.

      Where is the logical dependence here? I honestly fail to see it.

      Moreover, corporeal death is not the end of existence. This life is but a temporaral vanity, and we will all have to leave it eventually. Killing the body does comparatively little harm, corrupting the soul much more so.

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    4. Decided to compose my own "irrefutable" syllogism.

      1. Sometimes, police officers unjustly shoot innocent men to death.

      2. It is particularly condemnable for a police officer to do such a thing.

      3. Therefore, there can be no law enforcement.

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    5. That is not based on 'aesthetics' or anything else. It is a perfectly logical argument and impossible to refute.

      People can obviously give what appear to be reasonable arguments when they are asked for reasons, but Caeliger is more interested in an explanation of the sociological fact of increasing opposition to the death penalty in the last several decades.

      The argument you've given is anything but "impossible to refute." As Caeliger has noted, it's not a valid argument, and it would have to be revised to be valid. The sort of premises you are going to have to add to make it valid will raise questions about the legitimacy of punishment in general: if the innocent can be given prison sentences, how can prison sentences be permissible? There are obviously lots of responses to that query; maybe capital punishment is just different from all other sorts of punishments, so that it's tolerable for an innocent person to spend 25 years in jail, but not for an innocent person to be killed. I think that premise is doubtful and, in this context, post hoc, but suffice it to say, again, that your argument is far from impossible to refute.

      So it does pose an sociological question. If opposition to capital punishment in many people rests on manifestly flimsy arguments which are not consistent with those people's other beliefs, where does it come from? I think there's some merit to the thought that it's basically an aesthetic distaste for violence.

      However, a caveat: I would also say that people can rationally hold moral beliefs without possessing good arguments, which they could give to skeptics, for them. A just person will simply recognize that a transaction is unfair; a chaste person simply won't be swayed by the desire to be unfaithful to his wife. If you asked them for arguments, they might not give any, or they might give arguments that are in fact somewhat post hoc and not very good; I'm of the view that this doesn't necessarily show that they are not virtuous.

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    6. Excellent points, Greg (and you put them more diplomatically than I am able to). Regarding your last paragraph, this is what I would refer to as the "intellect", that which intuitively knows supra-rational truths.

      Rooting the virtues in whatever "evolutionary" or utilitarian considerations will never work. Strictly "rationally", we will have to admit that there is no way to show that homosexuality is wrong, for example.

      Clearly, a person with a well-developed intellect need not necessarily be "intellectual" (encumbered with mere notions and mechanical pseudo-knowledge) or even "smart" (clever in "this-worldly" terms). Such a person need not even be able to read and write.

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    7. St. Thomas takes on a similar question... Should a judge condemn a man he knows to be innocent if the public testimony is sufficient for conviction? "Yes." It is the others (lying or poorly informed witnesses) who have wrongfully killed the innocent man, not the judge. (See Christ's interaction with Pilate for a similar situation.) This is insufficient to render the practice illegitimate in principle... As others have noted, just because something bad is bound to happen eventually (and be exacerbated by proper circumstances) does not mean the practice is "malum in se" or even bad law.

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    8. Of course it follows. Conditional on accepting that murder is never, ever allowed. I assumed that we all accepted this. Those who don't leave the discussion now.

      If state murder is worse than normal murder - which it is (although you don't have to accept this, all you need to accept is that it is as bad as murder) - then in order to support the death penalty you must excuse murder. This last statement is contingent on the fact that the legal system is fallible.

      Of course, I suspect you all knew exactly what I was getting at and only tried top pick at the statement for the sake of it. That's Phil 101 level annoying.

      Argue the point.

      Delete
    9. "1. Sometimes, police officers unjustly shoot innocent men to death.

      2. It is particularly condemnable for a police officer to do such a thing.

      3. Therefore, there can be no law enforcement."

      Lol. Seriously? Do we hire police officers to shoot men to death?

      Try again.

      Delete
    10. Hello,

      First and foremost, killing is not necessarily murder. If a person is wrongfully executed because of false witness, how can there be any premeditation in the legal system that would hence render it 'state murder'?

      Delete
    11. Murder does not require premeditation. Obviously.

      Beyond that, intent is irrelevant.

      We as people discussing the law know that a certain number of innocent people will be murdered if we institute the death penalty. When we make the decision to institute it we are responsible for those murders.

      The only case you can make is that these inevitable murders will be worth the upside we gain from the death penalty.

      I am agnostic on that point. But I lean toward thinking that murder can never be justified outside of some sort of Just War scenario where civilians will be killed.

      Delete
    12. I apologise for my mistake. In my country, only first degree murder is termed such. In any event, criminal execution is not murder.

      Delete
    13. Of course, it is not murder.

      But the accidental killing of an innocent is manslaughter, at best.

      And given that we have prior knowledge that some innocents will be killed if we institute the death penalty - we can even put a number on this using prior statistics and projecting them forward - then we are knowingly killing this number of innocent men to support our policy.

      I believe that this constitutes murder.

      Delete
    14. Sometimes the accidental killing of an innocent is just an accident.

      The reasoning you are giving would be reason for the abolition of automobiles: we have prior knowledge that some innocents will be killed by automobiles, and there is no practical way to arrange things so that it never happens. We can even, indeed, put a statistical number on it.

      Delete
    15. Of course it follows. Conditional on accepting that murder is never, ever allowed. I assumed that we all accepted this. Those who don't leave the discussion now.

      Well, I didn't try to list all of the problems with your argument, but the execution of someone wrongfully convicted is no more murder than the imprisonment of someone wrongfully convicted is kidnapping. It is no more murder than the community service of someone wrongfully convicted is slavery. It is no more murder than the fining of someone wrongfully convicted is theft. To the extent that your argument relies on the premise that wrongfully executing the innocent is "state murder," it's ridiculous, and I took it for granted that in repairing it we would be take that as at best a loose way of speaking.

      Delete
    16. @Brandon

      No. It is not the same. When the state takes a life it intentionally kills a person. Car crashes are accidental. The two are entirely different.

      The telos of automobiles is to drive. The telos of the death penalty is to kill.

      We know that x% of the people sitting in the chair about to be killed are innocent. The taking of their lives intentionally is murder.

      @Greg

      The wrongful imprisoning of a person IS kidnapping. It is an illegal act of forcible confinement - i.e. kidnapping. If the state realises that it has occured they will release the person upon recognition of this - and perhaps compensate them.

      We are comfortable with the fact that x% of imprisoned people are effectively kidnap victims because this is necessary for law and order. You can make a similar case for the death penalty. But it looks to me harder to make.

      Delete
    17. Yes, it is the same. When the state takes the life of an innocent person it is not intentional; it is accidental. Trying to pretend otherwise is making your argument sound far more stupid than it has to be.

      The death penalty has no telos; the system of punishment does, and it is not to kill anymore than it is to take away people's liberty or property.

      We know that a massively, massively larger number of innocent people will be killed by automobiles. Your deliberate and intentional allowing of innocent people to die is what you need to be looking at, so that you can develop an argument that properly distinguishes it from capital punishment, rather than the muddled and gibberish-y one you are currently giving.

      Delete
    18. We are comfortable with the fact that x% of imprisoned people are effectively kidnap victims because this is necessary for law and order. You can make a similar case for the death penalty. But it looks to me harder to make.

      This concession vitiates your argument entirely.

      Delete
    19. @Brandon

      When the state takes the life of an innocent person IT is intentional. 'IT' referring to the taking of a life. What is not intended is the taking of an INNOCENT life.

      BUT we know that x% of people whose lives are going to be intentionally taken by the state ARE INNOCENT. When we mandate the state to intentionally take life we must recognise that these people will be murdered. They will not be INTENTIONALLY murdered individually. But they are being objectively murdered and that murder is being carried out because of our policy decision.

      The automobile example is obviously wrong for this reason. But even if it were not, the same thing applies. We are comfortable with x% of passengers being killed because we judge that this is worth the social benefits of driving. I think that given the circumstances - the grisly nature of an innocent man facing intentional death by the hand of the state - it is much, much harder to ethically make the case for the death penalty.

      And I'm agnostic on the question of the death penalty, for the record.

      Delete
    20. When the state takes the life of an innocent person, it is accidental; the fact that you are trying to call it both intentional and accidental is an immediate sign that you are equivocating.

      'We know that ALMOST ALL people who are going to die by people being negligent in one way or other in their cars ARE INNOCENT. When we mandate that people have the right to drive their cars even though their negligence is going to call people to die, "we must recognise that these people will be murdered". They will not be INTENTIONALLY murdered individually. But they are being objectively murdered and that murder is being carried out because of our policy decision.'

      We are comfortable with x% of passengers being killed because we judge that this is worth the social benefits of driving.

      And yes, and that is precisely the argument for capital punishment, except whereas you try to treat the automobile case as if it were no big deal, capital punishment defenders do everyone the justice of recognizing the seriousness of capital punishment, and recognize that "social benefits" are not enough -- only what is apparently necessary for upholding the rights of citizens, or for the survival of society, could permit it. You are remarkably blase about the grisly nature of innocent men being run over by drivers -- proof that it is not the grisliness, nor the death, nor the innocence, at all that you are relying on.

      And I'm agnostic on the question of the death penalty, for the record.

      Then do the opponents of it the favor of providing a competent arguments on their side.

      Delete
    21. All that has to be said, really, is that killing is not intrinsically wrong. Improperly calling it "murder" is just empty pathos.

      Miscarriages of justice, lamentable as they are, cannot negate justice. If it so strikes one's fancy one might very well argue that abolishing capital punishment is preferable--I just don't understand why it should be such a massive concern, seeing how rare it is.

      If anything, I would be far more concerned about the current state of psychic health in the general public. Most people aren't even confident in the reality of the soul. I can see why the prospect of dying bodily death should scare such a properly "agnostic" (in the etymological sense) one, but the soul carries on, regardless of what the pseudo-intellectuals and "rational" people of this world think.

      Delete
    22. @Brandon

      It is unfortunate that you cannot grasp the simple fact that there is an intentional act of taking life in the case of the death penalty while there is no intentional act of taking life in the case of automobile accidents. It is further distressing that you cannot see that the intentional taking of life is entirely different from the accidental taking of life and must be judged under different rules.

      These are your moral and intellectual deficiencies. Not mine. I suspect it is motivated by partisan bias of which I am free.

      Delete
    23. @Caeliger

      Murder is the unlawful, intentional killing of a human being.

      If a person is killed by the state because they have been found guilty for a crime they do not commit then they are being unlawfully killed. This is shown by the fact that if the authorities realise that the person is innocent they will not kill him.

      The act is objectively murder. You can sugarcoat it all you like. But it is.

      Delete
    24. Oh, I see both of them; I would never run such a moronic argument as you have run.

      What the distinction establishes is that innocent is irrelevant; since the issue is the intentional taking of life, the claim is that the state has no authority to take a life. This is indeed one of the possible positions taken by people who actually make intelligent arguments against the death penalty. (And, very, very notably, in connection with this, you have not actually given a response that addresses the point for which you were criticized.)

      What is more, you justified your use of the term 'murder' above by saying that, and I quote:

      Of course, it is not murder.

      But the accidental killing of an innocent is manslaughter, at best.


      But this is true of running people over, as well, and of many kinds of other deaths that occur by negligence; and thus the argument you gave works for these as well. As has been pointed out to you. By the above comment you have just refuted your own defense above.

      The problem, in short, is not my failure to recognize the distinction; it is your complete and failure to build any kind of intelligently structured argument, or to have given any kind of intelligent about the actual principles that have to be involved.

      Delete
    25. @Brandon

      The problem is your intellectual deficiencies. Trust me. The specific intellectual deficiency you suffer from is the a priori desire to justify an argument rather than discuss it coolly and objectively.

      It's Friday. I'm going for a beer. You're not nearly as clever as you think you are. And you have a sour attitude. Have a good one.

      Delete
    26. a priori desire to justify an argument

      Oh, no, this is quite provably false, since what I have been doing is proving a posteriori that your argument is unjustifiable.

      Delete
    27. "Objective discussion", as rationalists (and certain sub-rationalists) define it, has certainly never existed. Form without ontological content can never tell us any truth whatsoever, even of the most elementary order.

      In fact, an abstract formalism could, insofar as it is exclusively formal, not exist in any degree whatsoever, since it would be a pure privation.

      Delete
    28. Murder is the unlawful, intentional killing of a human being.

      A few problems.

      Is it murder when a guilty person is executed? Innocence is not part of your definition, but presumably the "unlawful" is supposed to rule this out, or else your argument is far more complicated than it needs to be.

      But then what does "unlawful" mean? It cannot be meant descriptively, as in "in accordance with the procedures set out by the law"--for then, when an innocent person is executed because accidents in the legal system do genuinely happen, he would still be executed lawfully, in accordance with the procedures of the law. So the execution of the innocent would then not necessarily be murder, and the argument fails.

      But there are richer senses of "lawful". It might just mean "permissible" or "moral"--that is, in accordance with the natural law. Relatedly, it might mean "in accordance with a just positive law," in light of the principle that an unjust law is no law at all.

      But then you can't use the claim that it is murder to intentionally kill someone who happens to be innocent in an argument for the conclusion that capital punishment is wrong, for wrongness is built into your definition of murder, so the argument is circular.

      There doesn't seem to be a third option here (but I'm all ears).

      By using a thick sense of "lawful" in your definition of murder, you are ruling out the possibility that it can be identified apart from a prior moral judgment, so you are ruling out the possibility of using the term in moral arguments.

      A better definition is just: intentional killing of the innocent. Even if it turns out that, on this definition, all murder is unlawful in the thick sense, we can pick out murders without already having judged the act. But then when the state kills someone who happens to be innocent, it need not be murdering him, for intentions are intentional states and all that.

      Delete
    29. when an innocent person is executed because accidents in the legal system do genuinely happen, he would still be executed lawfully, in accordance with the procedures of the law.

      You've made the point a couple times that the unlawfulness of killing of someone who happens to be innocent is shown by the fact that one would reverse it if it were known that he was innocent.

      But this claim makes no sense unless you specify what you mean by "lawful," and it makes sense in neither of the senses I can discern in common and philosophical usage. If "lawful" is taken descriptively, then it's true that we would regret killing someone who we later discovered was innocent, but that doesn't mean that there was an error in the legal process by the legal process's own standards; it doesn't even mean that anyone--judge, jury, executioner, prosecutor, witness--was culpable for the supposedly "unlawful" murder.

      But the claim also doesn't hold if one takes "lawful" in a thicker, more moralized sense. The fact that I wouldn't execute someone if I had more information doesn't show that it's unlawful in the sense wrong to execute him when I have less information.

      Delete
    30. It's actually worth dissecting the argument and diagnosing it a bit more specifically, since the kind of problem seen here is quite common.

      The reason why The Illusionist's argument turned out so poor is that it is actually a conflation of distinct arguments requiring opposed argumentative strategies -- at least two, perhaps more, depending on how one breaks it down -- and if one argument is emphasized, it should make the other either irrelevant or wrong, depending on the way it is emphasized.

      (1) There is the objective murder line of argument. But if something is morally murder, this shouldn't be affected by the simple fact of whether the victim is innocent or guilty -- if a particular killing of an innocent is murder, then the same kind of killing of the guilty under the same circumstances should also be murder, even if you think it is not as bad. So this seems to make any consideration of innocence irrelevant. (If considerations of innocence were relevant, it would cause problems with arguing against the death penalty, since the question of importance in arguing over the death penalty is whether it should be applied even when we think we have good reason to think someone is not innocent.)

      Further, as was recognized by everyone immediately, this line depends on questions of intention. If one locates the wrongness in the state's intention to kill, in itself, this is equivalent to denying that the state has any authority to kill at all under any circumstances. (You can have a perfectly reasonable opposition to the death penalty on the grounds that all killing is outside the authority of the state.) But then innocence should be irrelevant again. On the other hand if the problem is supposed to be the killing of innocents, this is not in fact what is intended, and so the killing of innocents is accidental. This allows one to keep the innocence line of argument, but at the expense of making it not any kind of murder at all -- the death of the innocent in particular is bad but outside the intention, and therefore simply an unfortunate accident.

      (2) The other line is the foreknown innocent death line of argument. We know for a fact that, being fallible, our policy will lead to innocent deaths, and there is no way to set things up to prevent it. Since innocent death is quite common throughout society (as the automobile case shows), one needs in addition a particular reason to distinguish this instance from all those others. The one that The Illusionist chose was state intention, which crossed the streams of argument. This raises the immediate question -- which Caeliger raised, but which never got a proper response -- of law enforcement cases, which also involves states acting to provide law enforcement with measures known to be lethal. But it also raises the problem that killing of innocents is outside state intention -- and therefore can't be the distinguishing reason why these innocent deaths rather than those are problematic.

      There is not a single position opposed to the death penalty; there are multiple, mutually exclusive positions that are inconsistent with the death penalty. This requires selectiveness in one's arguments -- you have to pick where you're going to stand and stay there. Doing that you can do just fine, although it doesn't allow any surprises -- everybody already knows what responses capital punishment advocates will make to (1) or to (2), because these arguments have been played before and often. But I think it is in fact common on this topic for people to jumble the arguments together incoherently.

      Delete
    31. "The problem is your intellectual deficiencies. Trust me. The specific intellectual deficiency you suffer from is the a priori desire to justify an argument rather than discuss it coolly and objectively.

      It's Friday. I'm going for a beer. You're not nearly as clever as you think you are. And you have a sour attitude. Have a good one."

      A rage quit is not helpful to your argument, which is poor. It rests on the assumption that the possibility of acting in some kind of ignorance actually changes the generic nature of the act itself to be intrinsically evil, or at least universally bad law. This is wildly problematic, as others have demonstrated with examples (which could be multiplied endlessly). I will add two of my own, which will hopefully help - Did you know that x% of married men will accidentally sleep with someone who is not their wife? Therefore, married people should not sleep together, because adultery is worse than fornication. Of course, it is not formally adultery, it is only materially adultery. The formal character of the object, which stands in relation to reason as the choiceworthy aspect of the action, is determined by one's knowledge of what he is acting on (or in the case of the unlucky judge with private exonerating information inadmissible or insufficient in court, the state itself acts through the judge, who ought to allow this material injustice for the sake of preserving jurisprudence). On the other hand, a man who shoots a duck thinking it to be a man has committed the formal act of murder, even though he has only materially killed a duck. See the issue?

      Delete
    32. @VRS

      I'd love to know the x% of married men that will accidentally sleep with your wife. I'd imagine it's pretty low. And I've always been clear that this would ultimately come down to an empirically grounded cost-benefit analysis. I know where I come down on "accidental, I slipped and fell into a strange vagina" sex. I'm not so clear on innocent men imprisoned and told that they will be murdered by the state rotting out their days until they meet their maker. Your example is absurd and deals with an incredibly small minority of cases. Mine is not absurd and deals with cases that I can show you empirically of innocent men being executed. Also, murder is far worse than adultery. So there's that.

      @Greg

      That is a genuinely interesting issue. To me, murder is the intentional killing of an innocent man. There is an objective standard, to my mind. Even if the only person on the planet that knows your innocence is you, rotting in a jail cell, when that lethal injection is applied the state murdered you. And God will be the judge of that - and the people who facilitated it through legalising the death penalty.

      How will God judge it? I'm not sure. I haven't made up my mind. But that is clearly the crux of the issue.

      Delete
    33. @TheIllusionist

      Cost-benefit analysis is secondary to the principle at stake, which I explained is the disappearance of the distinction between formal and material aspects of the object. I gave an "absurd" example (which the Patriarch Jacob will tell you is not that absurd, by the way), but the numbers are not the primary problem. The main issue is that the possibility of error does not change the act of sentencing a rogue innocent man to death from "justice" to "injustice," provided he was fairly tried and sentenced based on that trial. This is my main point - to which you did not respond. We can look at the proportion between abandoning capital punishment to avoid the unfortunate possibility of error and the abolitionist alternative, but this is AFTER the consideration of formal and material wrongdoing. One innocent man put to death is very bad, and due to the fact that Cartesian certainty is impossible in the justice system, in every single case, there is always the possibility of error. But we must protect the principle of punishing reasonably convicted persons according to their crimes, or else we abandon civil justice altogether, as multiple posters have tried to show you without effect.

      So there's that. (What was it you said about "sour attitude"?)

      Delete
    34. "The main issue is that the possibility of error does not change the act of sentencing a rogue innocent man to death from "justice" to "injustice," provided he was fairly tried and sentenced based on that trial."

      The key difference is that I don't have as much 'faith' in a fair trial as you. You assume that the very act of fairly trying a man justifies an innocent going to the death chamber - because he was fairly tried. I do not.

      I think that there are certain punishments that POSSIBLY cannot be justified unless they are only, ever, 100% of the time applied to the guilty. The weight of innocent men being killed by the state weighs far more on my conscience than it does on yours, apparently.

      That is the only difference between our positions. The level of anal pedantry to avoid the key problem on this blog is rather hilarious and speaks to the lack of moral masculinity of some on here. I see a lot of rationalisers and OCDers. And few people willing to face tough issues.

      Look it in the eye. That is the issue. Reckon with it. Stop trying to pseudologic it away. It IS an issue. If you can't recognise that and make a call in its face then you have serious moral defects. Sorry. But that's just a fact.

      Delete
    35. @TheIllusionist

      It seems, furthermore, on top of not engaging the critical part of my argument (including the unlucky judge), you are not aware of the beehive the phrase "intentional killing" is in contemporary Catholic moral theology, including in the exact context of this particular blog post - NNL. To say "murder is intentionally killing an innocent person" is just plain absurd if you want to have the discussion at the level Dr. Feser's blog provides the platform for. To take an example, an executioner might have an innocent man before him, but in the act of decapitation, might he not "intentionally" kill the accused? Some NNL proponents might say "yes." Another example might convince you that this is not as dumb as it sounds... If I am defending myself against an insane man, who cannot bear any moral guilt, surely he is innocent of moral wrongdoing. If I shoot him in the head because it is the only way to stop his lethal attack, have I intentionally killed an innocent person? ("It's not intentional!") Then is medical abortion or craniotomy not "intentional killing of an innocent person" either? There seems to be no difference, as both are morally innocent but are lethal threats nonetheless. What about the routine patient in the transplant dilemma? Surely, I am not intentionally killing him either, I am just removing his vital organs to save 5 other patients, which happens to cause his death.

      And on. And on. And on.

      I've not read Dr. Feser's book, but it seems likely he will take on any objections you have in depth. I can't continue this discussion further.

      Peace...
      -VRS

      Delete
    36. Read above as, "might he 'not intentionally' kill the accused?"

      You sound more and more like a troll, the more you stoop to ad hominems. I am really ducking out.

      -VRS

      Delete
    37. As I said, this blog is full of wafflers and naval-gazing neckbeards.

      I tried to argue that there could be an issue with sending innocent men to die by the hand of the state given that we know that the legal system is fallible.

      This is quite obviously a serious issue. One that I do not have a firm answer to. And must be considered carefully, especially in light of the Christian prohibition on murder.

      Rather than getting thoughtful responses. You know, ones that would consider the implications of an innocent man in a cell for five years awaiting state-sanctioned death. Instead of that, I was met with a wall of over-intellectualised nonsense and waffle. I was met with second-rate philosophy students and internet geeks trying to pick away at sentences and "analyse" turns of phrase.

      Such activity is morally disgusting and unmanly. Sorry, but it is. And the level of debate amongst some on here is juvenile and ridiculous. A terrible pity. As Feser is a serious guy. Most of you are not.

      Delete
    38. All you have done is throw temper tantrums at being contradicted, and make claims that could only be grounded in evidence if you were telepathic or clairvoyant, and you have done so regardless of whether those contradictions have come with reasons or not.

      Yes, it is quite obviously a serious issue; it is a serious enough issue that people coming to it need to have a commitment to good arguments and to carefully thinking through the issues that arise.

      You quite clearly have made no effort whatsoever to understand the major anti-death-penalty positions, despite claiming to speak for them, or you would not have mangled their arguments so badly by mashing them all together, something that genuinely serious opponents do not do; nor would you have been surprised by any of the objections that have been raised, because they are all of them standard objections serious opponents of the death penalty would have encountered before. You have done nothing but muddle and bungle arguments that people massively more committed than you (by your own admission as an agnostic) have put an immense amount of work into clarifying. Nothing, literally nothing, you have said on this subject indicates that you are in any way treating this subject with the seriousness it deserves.

      Delete
    39. @Brandon

      If its a serious issue then act like a man and address it. Stop whining.

      Address it. Now. In plain English.

      Delete
    40. I already did; see 10:49 am.

      Delete
    41. Evasive rubbish. When you decide to remove your dick from your hand get back to me. Otherwise do enjoy being a perpetual intellectual masturbator.

      Delete
    42. Another temper tantrum rather than an adult response.

      Delete
    43. Take this...

      "But if something is morally murder, this shouldn't be affected by the simple fact of whether the victim is innocent or guilty..."

      Obviously this is idiotic. Murder is the intentional illegal killing of man. Capital punishment is the intentional legal killing of a man. Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal. Therefore...

      Your arguments are stupid. You are not very bright. Just go away. Stop interfering.

      Delete
    44. No, murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent man. Capital punishment is the deliberate killing of a man found guilty of a capital crime. Where this occurs to a man that is later found to be innocent, this is neither murder or manslaughter, but a mistake. It could only be murder if the jury or judge recommend and delivered a sentence of death to a man they knew to be innocent.

      This was explained, more or less, by Brandon and Greg a number of times above.

      Delete
    45. Your arguments are stupid. You are not very bright. Just go away. Stop interfering.

      Hahahaha. I had to compliment you, Illusionist, for a spectacular rendition of the stupid emotional objector to the death penalty. Good job.

      A purist might suggest that you went just a little too far, into caricature-land. But I disagree. I think you nailed it. There really are people as knuckleheaded as you are portraying here. I've run into them. Clearly you have too, which is why you can act it out so well.

      I love this bit:

      Obviously this is idiotic. Murder is the intentional illegal killing of man. Capital punishment is the intentional legal killing of a man. Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal. Therefore...

      That's classic, that is, that last (full) sentence: "Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal." You slipped in that fallacy just right: with the right amount of "it sounds like it should be right, but doesn't actually make any sense."

      The final ellipsis there... , the irony is just beautiful. Nothing ACTUALLY follows, because the prior sentence is meaningless, but by using the ellipsis, our objector disguises the fact that he can't make anything come out of this failed syllogism.

      This is quite obviously a serious issue. One that I do not have a firm answer to. And must be considered carefully, especially in light of the Christian prohibition on murder.

      Naturally, the stupid emotional objector would not even know that Feser addresses this in the book, because he isn't up to reading the book. He just assumes that he knows what's in it because he doesn't like the tenor of the claims made. He can't possibly know how well the authors dealt with the problem, nor whether his comments represent merely re-hashed ground, but he is "sure" that they are serious. Hahahah! That's good.

      Delete
    46. Isn't Brandon literally a philosophy professor? TheilIllusionist is making a fool of himself. The best thing for him to do is a recognise this and start again.

      Delete
    47. "No, murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent man. Capital punishment is the deliberate killing of a man found guilty of a capital crime. Where this occurs to a man that is later found to be innocent, this is neither murder or manslaughter, but a mistake. It could only be murder if the jury or judge recommend and delivered a sentence of death to a man they knew to be innocent."

      I disagree. If an innocent man is found guilty and executed by the state it is murder. I believe this because I believe in an objective standard of justice. For example, I firmly believe that OJ Simpson is a murderer. A jury of his peers claims that he is not and legally speaking, in the eyes of the state, he is not a murderer. But I think he is a murderer because I believe in an objective standard of justice and the state only embodies that in an imperfect way.

      If you don't agree with this, that's fine. Difference of opinion. It happens. I happen to think that your opinion is slavish, stupid and rests on the worship of fallible human institutions. But its just a difference of opinion.

      Get over yourself.

      Delete
    48. @Tony

      "The final ellipsis there... , the irony is just beautiful. Nothing ACTUALLY follows, because the prior sentence is meaningless, but by using the ellipsis, our objector disguises the fact that he can't make anything come out of this failed syllogism."

      Clearly you're struggling. Poor boy. Allow me to finish the line of reasoning for you.

      Murder is the intentional illegal killing of man. Capital punishment is the intentional legal killing of a man. Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal. Therefore... capital punishment enacted on an innocent is murder.

      Sorry you couldn't work out that little puzzle for yourself. You'll get there eventually. ;-)

      Delete
    49. Okay, it's beginning to look like he is a bit troll. Either that or he seriously doesn't understand that he is running together all sorts of claims and equivocating all over the place.

      Delete
    50. "Murder is the intentional illegal killing of a man."

      Nazi death squads, Pharaoh's soldiers, Herod's hitmen, abortion in the Western world, euthanasia in many countries... All legal killing, but I guess not murder? And what about all those thorny issues of "intention" noted previously?

      "Capital punishment is the intentional legal killing of a man."

      Then capital punishment can never be illegal, as being legal is part of the definition. (And this is to make no mention of WHY a person is being killed, which definitely seems to have something to do with what capital punishment is... Namely, a punishment for a capital crime.)

      "Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal."

      See above. Capital punishment is "per se" legal, therefore is never illegal. So your implied conclusion that capital punishment enacted on an innocent is always murder is fallacious.

      It can, however, be murder... "For even these sin if they be moved by private animosity."

      You will benefit from leaving this discussion and buying Dr. F's book.

      Delete
    51. Capital punishment is the intentional legal killing of a man. Capital punishment enacted on an innocent is illegal.

      Oh, c'mon, man, you don't have to keep up the Illusion. We get the act. No need to keep pretending. It is logically impossible for capital punishment to be legal and illegal at the same time, of course. Even a 5th grader would see that. When you spell it all out, it's even stupider-looking than with the ellipsis. Too stupid for words, really, which is why the ellipsis was better. Don't ruin it now, you had a great act going.

      Anon, of course his comments look like trollish nonsense. I assume it's by design. It's quite difficult for one troll to roll around in quite so many different stupidities as all that. But you are right. One might as well hang a sign up on this group of comments saying:

      HERE LIES A TROLL. BEWARE!

      Delete
    52. Indeed. The mask feel rather quickly. Screwtape will not be pleased.

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    53. I find most Thomists open-minded and interesting - not to mention intelligent. The commentators on this page, however, remind me of New Atheists. They are stupid, but they think themselves smart. They are moral midgets, but they think themselves wise. They are losers, but they plug themselves as Genuinely Important.

      I'd imagine that the average representative is a sweaty internet user, a little known PhD holder or a second rate student. That's sad.

      It bungs up your page, Feser. I get that you want hits. But it lowers the tone. And that's a pity. Because I think that you're a serious guy.

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    54. "Nazi death squads, Pharaoh's soldiers, Herod's hitmen, abortion in the Western world, euthanasia in many countries... All legal killing, but I guess not murder?"

      First of all, you are grossly misinformed about history. The Nazi death squads were rendered illegal under the Nuremburg laws. Read a book, for God's sake.

      But my general point is that the squads WOULD have been objectively murder even if the Nazis would have won because the killing of innocents is ALWAYS objective murder even if the state that sanctions it claims that it is not.

      So after you read up on history, try also boning up on basic reading comprehension.

      Seriously, the people on here tend to plain dim. It's literally embarrassing.

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    55. You're not fooling anyone dumbo.

      BTW, it's the Nuremberg trials, numbnut.

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    56. I find most Thomists open-minded and interesting - not to mention intelligent.
      ...
      But my general point is that the squads WOULD have been objectively murder even if the Nazis would have won because the killing of innocents is ALWAYS objective murder


      Lest we leave any stone unturned, St. Thomas:

      Ia IIae Q18 A 2

      I answer that, as stated above (Article 1) the good or evil of an action, as of other things, depends on its fulness of being or its lack of that fulness. Now the first thing that belongs to the fulness of being seems to be that which gives a thing its species. And just as a natural thing has its species from its form, so an action has its species from its object, as movement from its term. And therefore just as the primary goodness of a natural thing is derived from its form, which gives it its species, so the primary goodness of a moral action is derived from its suitable object: hence some call such an action "good in its genus"; for instance, "to make use of what is one's own." And just as, in natural things, the primary evil is when a generated thing does not realize its specific form (for instance, if instead of a man, something else be generated); so the primary evil in moral actions is that which is from the object, for instance, "to take what belongs to another." And this action is said to be "evil in its genus," genus here standing for species, just as we apply the term "mankind" to the whole human species.

      II IIae Q 64 A 8

      I answer that, According to the Philosopher (Phys. ii, 6) "chance is a cause that acts beside one's intention." Hence chance happenings, strictly speaking, are neither intended nor voluntary. And since every sin is voluntary, according to Augustine (De Vera Relig. xiv) it follows that chance happenings, as such, are not sins.
      Nevertheless it happens that what is not actually and directly voluntary and intended, is voluntary and intended accidentally, according as that which removes an obstacle is called an accidental cause. Wherefore he who does not remove something whence homicide results whereas he ought to remove it, is in a sense guilty of voluntary homicide. This happens in two ways: first when a man causes another's death through occupying himself with unlawful things which he ought to avoid: secondly, when he does not take sufficient care. Hence, according to jurists, if a man pursue a lawful occupation and take due care, the result being that a personloses his life, he is not guilty of that person's death: whereas if he be occupied with something unlawful, or even with something lawful, but without due care, he does not escape being guilty of murder, if his action results in someone's death.

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    57. IIa IIae, Q 64, A2
      Reply to Objection 1. … as Augustine says (Contra Parmen. iii, 2). Wherefore our Lord teaches that we should rather allow the wicked to live, and that vengeance is to be delayed until the last judgment, rather than that the good be put to death together with the wicked. When, however, the good incur no danger, but rather are protected and saved by the slaying of the wicked, then the latter may be lawfully put to death.

      Reply to Objection 2. According to the order of His wisdom, God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas sometimes He allows them time to repent, according as He knows what is expedient for His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers; for it puts to death those who are dangerous to others, while it allows time for repentance to those who sin without grievously harming others.


      Hence according to St. Thomas, an action takes its species from the object of the act. In capital punishment, the “object of the act” is “to put to death the guilty”. it is not “murder” if the executioner kills an innocent, which is contrary to his intention and object, IF he does so having taken due care to prevent it (i.e. if due care was taken to convict the guilty). And, according to him, one ought to refrain killing the guilty if one cannot do so without undue danger to the innocent, but also that the state OUGHT to kill the guilty and the dangerous when the good “incur no danger”, by which he clearly means “no undue danger”, for as there is some residual (impossible to eradicate) danger that you might accidentally involve an innocent in ANY dangerous undertaking, the state could NEVER undertake to kill the dangerous or the guilty if they must only do so when there is no possibility of danger to the innocent - which would make St. Thomas's statement void and irrational.

      The correct term for when the executioner kills an innocent by accident is "accidental homicide". It is well known that accidental homicide does not go under the term "murder", that's not the correct word for it.

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    58. TheIllusionist, go away.

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  2. I don’t know if Caeliger is for real, but this bit gave me pause:

    The cosmos is intrinsically hierarchical, and some men are certainly unfit to be endowed with "freedom" (especially in the egalitarian sense).

    Isn’t it the case that a natural end of social animals is to dominate those that are weaker? Isn’t this how nature ordered matters? So, on natural law ethics doesn’t this natural order apply to humans also? If not, why not?

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    1. I am 100% "for real", Dianelos.

      It is certainly a natural end of social animals to dominate the weak. Non-human animals have vegetative souls and sensible souls.

      Humans, unlike non-human animals, have rational souls. Therefore, it is possible for humans to express their goodness above the inferior realm of sense objects. Through the rational soul, humans may also open up the intellect, which perceives inner truths beyond mere reason.

      There is nothing wrong in principle with the superior dominating (and ministering to) the inferior. The sensitive soul is not "evil", it just needs to be regulated by reason (which in turn must be regulated by intellect).

      Provided that all the planets (faculties present in all things) converge, there is nothing wrong in principle with humans dominating other humans. This is how it always works out in practise, whether the coercion is legal, corporeal, economical, religious, or whatever.


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    2. *Economic. Apologies, I am not much accustomed to the English language.

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    3. Ideally I shouldn't post so many comments in a row, but reading yours again, Danielos, it would seem to me that you are confusing natural law with some kind of animalistic social darwinism. This is very far from what I have proposed.

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  3. It seems to me that those who oppose the death penalty, and/or call it intrinsically evil, do so in many cases from an outpouring of emotion, pity, and compassion.

    However, it can be shown that inspired Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers makes allowances for the application of capital punishment. Doesn't this make God out to be stern, unpitying, and to lack compassion for His children? This is now getting to the root of the difficulty.

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  4. So, let's suppose that the abolitionist side carries the day. We shall not shed man's blood under any juridical circumstances.

    Let us now address the abolitionist.

    Do I have a categorical obligation to defend you?

    Whence comes this obligation?

    Assuming such an obligation, do I still have an obligation to defend you if you will not defend yourself?

    If letting your blood be shed by another in order not to shed their blood, have I not fulfilled the abolitionist's aim?

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  5. amm Prof Ed what about moses^s law commanding divorce?

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    1. I apologize for Msgr. confusing you but it's important to read Scripture carefully. Observe the following:
      "They [the Pharisees] say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away?
      "Dicunt illi: Quid ergo Moyses mandavit dare libellum repudii, et dimittere?

      He [Christ] saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."
      Ait illis: Quoniam Moyses ad duritiam cordis vestri permisit vobis dimittere uxores vestras: ab initio autem non fuit sic" (Mt 19:7-8).

      The latin is very important. Notice how the Pharisees used the word mandavit which means to mandate or to command while Christ responded using the word permisit which means to permit. So it's false to say that holy Moses commanded divorce because in fact Christ said he only permitted it. Hence St Thomas says, "Moses did not command men to put away their wives, but rather, he indirectly wished to prohibit this, because Moses did not want a wife to be put away unless a bill of divorce be given; and this pertains more to a prohibition, because the bill of divorce was only given by the public authority; hence, one used to have recourse to the wise, so that they might see if the men had grounds to put away their wives" and further "They [the Pharisees] had said that Moses commanded this; but he did not command, rather he permitted this to be done. Concerning the hardness of their hearts, it is stated: “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost (Acts 7, 51)."

      With all due respect to Msgr., he basically took the position of the Pharisees (hopefully out of ignorance). For anyone who has trouble reconciling passages in Scripture, this book (which I will link) was recommended to me by a friend who is very orthodox. I hope it helps someone. Laudetur Jesus Christus! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1542947146/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1542947146&linkCode=as2&tag=unamsanccath-20&linkId=615eaff0fa9d1068ed064a3a43c8eec9

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    2. "The latin is very important." I think is more important the Greek is it not?

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    3. @jaime lopez

      Canaan was the right of the Hebrew people and the idolatry threatened their relationship with God - so the idolaters had to be done away with, which God commanded to be done by violence. (It wasn't totally accomplished, and then we were off to the races... Israel is always being led astray by the remnants Joshua left behind.)

      You should buy yourself a book and do your own research - one was even linked specifically for you.

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    4. @VRS

      Im not arguing against, Im just seeking understanding.
      "God commanded to be done by violence." So God used an evil as a mean?

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    5. "I think is more important the Greek is it not?" Important yes I don't deny that. However, as a catholic and specifically of the Latin rite, I remember what the Council of Trent proclaimed,"Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod taking into consideration that no small benefit can accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which one of all the Latin editions of the sacred books which are in circulation is to be considered authentic, has decided and declares that the said old Vulgate edition, which has been approved by the Church itself through long usage for so many centuries in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, be considered authentic, and that no one under any pretext whatsoever dare or presume to reject it" (Council of Trent, Session IV). Just to give an example, the Johannine Comma isn't found in the Greek manuscripts (Erasmus tried looking for at least one!) but it has always been preserved in the latin manuscripts. So I'll stick with the Latin Vulgate/Douay-Rheims. Once again, this does not negate the importance of Greek and Hebrew. With respect to your question, I highly encourage you to buy the book. Laudetur Jesus Christus!

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  6. "We as people discussing the law know that a certain number of innocent people will be murdered if we institute the death penalty. When we make the decision to institute it we are responsible for those murders."

    Murder is a rather overwrought term for what is being posited, unless it is a deliberate taking of innocent life by agents of the state for some perceived advantage.

    But aside from that, it is probably not necessarily the case that some number of innocent people would inevitably be "murdered".

    No doubt it has happened in the past, often to people with legally checkered histories. And of course popular culture would have us believe that judicial misconduct and political expediency have resulted in these state perpetrated murders on an almost daily basis.

    But in a broader sense, the idea of murder used also to include not only an improperly justified homicide, but an undeclared one as well.

    Certainly the judicial execution of a capital sentence on a supposed perpetrator is never [U.S.]kept secret, or undeclared.

    And now, technology has advanced to such an extent that the bar could be set so high that a malpractice outcome would be almost impossible.

    Suppose laws were already on the books that declared that no capital punishment could take place without a video of the crime and a capture of the perpetrator at the scene.

    That would prevent, to an almost infinitesimal degree, the possibility of "murdering" someone mistaken for a killer. Sirhan B Sirhan, and John Hinkley (who himself did not succeed) could both be killed with the assurance that unless all reality is conspiring to mislead, they were in fact killed for their own acts.

    Add genetic identification, and you are nearly there.

    Now if you want to argue moral responsibility or mental competency, then that is another matter altogether, and is an argument in which I have little to no interest.

    In fact we will probably soon have the ability apply lie detection detection techniques in a manner until recently undreamed of.

    You may not be able to lie to the machine that merely stands off and scans you.

    This of course will inevitably be decried as an invasion of the suspected killer's dignity.

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  7. "It is unfortunate that you cannot grasp the simple fact that there is an intentional act of taking life in the case of the death penalty while there is no intentional act of taking life in the case of automobile accidents. "

    Right ... but of course not all intentional homicide, even by private persons, is murder.

    The reason for killing someone defines what is murder and what is not; not the act of homicide's deliberateness, per se.

    That almost all reckless homicides more or less, become some sort of prohibited killing, only emphasizes the importance of motivation and deliberation in justifiable cases.

    For example, a householder deliberately killing a housebreaker guilty of forcibly entering the householder's occupied dwelling in the dark of night, is not a murderer.

    A man X who who returns home to catch another man Y in the act of beating and raping man X's wife in the driveway, and kills the battering rapist, has not committed a murder.



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  8. Ed you are good at radio debates. I still remember the Catholic Answers debacle with the confused Dawkins rep.

    By the way, I asked Justin Brierley at Unbelievable? Radio show to try and get you on the show. He said he tried once or twice since TLS came out. I freaked out when I heard you could have appeared on that show!

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  9. "The Swethead," as we affectionately called him in seminary, is a generally good man and is hard working to the point of hilarity. It is disappointing to see yet another blunder, this time to protect NNL - which he really does see as the truth

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  10. if the innocent can be given prison sentences, how can prison sentences be permissible?

    Because the prison sentence is in principle reversible while the death penalty is not.

    In statistics, there are two kinds of errors in decision-making, called (creatively enough) Type I error and Type II error. Type I error is to reject acceptable product, withhold approval from a safe and effective drug, convict an innocent person, or search for a "reason" that isn't there. Call it "wild good chase." The probability of committing Type I error is called the alpha-risk.

    Type II error is the opposite: to accept that which ought to have been rejected. This is like releasing a guilty person, releasing an unsafe or ineffective drug, shipping a defective product, or failing to recognize a signal. Call it "asleep at the switch." The probability of committing Type II error is called the beta-risk.

    For any set of decision rules and rules of evidence, driving alpha down will drive beta up. You can make alpha zero by never convicting anyone; but if you do, beta goes through the roof. Likewise, you can drive beta to zero -- "hang 'em all, let God sort 'em out" -- but the price is a rather high alpha.

    You can reduce both by judicious adjustment of the rules of evidence. We probably convict fewer innocents and release fewer guilties than a hundred years ago because we have better ways of collecting an evaluating evidences and witnesses.

    What really underlies the debate is the nature of the consequences. If the decision-making goes awry and an ineffective drug is approved, not too much may be affected; but if a dangerous drug is approved, the consequences may be more severe. Similarly, if a man is unjustly convicted of petty theft, the injury done him may be corrected and restitution performed. However, if a man is unjustly convicted of a capital offense, restitution is rather more difficult to come by.

    This is not an argument for the intrinsic value of the death penalty, but more of a caution in applying it under given circumstances. Even murderers come in different flavors.

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    1. On the other hand, to imprison someone necessarily means taking something away which can never be given back, viz., time free in the world. Death, however, is coming anyway and God will undo it eventually and distribute final justice.

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    2. As VRS notes, we have to distinguish between reversing the sentence and reversing the penalty; the sentence is easily reversible, but serious penalties like imprisonment cannot actually be reversed at all. No one can call back time. We can try to compensate for lost years of liberty -- although as a matter of fact, we are not very good at that, and whether and how much you get compensated for losing years of liberty that can never be returned varies immensely. It's certainly true that there is reason to be cautious, but one of the things that complicates all these discussions is that the real divide of seriousness is not between death and everything else, but between minor penalties and penalties that involve any kind of loss of liberty or life.

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    3. and whether and how much you get compensated for losing years of liberty that can never be returned varies immensely.

      A perfectly reasonable argument can be made that we should make compensation for erroneous convictions that (according to sound procedure) we should have avoided (i.e. errors that we could have avoided had we followed what WE KNOW to be right procedure - these convictions are "wrongdoings" by us). But also that we should not compensate for errors that crept in despite our following best practices, due to inadvertent and accidental occurrences that no system could weed out. The latter are properly "accidents" not "wrongdoings", they are the purview of Providence, not man's dominion, and we are (literally) not morally responsible for them. So also we are not financially responsible for recompense. For example, as a society, we DO NOT owe one person X amount when our accidentally incorrect conviction takes from him 10 years of freedom, and a second person 2X amount when we accidentally take 20 years of freedom. Doesn't work that way.

      (This is not to deny that as a society we ought to try to set the victim of the false conviction up with a better shot at life than just releasing him from prison: we "owe" (in the sense of ought, not in the sense of debt) to make more possible a return to ordinary life. Publish an explicit correction of the record. Give him a place to live and training for a new job, and help getting placed in that job. But these are not recompense for the error, they are the social response to a severe accident hurting one of our people.

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    4. I don't think it's quite so straightforward; we expect people to make reasonable restitution for serious accidents even when they are accidents. If I put you into the hospital, determining that it was merely an accident doesn't relieve me of every obligation to make it up to you -- it just changes the obligation from a legal debt, i.e., a debt of strict exchange, to a moral debt, one that has looser rules but is still a debt.

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    5. I'm OK with calling it a "moral obligation" rather than a legal debt. I still think that it cannot be considered recompense for the unfair time spent in prison, because that we must properly attribute to misfortune and Providence. It is rather something like social assistance - as we would provide in other cases of accidental loss.

      If I put you into the hospital, determining that it was merely an accident doesn't relieve me of every obligation to make it up to you

      I think our legal system is gravely damaged by imprudently pushing the mentality of "you got hurt - someone else is responsible". No, when I am morally responsible because a choice I made was wrong-headed (irresponsible, unjust, etc), then I am also responsible in justice for just restitution. When you fall on my sidewalk because you were jumping up and down and landed funny on your ankle, the fact that my insurance co is going to pay for it is an unfortunate confusion of responsibility. Same with a car crash, or other true accidents that are NOT due to failure to act properly.

      And this is why what society owes is not really commensurate specifically with the lost time in prison (we don't owe double for double lost time). We ought to help the person, but the obligation is not that of recompense.

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    6. I would make a very sharp distinction between moral debt and social assistance; the former is done because of individual good, and the latter because of common good.

      I don't think it's sustainable to argue that we are never morally responsible for our accidents. The difficulty with legal responsibility in such cases arises from the limitations of external authority and the fact that it's not a strict debt but a loose one. This is a distinct issue from the ankle case, in which you are responsible for your own accident.

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    7. I don't think it's sustainable to argue that we are never morally responsible for our accidents.

      Perhaps it might help to make an initial distinction here. It is one thing to say whether "I am in some sense (morally speaking) the 'cause of' this event, which is also (in some sense) 'an accident'. It is arguably at least a separate matter to say whether "I am rightly held to be responsible for trying to repair the harm resulting from this event."

      Taking the first, I am fairly confident (but not completely certain, so I am leaving room for your universal negative "never") that when we examine the senses, we will agree that to the extent that the event was a TRUE accident rather than only approximately or mostly an accident, to that extent we will agree that it is precisely to THAT extent that "I am not the cause" of the event properly speaking.

      Take a doctor who does a difficult and dangerous operation, knowing that there is only a small chance of success, because there is virtually NO chance of the patient surviving without it: brain surgery to remove a bullet. He tries the best he can, but at a critical moment (of which there are several dozen, of which he successfully manages many), his fingers slip a quarter inch and he severs an artery and the patient dies.

      In one sense, of course it was the doctor's own actions that "killed" the patient. On the other hand, the slip is exactly what we mean by an "accident" and the doctor is not - morally speaking - the one who killed the patient. In fact, the slip was not only not intended by the doctor, he positively intended the contrary. The slip was not in his will, it was in his fingers contrary to his will.

      But a person is praiseworthy or blameworthy because of what comes from the will, not from accident. The doctor (and the patient) are the recipients if misfortune, which no man controls or intends. But no man is blameworthy for receiving misfortune.

      To regard the doctor as (morally speaking) a killer, one who is the "moral cause" of the death, is to mis-state moral responsibility for the death. The doctor was doing everything he could to prevent death, not to cause death. His "causality" is limited to that of the physical order, not the moral order. Yes, it was his hand's motion that cut the artery. That's not how we ascribe moral responsibility, which depends on the will.

      Now, to the extent that there might be some OTHER factors, such as (a) the doctor was not actually trained for this, and he undertook something he shouldn't have; or (b) the doctor was half-drunk; or (c) the doctor was trying something experimental and did not have sufficient prior testing; or (d) the doctor was daydreaming - all of these could create (some) real moral responsibility. But to the extent of any such thing, it is precisely to this extent that the physical act of his hand was due to some act or negligence in his will: i.e. NOT AN ACCIDENT.

      Is a doctor morally liable for any sort of recompense when his actions accidentally (in the true sense) cause death? I don't see why. The very non-existence of moral responsibility seems, to me, to preclude it. But I am open to contrary evidence.

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    8. Accidental causes are true causes; they are just causes with results outside that which they were disposed to cause. Given that an accidental result is outside our intention, we cannot be strictly culpable for it, but it can create a debt (which is then the foundation for the responsibility-for that you are distinguishing from responsibility). It's actually a very similar kind of debt to that contracted when someone does something good for you; you are put in debt by benefits, without there being any precise standard against which the payment of the debt is measured.

      We are both perfectly agreed that the doctor is not the cause of the death in a way that makes him morally a killer; the responsibility involved is, ex hypothesi, not any kind of culpability. But if the doctor actually refused to treat the accidental death as obligating him morally -- for instance, by refusing to apologize for it or do anything for the victim's family at all because he was not guilty of anything -- he hasn't just withheld something that, for society's sake, is better to give than not to give; he has actually wronged people. It is, again, not a strict debt but a loose one, and the appropriate response will be far more context-sensitive than a strict debt would be; but there is a debt there.

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    9. Are you saying he is morally obligated to apologize for the death?

      I just don't buy it: he has done everything he is able to do to prevent the death, the failure was due to causes beyond his control. What is he to apologize for? That his skills (or endurance) were not superhuman? That's nutty.

      I admit that doctors WILL often say "I'm sorry." But that's no different, really, than the neighbor next door saying "I'm sorry, for your loss." That's commiseration, not apology. Indeed, we all should commiserate with the grieving widow. We aren't apologizing for having done something wrong when we say "I'm sorry".

      Please SPELL OUT what, precisely, the "debt" you think is there, how it comes to be there, and what it is that pays or meets the debt. I just don't see it.

      Aristotle's Ethics Bk V

      Thus there are three kinds of injury in transactions between man and man...Now when (1) the injury takes place contrary to reasonable expectation, it is a misadventure. When (2) it is not contrary to reasonable expectation, but does not imply vice, it is a mistake (for a man makes a mistake when the fault originates in him, but is the victim of accident when the origin lies outside him). When (3) he acts with knowledge but not after deliberation, it is an act of injustice-e.g. the acts due to anger or to other passions necessary or natural to man;

      I think that his point here about misadventure is significant: if the result is outside of what a reasonable person would include in their consideration (and thus take steps to avoid), there is nothing to be "done" to avoid the injury, and thus nothing to be done after.

      Perhaps, though, what you are considering is that the doctor owes it to the injured (or their family) to explain the situation, so that they can then perceive that nothing was done that was at fault. Indeed, one typical outcome of such an explanation is the injured (or their family) actually saying "I understand, there is nothing more you could have done." As in "there is nothing here to apologize for, nor for me to excuse or forgive." But that JUST IS a condition where no debt exists. If that explanation is what you are thinking of for what the doctor "owes", I would have to say that it is not an "owe" univocally but equivocally (or, at most analogically) with the proper sense of owing a debt. Owing an explanation is more like the kind of "owing" where an athlete "owes it to himself" to try his hardest. (Which, since a person literally cannot be unjust to himself, is not a true sense of "owe", but is rather one of the OTHER senses of "ought" than that of "owe".)

      Besides, the patient's family owes the doctor a debt of gratitude for the doctor's trying his best, with all his powers, to save the patient. It would be strange, if not actually absurd, for them to owe the doctor a debt of gratitude while at the same time he owes them a debt for not having had the superhuman capability to save the patient. It also presents the odd (and possibly pernicious) conclusion that the doctor ought not to try the surgery, because if he fails (which is likely because it is nearly impossible) he will owe them something, but if he does not try he owes them nothing.

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    10. He is morally obligated to do something for it; and as apologies are often one of the simpler and more basic things expected when you harm someone even by accident, the active refusal even to apologize would indicate clearly enough a failure to do justice, broadly considered.

      Please SPELL OUT what, precisely, the "debt" you think is there, how it comes to be there, and what it is that pays or meets the debt.

      I have already pointed out that it is a moral debt, not a legal debt, to use Aquinas's terms. Precise means of payment capable of being exactly spelled out is a feature of legal debt, not moral debt. The governing virtue of the obligation here is not justice proper, which is governed by strict adequation of debt and repayment, but a virtue that is a potential part of justice (or a group of them). As I noted, it is analogous to the case with gratitude: if someone freely benefits you greatly and you return them no good for it, you have done them wrong because you have failed to pay your debt. Since the debt is moral, however, there is no way to spell out precisely what is required, which will require the judgment of the prudent taking the circumstances into account -- which is why legislating gratitude is doomed to fail.

      Owing an explanation is more like the kind of "owing" where an athlete "owes it to himself" to try his hardest.

      It is more like the kind of owing, as I noted before, where you owe your benefactors; this is not owe-in-quotation-marks, it is a genuine owing. Likewise, you owe those who have been harmed by you even unintentionally. I'm not sure why you keep jumping around to other senses of 'owe', when I have already given this analogy.

      It would be strange, if not actually absurd, for them to owe the doctor a debt of gratitude while at the same time he owes them a debt for not having had the superhuman capability to save the patient.

      No, this is quite common with moral debts because they are not exact and so they are not exactly commensurable. In the case you mention the kinds of debts are not even of the same kind, so it's like saying that it's strange that I should owe you truthfulness at the same time that you owe me gratitude -- there's nothing either strange or even difficult about that. And with at least one kind of moral debt, debts of equity, people can mutually owe each other even in the same way.

      I have no idea where you are getting the pernicious conclusion. For one we are talking about cases in which the death is an accident caused by the doctor, which has dropped out of your case. But, even adding it back in, a surgeon who doesn't do surgeries because it might impose an obligation to comfort, commiserate, provide some token of aid, or some other such humane compensation, if he makes the wrong move for the patient by accident, is already acting on pernicious principles.

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    11. Brandon, I am sorry, we seem to be speaking at cross purposes, here.

      I have already pointed out that it is a moral debt, not a legal debt, to use Aquinas's terms. Precise means of payment capable of being exactly spelled out is a feature of legal debt, not moral debt.

      I did not mean "precisely how much", but rather, the precise nature of the debt. As you can see, I am having trouble seeing that "debt" is what occurs when something contrary to my intention and effort occurs, against my striving, that happens to harm you. Something outside of my control. Something I "did" not in the moral sense but only in the physical sense. Your repeated reference to it being a "moral" debt is unhelpful to me, as (a) I seem to be blind to this reality that you see, and (b) it seems to me that the "moral" debt arises in spite of a lack of any moral RESPONSIBILITY of mine for causing the result, and is indeed contrary to my intention. I don't see how that can arise.

      As I noted, it is analogous to the case with gratitude:

      I grant that gratitude is "owed" to the benefactor, although I can't recall whether it falls under the virtue of justice under its strict sense or under its broad aspect (the latter covering effective all that is commanded or required by right living), so it might itself be an analogical "debt" to begin with. However, I note that in receiving the gift, I am a willing (voluntary) participator in the event of his giving. If I recall, St. Thomas breaks down the debt of gratitude into 2 elements, the first being that of good will toward the benefactor, merely for his good will to you; the second being some actual act of aid or benefice toward the benefactor should he be in need and you have some ability to aid him. But certainly the latter would be moot if I _decline_ the gift to begin with - i.e. if I refuse to become a participant in the transfer of the gift offered.

      I suggest that the analogy simply breaks down with the accidental harm: the recipient cannot decline the honor, (nor can the person who incites the accident decline to do so). As not voluntary on EITHER party's side, the analogy is difficult to support.

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    12. I have no idea where you are getting the pernicious conclusion.

      I thought it was clear, but I guess I failed to be clear enough. Suppose a surgeon, faced with the prospect I laid out, said to himself "I will refuse to do the surgery, because if I try and accidentally do something that kills him (which is likely because it the surgery is so hard to do), I will owe a moral debt, whereas if I don't do the surgery, I won't owe that debt. It is far more likely that by trying I will owe a debt than not." I was saying that this sort of thinking would be pernicious thinking, it's a BAD reason to decline to try.

      But, even adding it back in, a surgeon who doesn't do surgeries because it might impose an obligation to comfort, commiserate, provide some token of aid, or some other such humane compensation,

      Maybe this is the heart of our misunderstanding. I do not call "offering commiseration" a kind of "recompense". I just don't think that's the right term. The nurse who was outside the surgery offers commiseration to the widow. She had no part in the event at all. She is not "paying" recompense in any way. The doctor at my side during surgery, who was trying to help out etc, commiserates with the widow, even though it was not his fault my hand slipped. Then later, he commiserates with ME for my attempt not succeeding, and for my not being able to exercise such control as exceeds my capacities. In neither case is it "recompense." The (highly appropriate) willingness on ALL SIDES to offer comfort, commiseration, and some small token of aid, comes not from having been the accidental occasion of the harm done (most of those offering had nothing to do with the harm) but with the PROPER motives of commiseration - which St. Thomas spells out: seeing another person's harm "as if" it were my own. That's where the "com" part of the word arises. But this obligation lays on all around the widow, not just the surgeon who failed to be superhuman.

      Let us suppose the patient were an unidentified John Doe with no family or friends in the world. Would the surgeon owe a "debt" of recompense for his slip of the hand, but have nobody to whom he could pay it (which is a pure accident of circumstance)? Or would he owe it to John Doe himself, to be paid after this life, somehow?

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    13. Your repeated reference to it being a "moral" debt is unhelpful to me, as (a) I seem to be blind to this reality that you see, and (b) it seems to me that the "moral" debt arises in spite of a lack of any moral RESPONSIBILITY of mine for causing the result, and is indeed contrary to my intention.

      I am using 'moral debt' in exactly the same sense as Aquinas. If by responsibility, you mean the particular kind of responsibility that is involved in culpability, we are in agreement. Our responsibilities extend far beyond such things, however, as the potential parts of justice establish.

      I have already spelled out the nature of the debt by noting constitutes it and classifying it as a moral debt governed by potential parts of justice.

      it might itself be an analogical "debt" to begin with.

      It is indeed analogical; note that this is different from saying that it is metaphorical. It is not owed-in-quotation-marks. We owe God devotion; it would be simply wrong to minimize this by saying we "owe" God devotion -- it is not something different from owing that we just call 'owing'. It is a legitimate kind of owing, although it is not owing in a sense strictly univocal with, say, owing in a sales contract.

      As not voluntary on EITHER party's side

      The analogy was not that the debt in question is a sort of negatively-valenced gratitude but that it is form of owing much like that found in gratitude. It is, in any case, false to say that duties of gratitude can only be taken on by one's own consent; people who act as if this were true are the most common kind of ingrates.

      Likewise, declining a gift does not exempt you from the duties arising from the bare fact of its being offered, which is itself an actual good being given to you. Whether or not you are receiving a benefit does not lie entirely within your power.

      And while it's an interesting question to ask whether voluntariness makes for a big difference in questions of moral debts, involuntariness does not rule out the possibility of a moral debt, as is clear from debts of piety, religion, and truthfulness.

      I thought it was clear, but I guess I failed to be clear enough. ... I was saying that this sort of thinking would be pernicious thinking, it's a BAD reason to decline to try.

      No, this is what I thought you meant; it doesn't appear to follow from anything that the surgeon's line of thinking is not bad. If someone decided to cut off all contact with people simply in order never to have to be grateful or amiable to anyone, this would be a sign of wickedness. But this has nothing to do with questions of moral debt.

      Let us suppose the patient were an unidentified John Doe with no family or friends in the world. Would the surgeon owe a "debt" of recompense for his slip of the hand, but have nobody to whom he could pay it (which is a pure accident of circumstance)?

      Let us suppose that you receive a large quantity of money from an unknown benefactor. Would you not still owe your benefactor for the benefit you have received? And would you not have to take into account that being grateful would not here involve the same things that would be involved if you knew your benefactor? It is no different in your suggested case. Nor do I see any puzzle in this case; one can very well imagine a doctor in this case saying, "Because of an accident, this man is dead. I don't know his family or friends, but I can make sure that his funeral arrangements are taken care of and that someone attends his funeral." He doesn't owe that specifically; he has a great deal of leeway in determining according to his best judgment what would be appropriate; but he owes something.

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    14. I am sorry, I have never even heard of the expression "potential part of justice", and thought you were using it as something loosely related to justice. I see now that you are using it as a technical term. That was in no way obvious. So I looked it up, and find this:

      As explained elsewhere, the potential parts of a cardinal virtue participate in that virtue while falling short of satisfying its complete definition. Justice, strictly speaking, is a virtue by which we render others their lawful due according to equality, so that failure to do so is a fitting matter for litigation and punishment in the eyes of those who care for the good of the relevant community.

      Consequently, all the potential parts of justice are similar to the principal virtue in having to do with our treatment of others. However, they fall short of satisfying the complete definition of justice in either one of two ways:

      with respect to equality: This occurs when the person or persons to whom we owe something are such they we cannot render them their due according to equality. That is, we cannot give back to them anything close to equal what they have given us by virtue of their generosity, example, guidance, etc. There are three potential parts of justice that fall under this category:

      >religion (religio), which is the virtue by which we honor God directly by appropriate interior and exterior acts.

      >piety (pietas), which is the virtue by which we honor our parents and our homeland.

      >respect (observantia), which is the virtue by which we render honor (dulia) and obedience (obedientia) to those who are our superiors because of their virtue or because of their office.

      with respect to lawful due: Here St. Thomas distinguishes lawful due (debitum legale), which is the object of justice proper, from moral due (debitum morale), which has to do with the rectitude of virtue.

      The relevant moral due is required to such a degree that virtue is well-nigh impossible without it:

      What one owes to others, absolutely speaking:
      >Truthfulness (honesty) in self-representation.

      What one owes to others by way of compensation for things done to one:
      >Gratitude for good things and vindication (punishment) for bad things.

      The relevant moral due is conducive to, but not absolutely required for, virtue: Liberality, friendliness, etc. (How about niceness or pleasantness, which often impresses us more than moral rectitude?)


      As far as I can see, what you are talking about comes closest to the last bit, what is conducive to, but not absolutely required for virtue: (for this case) niceness, friendliness. But "closest to" is still all I can get: I would STILL deny that the obligation (in my example) extends to an actual apology\, though it extends to commiseration with the widow, as I already said. If by 'apology' we want to loosen the term to include those soft murmurs of sadness and regret at "the way things turned out", I can go along with that. I don't call that an apology (and examples of celebrities wallowing in such non-apologies raising new ire for their ongoing lack of due sorrow for what are their REAL voluntary offenses is telling). And nothing here gives an indication of any special owing that is due from the doctor rather than from the others present who can also, with niceness and friendliness, soften the blow for the widow.

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    15. Here is a question: do we owe gratitude to a person who accidentally does us a good turn, without intention (and, indeed, even contrary to his intention)?

      I have never heard of such an obligation. Do the saints owe Satan thanks for the way his temptations made them stronger?

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    16. Would we not owe (all of) the gratitude to God, whose Providence turned the accident to our good?

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    17. I'm not sure why you regard apology as the essential issue here; I don't regard it as such. The only reason it has been focused on was due to your particular scenario about the surgeon; and since apology is often one of the most basic and least difficult things to do when you harm someone else even if unintentionally -- even children are expected to do it -- actively refusing to apologize only because it was an accident would virtually always be a sign of shirking one's duties in this kind of context.

      Here is a question: do we owe gratitude to a person who accidentally does us a good turn, without intention (and, indeed, even contrary to his intention)?

      Without intention and contrary to intention are extremely different things, and should not be conflated. If X is contrary to intention, the intention was itself directly or indirectly anti-X; if X is outside the intention, then X is not inconsistent with the intention. But to the latter we do indeed owe gratitude, and honorable people across quite a few societies have recognized that it makes no sense from the perspective of gratitude, indeed, is inconsistent with the nature of gratitude as a virtue, to be parsing the precise character of everybody's intentions all the time.

      We owe God gratitude for all good whatsoever, so, as a constant, it is not a distinctive feature of any case.

      Here's a question for you. You open a door, and by sheer accident, send someone careening down a hill, putting them in the hospital. Are you claiming both (1) that you would not consider yourself in any way duty-bound to make some sort of ameliorating response for the harm, simply because it was an accident; and (2) that this would in fact be the attitude one would expect about such a situation from decent people generally throughout the world? I think the answer to the second is quite clearly No; decent people in such cases regularly feel that some sort of atonement is necessary, to the extent of often feeling guilty, regardless of how obvious it was that it was an accident, and this piacular guilt that people have even when they know they are not culpable is a sign that people recognize that the situation creates some kind of obligation. What is more, I think across cultures people regularly show that they judge that people who act in such a way -- not attempting to ameliorate accidental harms simply because they are accidental -- are hardhearted, ungentlemanly, or arrogant, and this is also a sign that there is some kind of obligation, even if one thinks they are misdiagnosing the case. There is a general recognition that if you cause a definite harm, even if unintentionally, you should be doing something toward rectifying it.

      What is more, there are more generally principled reasons for thinking this is so. All justice-related virtues are concerned with equalization required for common good. But if nobody is expected to provide some kind of support or amelioration or atonement for the accidents they themselves cause, then this extremely individualistic view places the whole burden of being harmed by accidents on those who are harmed, for no other reason than that they are harmed. Thus for equality suitable to common good, there needs to be some recognition on the part of the person who committed the accident that it was a misfortune caused by themselves, just as there needs to be a recognition on the part of the harmed that it was only an accident, and some act of equalization, even if the circumstances allow or call for only a token of recognition and support.

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    18. I'm not sure why you regard apology as the essential issue here; I don't regard it as such. The only reason it has been focused on was due to your particular scenario about the surgeon; and since apology is often one of the most basic and least difficult things to do when you harm someone else even if unintentionally -- even children are expected to do it -- actively refusing to apologize only because it was an accident would virtually always be a sign of shirking one's duties in this kind of context.

      I am having trouble understanding why you are being insistent about the apology as if not doing so is "shirking one's duty" if is "not essential". You won't leave it at the surgeon giving sorrow and regret at the outcome as enough, you insist on an apology. I have granted the obligation to be considerate and to commiserate with the misfortune. How is that not satisfactory for the obligation?

      decent people in such cases regularly feel that some sort of atonement is necessary,

      My sense is that there are at least 2 things typically going on: If the person is completely confident that he engaged in not even negligence in taking care, his reaction is wanting to help just like any decent bystander wants to help. If the person feels guilty at not taking sufficient care, he certainly feels like atonement is needed. However, because most people are not (and often cannot) be completely confident that their action harbored no lack of due care and attention, there is usually at least some bleed-over from the second attitude of remorse even for people who probably were not at all negligent, but who cannot say that with confidence there was no negligence. I.E. almost all of the time.

      Definition: a :

      Is it possible you are confusing the perfectly reasonable and appropriate interior response of regret that a misfortune happened, and the response of remorse for having been morally responsible for an evil either by intentional action or by omission? I.E. confusing the "I'm sorry" of "I am sorry that it happened to you" with the "I'm sorry" of "I am sorry I did that to you".

      Tell you what, I will accept calling the former "an apology" as long as we continue to understand it as essentially distinct in nature from the sort of apology that is an admission of wrongdoing and remorse for same. Whatever we say about the appropriate behavior of being the "cause" of an accidental harm, we should be completely clear that being the cause of a harm by intention or by negligent omission requires the as compensation at least the admission of fault and remorse for it, and that being the "cause" of harm in an accident does NOT require an admission of fault and remorse for it. If you want to use the word "apology" for both, go right ahead and continue to do so, but recognize that confusion must follow.

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    19. Sorry, the definition of apology got deleted. It was: a : "an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret"

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    20. This isn't a disputed point among moral theologians:

      However, as a man is not in conscience responsible for damage which he caused inadvertently and by accident, the action which caused the damage must be voluntary, with at least some confused foreknowledge of its probable effects, in order that an obligation in conscience may arise to make compensation for the damage caused. Even though in a particular case there was no theological fault of this kind, as it is called by divines, yet sometimes if the amount of diligence was not used which the law requires in the case, the law imposes the obligation of making compensation to the injured party. There is then said to be juridical fault, and after the sentence of a competent authority has imposed the obligation of making compensation, it will be matter of conscience to obey the sentence

      Catholic Encyclopedia article on restitution

      Moreover this is plain from a simple logical analysis, to use the door example, why should the one who opened it be liable, and not the victim, or the person who built or the door, or any other number of individuals who were casually involved?

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  11. I can refute all of Prof Feser's arguments easily. ALL I have to do is wave my hand like Shea and say earnestly "Be more prolife, not less!"

    BOOM! I WIN!

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  12. What really underlies the debate is the nature of the consequences. If the decision-making goes awry and an ineffective drug is approved, not too much may be affected; but if a dangerous drug is approved, the consequences may be more severe. Similarly, if a man is unjustly convicted of petty theft, the injury done him may be corrected and restitution performed. However, if a man is unjustly convicted of a capital offense, restitution is rather more difficult to come by.

    Fair enough, TOF. The anti-CP folk (some of them) argue that the "cost" of the alpha error of convicting an innocent person and putting him to death is infinite, and cannot be borne no matter what else.

    This thesis is erroneous on several grounds, but one of them (which Professor Feser covers in the book) is that logically you would have to weigh on the other side of the scale the deaths of the innocents who were murdered later by those guilty whom you did not put to death, AND by the those deaths which would have been deterred had you put the other (actually guilty) convicts to death.

    More importantly, though, is a more deeply grounded view of human life and worth, which is that physical life in this world is NOT of infinite worth, that there ARE things more valuable than it, we should be willing to give it up. In particular, the things that we ask soldiers and police to risk their lives for (which would be inherently immoral if their lives were -properly - of infinite worth to them). In particular, justice is (in some senses) worth risking life for, and even laying down one's life for. A justice system that correctly manifests the immense dignity of human life by correctly intending to vindicate murder is a system WORTH a few accidental innocent lives being ended. As Genesis 9:6 SAYS. So, just as we rightly ask police to risk their lives going after dangerous criminals, we ask ALL citizens to put up with the risk of erroneous convictions and sentences, yes, even the risk of erroneous death penalty, for the great good this means for the whole social order.

    Furthermore, as Christians we firmly believe that whatever injustices are done to us here in this life will be resolved in the next. Has X person offended me unjustly? I will be fully vindicated in the next life, making up any lack in this life. Has Y person been unjustly killed and we could not find the murderer? Y's life and dignity will be vindicated by God in the next life, Who will restore to him the "worth" of that life, plus more. Has Z person accidentally been put to death by judicial error? God will restore to him the loss by miraculous means, not in terms of bringing him back to life as Christ did to Lazarus, but in some other (and, most likely even greater) good that he enjoys in the next.

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  13. The OFloinn says,

    " Even murderers come in different flavors."

    Yeah, many kinds of homicides. And brilliant sleuth that I am, I surmise that you would prefer to read something about Cuchulain; but this saga is particularly apt.


    Hfrankell priest of Frey

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  14. Did anyone else think it weak of Msgr. Swetland when he chided Mr. Fewer to quit being obtuse?

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  15. "Did anyone else think it weak of Msgr. Swetland when he chided Mr. Fewer to quit being obtuse?"

    I had no strong or contemptuous reaction to Swetland's remarks until I actually listened to them.

    Then among the points which most impressed me in Swetland's torrent of fulminating stupidity was his insinuation that capital punishment leads to more abortion.

    Really? In fact, the increase and social acceptability of abortion seems to have tracked the capital punishment abolition movement.

    If that does not prove that there is a causal connection between the abolition movement and an increase in abortion; it certainly demonstrates that abolition of capital punishment has not put an end to the acceptability of abortion.

    Another bit of comic lunacy was his top ten list. [36:20 ff] What this list is supposed to demonstrate is unclear. It's implied that the (United) states are in odious company if they retain one option under law which certain odious polities have. Are we to understand that because we retain an option under law which they have that we also effectively share social and value systems?

    Would any serious person argue that our legal system or culture is like that of China or Yemen?

    What his list of nine supposedly reprobate nations, plus the U.S. merely proves, is that the rule of law and liberty are not destroyed by capital punishment: as the U.S. remains head and shoulders above these other countries in terms of these positive characteristics. And it is these specific characteristics that make the polity worth bothering to preserve in the first place.

    Thus what Swetland inadvertently argues, is that there is no necessary connection between the capital punishment option and a collapse in the rule of law and economic liberty.

    In fact, the United States was in many ways at its most politically libertarian for the political class constituting the citizens who actually made up the polity, during the times when the death penalty was most widely practiced.

    If Swetland's remarks convinced me of anything, they might convince me that it would be wise to bring back dueling and affairs of personal honor too.

    And the talk of Poland, a Catholic and largely homogeneous nation as a model for America is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

    Swetland rhetorical tack remind me of the clowns one occasionally encounters who point to Canada and Germany and France as bastions of social progress; while ignoring the fact that their citizens are liable for prosecution should they say the wrong thing.

    Some progress.

    Does Swetland even think before he opens his mouth?

    If he lived in Europe, he might have to, or risk going to jail.

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    1. almost more telling was the amount of times Ed called him out for slander and not once did Msgr apologize, crazy

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  16. Just got the book.

    The Swetland debate was bad.

    What is it with emotionalism? We seem to have lost the ability to debate in a respectful manner.

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    1. I just finished the intro. I have to say, given the way it was written, Ed does appear to be picking a fight with the magisterium. I suspect Msgr. Swetland was trying to use a similar tone... just not doing a particularly good job at it. For example Ed and Bessette write "We demonstrate that the arguments deployed by the Bishops are surprisingly poor, in many respects. First they tend to rest on little more than vague platitudes...they ignore crucial scriptural and magisterial statements ... deploy novel interpretations that cannot be reconciled with the traditional Catholic understanding...the bishops uncritically accept social-scientific arguments...the bishops flatly assert that there is no evidence that capital punishment deters crime..."

      I could quote more, but I think that is sufficient for now. I'm not necessarily saying this characterization is underserved. (I haven't finished the book yet. :) )

      But its not language that appears calculated to convince the magisterium. Rather, it seems calculated to convince the readers to disregard the magisterium and to call into question their prudential judgement.

      I am pretty sure that Swetland took it personally.

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    2. By the way, I wonder what bishop would have provided an imprimatur given the tone of the above? LOL

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    3. I have to say, given the way it was written, Ed does appear to be picking a fight with the magisterium.

      Daniel, there would be some justification for saying that, except that what they were really doing is showing how the current "bosses" of the magisterium are trying to pick a fight with the 2000 year history of the magisterium. Since the way in which the ordinary magisterium constitutes an authoritative claim to bind the conscience to assent is through the ongoing persistence of uniform teaching throughout the ages, it is fundamentally unreasonable to depict the theological speculations (and related social and political estimations) of the bishops of the last 50 years - which are AT ODDS with the prior magisterium, as being "magisterial".

      Or, to say it another way: Vatican I and Vatican II explain how the bishops participate in the magisterial office when they teach in union with the universal Church and papal teaching. However, that "papal teaching" cannot be taken solely in reference to the CURRENT occupier of that chair, but with reference to ALL of papal teaching, stretching back to Peter. But when Bishop X says things like "capital punishment is intrinsically illicit" he is contradicting prior magisterial (and papal) teaching, in especial that of Pius XII, JPII, and Benedict XVI.

      It is telling that so many bishops get blatantly wrong what JPII was saying about it, in both EV and the Catechism (and which Benedict confirmed). He EXPLICITLY affirmed that CP is not inherently immoral, but bishop after bishop says the exact opposite. It is not some early medieval pope's statement that they are rejecting, it is the most recent 2 popes of the last 1/3 of a century. One might better say that the bishops are in defiance of the magisterium, not Feser and Bessette.

      If St. Paul could rightly face down Peter when Peter was falling down on the job, then Feser and Bessette can face down bishops who are themselves out of step with the last 2 (great) popes (and 2000 years of teaching behind them).

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    4. Oh I agree on tradition. As Chesterton said "Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead."

      As I said above, the attack may be justified. Certainly, at least, against any claim that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong.

      Having said that, Ed and Bessette's book goes much further than that. They are claiming that capital punishment is a positive good that the bishops should stop opposing even on prudential grounds. I'll reserve my opinion on that until after I finish the book. :)

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    5. Well, go ahead and finish. In my opinion, the authors don't go far enough in rebutting the bishops' opinions. That is, not only are (most) bishops woefully ignorant of actual conditions on the ground and therefore not in a position to make the kind of prudential judgments they bandy about (which is bad enough), their arguments for those positions are wrong-headed even aside from getting factual premises wrong: they are borrowing secular humanist arguments, effectively, and putting a Christian veneer on them. Ultimately, the bishops (if their arguments were successful) would end up severing all ties of the state to "justice" as any sort of goal, we would be left with an entirely therapeutic state run by technocrats, with justice relegated to the dustbin of history as a quaint old-fashioned notion that they drugged to death. This is the utilitarian secular humanist goal, which the bishops con themselves on board with under the mantra that it's "merciful". Sure, it's merciful, the way a frontal lobotomy is merciful to someone sane who is going to be kept in a nuthouse anyway.

      Sorry, my rant got away from me. I am sure that not every bishop is this bad. But far too many of them have borrowed the thinking of the secular humanists, without realizing it. They have even pretended that modern Europe (where secular humanism has won the day on abortion and euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, and where they are winning the battle on forcible euthanasia for the demented and terminally ill) is repudiating the death penalty out of a PROPER MORAL REVULSION against unnecessary death!!!!! As if that's the real explanation!

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  17. As near as I can tell, Swetland never does answer Feser's question as to whether scripture has commanded intrinsic evil. Nor why, if it has done so, anyone should trust anything Swetland himself has to say while claiming the authority of the Church and its scriptural pronouncements.

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  18. "amm Prof Ed what about moses^s law commanding divorce? "

    Even a casual reading of scriptures would seem to make that implied contention suspect.

    Moses did not command men to abandon their wives: "You shall all divorce your wives". He "commanded", in some translations, that they issue a bill of divorcement, thus regulating it.

    "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her ..."

    "It has also been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, brings adultery upon her. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.…"

    Doesn't seem all that difficult.

    The issue from the beginning was uncleanness. Sexual immorality was a cause for divorce, and technically Jesus allows it for the same.

    However it appears to me that we have a case like that with "corban" wherein manipulative and even malicious intentions were piggybacked onto the letter of the law.

    I think that it's interesting how Jesus really is a kind of "fundamentalist": arguing against the casuistry of the early proponents of the "oral Torah" so called.

    What his "developments" seem to be often enough, are close readings of the word which hew to the original aim, rather than the self-interested manipulations of the scribes and pharisees.

    Perhaps Swetland believes in the "Oral Torah".

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    1. @DNW

      Why don't you make your posts on thread containing the comment you're replying too?
      This makes the combox look untidy.

      Delete
    2. "Why don't you make your posts on thread containing the comment you're replying too?
      This makes the combox look untidy."



      I usually do or would do under the new format.

      In this case however, I did not want them nested, because I was basically spouting off, and thought that although I was making fairly serious points, they deserved to trail the pack so to speak.

      Feser has indulged a good number of my rants, and I was actually trying to keep it tidy, by keeping it apart.

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  19. Having listened to the radio show now, I would say three things:
    1. Good job, in an inhospitable venue.
    2. The host was in some ways as illogical and childish as the Monsignor, which also didn't help.
    3. The point that the Monsignor makes, that "Death is always the wrong answer," in any moral circumstance, is of course wrong. Fighting and killing an enemy in a just war is an act in DEFENSE of dignity of human life, and so is the death penalty on your and Bessette's argument

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    1. Point 3 runs up against NNL teaching on self-defense. They would tend to say that "intentional killing" is immoral, even in a just war.

      Not saying you are wrong (you aren't), just that it is not so useful for debating NNL theorists, as Msgr. is.

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  20. By Man May His Burger Be FlippedJuly 22, 2017 at 1:19 AM

    While you are a good philosopher, I think you are a limited theologian.

    Sometimes God wanted to limit human actions by for a time limiting a activity to a lesser action (an eye for an eye - for example).

    I thinking capital punishment makes more sense in war and extreme circumstances. I think some Americans have a weird cultural love affair with it. I also think American prisons are run like a business - resulting in continuous injustices.

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    1. Yes I have made a lot of typos.

      I will just add that I am not claiming that Msgr. Stuart Swetland was correct in his Theology

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    2. *Sometimes God wanted to limit human actions by for a time limiting a activity to a lesser action (an eye for an eye - for example).*

      By what reasoning is an eye for an eye a lesser principle?

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    3. yeah now give us the argument

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  21. The imprimatur canard.

    John Meier recently obtained an imprimatur for a book (Marginal Jew, Volume 5) that asserts that only four parables in the Gospels go back to Jesus. Not sure what the imprimatur means these days.

    -Neil Parille

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    1. I don't know how a bishop runs the imprimatur business, but one doubts that he reads the book himself and does the necessary research to be sure it is (or isn't) acceptable on all points. He almost surely turns it over to his pet 'imprimatur theologian'. Which effectively means it isn't even (really) a work of the bishop himself - so how could it be something that partakes of the bishop's teaching office (which is personal to him)? I don't get it.

      More than likely, imprimaturs these days are not even worth the paper they are printed on. As you point out, they are present on the most outlandish junk that is wholly offensive to piety and Catholic teaching.

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  22. Finally listened to the broadcast.

    I think the most disturbing thing - maybe possible to write off due to "on the fly" argumentation and rhetoric - was Msgr.'s claim that "the Old Testament gets it wrong," even though elsewhere he affirms it is the Holy Spirit that speaks. This does indeed show that it must not be a mere development of doctrine, but a reversal. (God would have to change His mind about the truth, right? Or could get things wrong... etc.) Doctrines that are developed do not begin "wrong" and then become "right," they begin unclear, unfinished, and restricted in scope, and then they become clearer, more complete, and broader. Usury would have been an interesting comeback to the claim that developments "always get more restrictive," or however he put it... But that is an even deeper rabbit hole than slavery is (which already totally obfuscated the issue, seeing as there is only one kind of capital punishment whereas there are many kinds of slavery).

    The rest of Msgr.'s exegesis was also quite bad. The St. Paul quote is not the slam dunk he thinks it is, for a number of reasons, including the distinction of types of slavery (of which there CERTAINLY are moral kinds, which no magisterial document could possibly mean to condemn, one of which may have been the object of Paul's address) but also because Paul does not charge people to take slaves. It would indeed be appropriate, if one sees he cannot undo a deeply entrenched societal evil to tell people dealing with that evil how to make the best of it. (Most slave uprisings end pretty badly... It is certainly NOT always advisable!) I think Paul also encourages persecuted Christians to endure their trials bravely, does he not? Certainly, this is not an approval of persecuting Christians! Or his condemnation of the scandal given by eating meat sacrificed to idols... Surely, he is encouraging neither idolatry nor taking scandal, and yet he tells people to stop eating that meat if those people are around. Moses does not command men to divorce their wives, he simply says, if you do it (which is not approval, only toleration to prevent widespread despair) then give her the good of a bill.

    A very troubling exchange indeed.

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  23. I also notice there is a similarity between this exchange and the Islam fiasco, which is a kind ultramontanism. In the present case it even extends to episcopalatry... Taking Ratzinger's remark for granted, if we can disagree with the pope, but not the bishops' conference, who is really in charge? Strange stuff. Msgr.'s always going at 1000 mph and doing 25 things at once, which in many cases is a great thing, but it has really harmed him in these discussions which require delicate and subtle reasoning - which can take real time and focus.

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  24. Brandon:

    "The reasoning you are giving would be reason for the abolition of automobiles: we have prior knowledge that some innocents will be killed by automobiles, and there is no practical way to arrange things so that it never happens. We can even, indeed, put a statistical number on it."

    But it is not within our power to make it the case that no automobile accidents will be fatal. It is within our power to make it the case that no outcome of a legal preceding will be fatal.

    I support the death penalty in principle but not in practice because 1) I think the death of one innocent is too high a price to pay for it, particularly given 2) it doesn't accomplish anything that isn't equally well accomplished by lifelong imprisonment.

    A possible exception to 2) would be justice. It probably wouldn't be justice for a person who killed a thousand people to be merely imprisoned for the rest of his life. But I'm skeptical of the idea that the state should concern itself with meting out ultimate justice. I don't think any possible human state is competent to do that. I think it should be satisfied to protect its citizens.

    Finally, I think a recognition of the fallibility of government compels us to restrict our punitive measures to acts which are potentially remediable. We can to some extent compensate someone for wrongful imprisonment, but it is beyond our power to remedy a wrongful execution.

    For all these reasons, while I think capital punishment is justifiable in principle, it would have to be a dazzlingly effective deterrent to be justifiable in practice. I've yet to see any evidence that it is that effective a deterrent, but then again I haven't read Feser's book yet.

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    1. But it is not within our power to make it the case that no automobile accidents will be fatal.

      Of course it is; one can stop letting people drive automobiles at all.

      As for the rest of your comment, I think this is an entirely reasonable and consistent position, although I am much less sanguine about the extraordinary harshness of imprisonment than you are; long imprisonment takes things that can never be returned.

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    2. Of course it is; one can stop letting people drive automobiles at all.

      Fair enough, but it would require a much less drastic and disruptive action to abolish fatalities from the legal system. I'd argue we could easily do without the death penalty without much altering the lives of most people. If you were in a state where the death penalty was abolished, you'd hardly notice. If you were in a state where automobiles were abolished, your life would be severely disrupted. That we could eliminate the death penalty at so low a social cost is why I don't like the analogy to cars. In addition, I think the life-saving benefit of automobiles is much more easily established. If I'm 20 miles from the nearest hospital and I'm having a heart attack, the life-saving efficacy of automobiles is immediately established. To my knowledge, there's never a case when the deterrent effect of the death penalty is as easily or clearly established. All I'm saying is, a person is not being inconsistent if he opposes the death penalty but not automobiles on the grounds of unintentional innocent deaths. The situations are different enough that the distinction in treatment is justified.

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    3. The distinction in treatment is justified on the grounds you note if, and only if, the reasons for rejecting the death penalty are primarily practical, because, unlike serious moral reasons, purely practical reasons are not overriding. If, as in the original context, the claim is that the death penalty should be rejected for a serious moral reason, a different, and purely moral ground of distinction would be absolutely necessary for consistency.

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    4. Not if the serious moral reason given is that the death penalty is inherently evil. The person who says the death penalty is inherently evil would presumably reject the analogy also on the basis of the fact that driving isn't inherently evil. It seems like the driving analogy would only ever be brought up against a person, like myself, who objects on practical reasons. And I don't think it works against such people for the reasons previously stated.

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    5. The distinction between intrinsically evil actions and actions that are not intrinsicially evil is a purely moral distinction.

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  25. I have to say I'm also pretty skeptical of some of the claims of the article about Catholicism and slavery.

    Didn't the papal bull of Dum Diversas grant the Portuguese the right to impress unbelievers into "perpetual servitude?" That doesn't sound like penal slavery or indentured servitude to me.

    Didn't Pope Innocent VIII own a hundred chattel slaves? Whom he did not free, but loaned out among the clergy?

    Didn't the Church say a person can sell his children into slavery? That child's slavery would obviously not be penal or voluntarily entered into, so how could it be justifiable?

    Given these facts, I just find it hard to believe that the Church can seriously claim to have always been consistent about the issue of slavery. I understand that Catholic theology mandates that the Church makes that claim of itself, but from the outside looking in, it's just not plausible.

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    1. The grant to the Portuguese came in a context in which Christians were understood to be in a permanent state of war with Islam. (Really.) Those are the "unbelievers" referred to, and were seen as captives of war. It's not pleasant, but the alternative is to kill them. And this was already the case in Iberia, where Christianity and Islam had been warring for centuries. Slavery was the expected end for the losers.

      At the time Western Europe really had no real notion of the vast numbers of people who were of neither faith, to the point that, when Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, he (and the rest of his expedition) assumed that Hindus must be some sort of heretical Christians.

      Again, the type of slavery which has been denounced is chattel slavery, in which you own another as you own your horse or your dog. That wasn't always the case. The Chinese also had a practice where, in desperation, parents sold their children (mostly daughters to brothels). But those slaves were not chattel slaves; they did retain some rights.

      Similarly, until the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxons had held out as one place where slavery was maintained in W Europe. But those slaves had legally defined rights, even including a kind of minimum wage, believe it or not. (I confess I've never read of the status of Medieval Iberian slaves, so I can't comment.)

      Similar kinds of argument are made, today, by those Moslems who defend current slavery in the Islamic world. I am not endorsing those arguments, merely pointing out that they are different than those of, e.g., Calhoun.

      The point is that when the Church condemned slavery, it did not mean that everything every called "slavery" was included in that condemnation. (As Ed says, explicitly.)

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    2. A quote from Dum Diversas (pulled from the wikipedia article):

      “We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search or, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude...

      The portions in bold seem to indicate an unlimited permission to capture any unbeliever anywhere and hold them in slavery forever. It is explicitly not limited to Muslims, as evidenced by the fact that Muslims are referred to separately as Saracens. And it is explicitly not limited to the field of war, as evidenced by the phrase “wherever they may be.”

      And as the statement is given with Apostolic Authority, which if I understand correctly, is close to making an ex cathedra statement justifying the pillaging of entire other civilizations and impressing their entire populations into an endless slavery.

      If the best response that can be made in favor of the Church is “but these men whose kingdoms were overthrown, whose property was stolen, and who, along with their women, children, and elderly, were impressed into perpetual slavery, had rights,” then it might be better not to respond at all. What is endorsed in the bull may not be full bore chattel slavery, but it is still clearly wrong. People who committed no wrong are forced to be permanent slaves of another against their will.

      I realize that later (and earlier) Popes made statements against the kind of slavery the Dum Diversas seems to endorse, but that makes it all the more obvious that the Church has not had he kind of clear consistency on the issue that is being claimed.

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    3. Agent 007 has a license to kill, but that doesn't mean it would be morally right for him to use it indiscriminately. I'm unfamiliar with the specifics of the situation, but a general permission to subject such persons is not the same as encouraging its universal use. Furthermore, it is not simply "unbelievers," but a certain kind of unbeliever who is an "enemy of Christ" which may be enslaved, which could possibly be helpful for establishing a colonial territory.

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    4. I thought the query you were raising had to do with the consistency of the Church's statements on slavery? You seem to drop that issue and address another one (whether the Church would have been wrong even if its teaching was consistent). What is with the inability of some to disentangle their points?

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    5. VRS, clearly there are times when it's morally appropriate to kill someone. So the state licensing certain entities to kill makes sense.

      When is it morally necessary to enslave someone?

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    6. Perhaps when it is not appropriate to kill them but it is not appropriate to let them run free - and there is a true need for labor. POW's being put to work comes to mind.

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    7. POWs aren't slaves, though. Much less perpetual slaves. Much less are they bought and sold. I'm looking for a justification of the kind of slavery expressly permitted in the Dum Diversas. A permanent slavery where the slave can be put to just about any use and where he can be bought and sold at the whim of his master.

      It frankly always boggles my mind when I hear otherwise intelligent people try to defend any form of slavery. Are you really saying that if a man came to your house, took your children by force (which is how all slaves are taken), and forced them to work in a sweltering mine for the rest of their lives, that person would not have committed a moral wrong, or harmed you or your children morally in any way. He somehow would not have even broken the Golden Rule, if we are to believe that the Golden Rule and natural law cannot contradict each other.

      How is that even possible?

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    8. Chad,

      You have to pick a definition of slavery - the broad definition, or the narrow definition. You use the latter here, while elsewhere you have implicitly used the former.

      This clears the issue. Furthermore, you will note that "servitude" is the word used in Dum Diversas, FWIW. You will have to consult a better authority than myself for the specifics on the document's context and intended purpose (which may not be as plain as you think).

      In any event, it is NOT an extraordinary magisterial definition of the morality of chattel slavery - nor would a pope using slaves himself be such (as if anything the pope does is automatically moral!)...

      -VRS

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    9. I picked a definition of slavery: the definition in the Dum Diversas. Yes, it did use the word "servitude," but it also said that servitude was "perpetual." What's another word for perpetual, involuntary servitude?

      Feser's post made it sound as if the only version of slavery the Church endorses is either penal slavery or voluntary slavery. As I understand it, those are the only kinds of slavery that Aquinas says natural law is consistent with. However, the Dum Diversas seems to grant permission for a form of slavery that is neither penal nor voluntary (nor temporary). That strikes me as an obvious instance of the Church not being consistent on the issue.

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    10. You continue to change the word around. In this one post, you have at least three different uses of "slavery."

      It is not clear that the servitude is entirely involuntary, inasmuch as it is one's choice to remain "an enemy of Christ." It does not seem the Holy Father is sanctioning the capturing of Christians... he instead seems to be trying to protect and build up Christian society. Whether it is the best way or not is a different issue than what this is constitutive of - chattel slaver "per se," or some other kind of slavery - penal, protective, etc. Certainly, a POW is one kind of enemy. What would the Saracens and some indigenous American peoples do to "the infidels"? Things people do in war.

      The buying and selling is not normal for POW's but not inconsistent with their state as such. Insofar as they are legitimately captured, they could be legitimately bought and sold.

      The more distinctions and the more context the better. Little about this topic is "obvious."

      I'm afraid I will not be of much more help. You might try the book which was recommended on the topic. I am sure it will address this encyclical at length.

      -VRS

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  26. Dr. Feser,

    Excellent post and excellent new book. I'll admit though that I've always found trying to provide a consistent answer to the slavery question Swetland brought up a bit perplexing. On the one hand, you make a good qualificatory point about the various types of slavery addressed by the popes (and not having a very thorough knowledge of these pronouncements myself, I cannot but accept your characterization as accurate). On the other hand, I am convinced by John Henry Newman's line of argument for considering slavery of all kinds - and responding to William T. Allies in 1863, he certainly had chattel slavery in mind - as only accidentally evil: for if the converse were true, Paul would have needed to order Philemon to "liberate all your slaves at once." How are we to make sense of this? Is Newman wrong here? If Newman is wrong, your solution seems to seamlessly harmonize the long stream of teaching. The trouble for me is that if Newman is right, he seems to be in direct conflict with more recent papal characterizations of slavery as "intrinsically evil" (e.g. JPII in Veritatis Splendor).

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  27. Above I wondered why slavery isn’t in principle allowed by natural law theory.

    From what I now found out by listening to minute 17:55 ff of the interview, the Holy Office (now known as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) as recently as 1866 did find that slavery is in principle allowed by natural law theory, and I quote: "Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons.... It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given."

    So here are the problems:

    1. If according to natural law theory slavery is legitimate in principle then there is something wrong with natural law theory. Nothing really changes if one makes the distinction that “slavery does not abolish the natural equality of men: hence by slavery one man is understood to become subject to the dominion of another to the extent that the master has a perpetual right to all those services which one man may justly perform for another; and subject to the condition that the master shall take due care of his slave and treat him humanely” (Comp. Instit. Civil., L, vii) Cardinal Gerdil. The perpetual dominion of an innocent person by another, and the use of a person as property to be sold and bought, is clearly a violation of basic ethics, never mind of Christian ethics.

    2. If according to natural law theory slavery is not allowed in any form, then one wonders how the Holy Office could be so mistaken in applying the theory. One concludes that if natural law ethics is correct then it is either so malleable that it can sometimes be used to justify both X and not-X, or is so hard to use that even the most proficient in it might get it wrong even in very important matters.

    My own view is that of David Hart who writes “I certainly believe in a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate. I simply do not believe that the terms of that harmony are as precisely discernible as natural law thinkers imagine.”.

    In other words natural law ethics is by itself not sufficient; it’s too coarse an instrument. We are made in God’s image and thus have by nature knowledge of good and evil – which is part of our natural sense of the divine. Our sense of the divine, in whatever manner it is materialized in our bodies, is not discernible or analyzable by simply observing nature. Rather it is an existential reality of the human condition, a cognitive faculty that can be cultivated by spiritual means such as prayer. And, secondly, we have God’s ongoing revelation in human history by which our theological knowledge advances through the millennia. And which has certainly advanced by heaps and bounds beyond, say, the Old Testament. And finally we have the tradition of the church which is a major tool of God’s special providence and which is also perfected through history. The idea that one should resist such advancement of the church beyond old and rather primitive positions because that would “undermine the authority of the church” makes no sense. If anything the opposite holds: To resist advancement would undermine the authority of the church.

    She who loves Christ loves the truth, and loves it humbly and fearlessly.

    Feser and other defenders of classical Thomism not only are of course free to argue their mind but should do so. The Holy Spirit often works through the disagreement between good people (Paul and Peter come to mind). Since I have faith that Christ guides His church I am confident that the church will continue to find her way towards an ever closer to Christ’s service to humankind, and thus towards an ever clearer teaching of the way towards Christ. As she has done up to now.

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    1. "The perpetual dominion of an innocent person by another, and the use of a person as property to be sold and bought, is clearly a violation of basic ethics, never mind of Christian ethics."

      Yet, despite its widespread use in the ancient Mediterranean, neither the OT, nor Jesus nor Paul and the Apostles nor the Fathers say this.

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    2. "The idea that one should resist such advancement of the church beyond old and rather primitive positions because that would “undermine the authority of the church” makes no sense. If anything the opposite holds: To resist advancement would undermine the authority of the church."

      The formal principle of faith is that God does not deceive, nor can He be deceived.

      A clear element of material faith is that God speaks definitively through Scripture.

      It is clear that the moral code given to Israel is from God, through Moses.

      This moral code contains instances of commanding or approving of taking and selling various kinds of slaves.

      Therefore: God thinks slavery can be acceptable in some forms under certain conditions.

      OR

      God lied.

      OR

      God was wrong and abolitionists are right over and against God

      OR

      God has changed His mind, just like we do, and therefore doesn't know things absolutely

      OR

      There are multiple truths which contradict each other

      ...Take your pick. Any of them will be an example of the logical consequence of the "development of doctrine" schtick being used here and in Amoris enthusiast circles.

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    3. Any of them except the first, that is.

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    4. @ Anonymous July 23, 2017 at 2:30 PM

      Yet, despite its widespread use in the ancient Mediterranean, neither the OT, nor Jesus nor Paul and the Apostles nor the Fathers say this.

      Indeed Paul appears to condone slavery when he admonishes slaves to obey their masters “as to Christ”. So what are we do about such bits in scripture?

      My position is that God gave us intelligence for us to use it. To correctly understand a text one must also understand the purpose of its writer. Thus I think it is pretty clear that the Old Testament was not only created as a book of theology but also as a book of nation building; similarly Paul in his epistles was concerned with church building too.

      In general we see unequal quality but also a general growing of understanding in the writing of scripture. So the ethics of the NT are far more advanced than the ethics of the OT. We find a significant advancement in understanding about the nature of Christ between the synoptic gospels and John’s, but several more centuries would be needed to get Christology right. Actually our fundamental dogma of the Trinity is not completely understood even today. And while modern philosophers and theologians have advanced significantly with theodicy, the problem of evil is not completely solved yet. Nor is there true agreement about the eschaton.

      So guess what: God has not made it easy for us to reach a clear understanding. What a surprise.

      I say both our quest for truth and God’s revelation of it to us is a work in progress. I am reminded of this bit at the end of John “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” Well, clearly, the Spirit of truth has been coming and guiding us into all the truth for two thousand years now. :- ) And will probably continue to do so for the next two thousand.

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    5. Which is to say that your prefer your own sentimental understanding of ethics to that of the Scripture and Church. May I suggest you find people who take you to be an authority and go and preach to them. If you must stay here, you will have to do a lot better.

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  28. @ VRS,

    The NT’s “do not return evil” does not build on the OT’s “an eye for an eye”. It directly and plainly contradicts it. Should we conclude that “God lied”, either in the OT or in the NT?

    The much more reasonable view is that God’s revelation of truth is an ongoing process. At the time when “an eye for an eye” was written this was a great improvement. But today we are far beyond this point. For starters, Christ has come and spoke to us in bodily form.

    I believe that executions are intrinsically evil. In part I believe it because of plain arguments such as the following:

    1. We should not move to kill a person we love.
    2. Christ asks us to love all people. (Including our enemies – and to not return evil).
    3. Therefore Christ asks us to not move to kill anybody.

    I doubt Feser’s book responds to this argument. Somebody who has read it may wish to clarify the point.

    But mainly I believe that executions are intrinsically evil because I directly see it is intrinsically evil. We don’t know good and evil by way of argument. Nor by way of authority. Not really. We may find an argument very convincing, or have great trust in some authority. But we know good and evil by acquaintance. Perhaps that’s part of the answer to the problem of evil: the good and thus the difference between good and evil can be known only existentially. By actually experiencing them both.

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    1. @ Dianelos

      The NT’s “do not return evil” does not build on the OT’s “an eye for an eye”. It directly and plainly contradicts it.

      But they do not "directly and plainly" contradict each other. "Snow is white" and "Snow is not white" directly and plainly contradict each other. "Thou shall not murder" and "Thou may murder" directly and plainly contradict each other. But one must put an interpretation on both "Do not return evil for evil" and "An eye for an eye" in order to bring them into tension. This is what it means for any ostensible contradiction between the two not to be "direct" and "plain."

      I therefore pair your claim to directness and plainness to this claim:

      In part I believe it because of plain arguments such as the following:

      One starts to wonder whether you recognize, whether consciously or subconsciously, the gaps in your argument, and try to patch them up with appeals to obviousness.

      (For the record, Feser's book basically responds to premise (1) of that argument, something similar to which is used in other arguments against the death penalty.)

      I also note that if "Do not return evil for evil" and "An eye for an eye" contradict each other, that has nothing to do with the death penalty per se; proportionality in punishment generally would have been superseded by the New Testament, and it would be a bit odd for people to focus on such a rare punishment as the death penalty.

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    2. @ Greg,

      But they do not "directly and plainly" contradict each other. "Snow is white" and "Snow is not white" directly and plainly contradict each other. "Thou shall not murder" and "Thou may murder" directly and plainly contradict each other. But one must put an interpretation on both "Do not return evil for evil" and "An eye for an eye" in order to bring them into tension.

      They do not contradict each other syntactically, but they do contradict each other semantically. “An eye for an eye” entails “you may return evil” whereas “do not return evil” entails “you may not return evil”.

      I also note that if "Do not return evil for evil" and "An eye for an eye" contradict each other, that has nothing to do with the death penalty per se [snip]

      I has to do with Feser’s claim in the OP that “ it is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church that scripture cannot teach error where matters of faith and morals are concerned. ” I trust the CC’s teaching is more nuanced than this, something like “Scripture cannot teach error in matters of faith and morals in the historical conditions in which it was written. For throughout history the authors were inspired by God to guide their people towards the Kingdom to come.

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    3. @ Dianelos

      They do not contradict each other syntactically, but they do contradict each other semantically. “An eye for an eye” entails “you may return evil” whereas “do not return evil” entails “you may not return evil”.

      This is putting a contestable interpretation on the principles. I don't identify the evil that may be visited upon upon a criminal with the evil one commits when one declines to bear wrong patiently.

      I has to do with Feser’s claim in the OP that “ it is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church that scripture cannot teach error where matters of faith and morals are concerned.”

      OK, but my point is that if you take "Do not return evil for evil" to mean that you may not punish criminals, that is a general point. It is a demerit of your reading of the New Testament that it rules out the punishment of disobedient children by parents, the confinement of those guilty of less than capital crimes, etc. (unless you decide to say that these actions, which done knowingly to the innocent would be evil, are not "evil" when done to the proportionately guilty--thereby showing us a way to read the New and Old Testaments consistently).

      I trust the CC’s teaching is more nuanced than this, something like “Scripture cannot teach error in matters of faith and morals in the historical conditions in which it was written. For throughout history the authors were inspired by God to guide their people towards the Kingdom to come.”

      This is a bizarre and tendentious claim. The Catholic Church's teaching on the matter is the one that Feser quoted in the post, from the First Vatican Council. Why do you flatter yourself that you know Catholic teaching better than Catholics when you won't even look at it?

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    4. @Danielos

      Vengeance is what is forbidden. "For even these sin if they be moved by private animosity." STh II-II q. 64 a. 7

      No evil was commanded in the OT that had to be "corrected" in the NT. There were, on the other hand, numerous bastardizations and abuses of OT laws - including the insertion of vengeance into punishment.

      As for your syllogism, others have pointed out some problems. I will add two of my own. 1. God kills people directly and by command, even though He loves them. 2. The general commands of God for Israel, given through Moses, are without error, since they truly come from God, and this includes capital punishment - so either, God was wrong, or there are multiple truths which can contradict each other, or capital punishment is not intrinsically evil.

      But since we can't argue to find out anything about morals, and you "see it directly," why are we bothering? That confuses me.

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    5. @ Greg,

      This is putting a contestable interpretation on the principles.

      In this case I don’t think there is much room for interpreting. Nor do I think it is needed. Christ walked and suffered among is in order to give us a message, both in words and by example; we should do nothing to water that message down.

      I don't identify the evil that may be visited upon upon a criminal with the evil one commits when one declines to bear wrong patiently.

      Agreed, the two cases are not identical. But they are not unrelated either. Christ’s ethics is our guide to all.

      OK, but my point is that if you take "Do not return evil for evil" to mean that you may not punish criminals, that is a general point.

      Actually my point was against Feser using as a premise the claim that scripture cannot err in matters of faith or morals. I think that principle is too crude and does not hold up to critical thought. There is clearly a historical advancement in scripture and in general in theology, where previous positions are supplanted by newer ones which are closer to the truth.

      I think some people misunderstand what is entailed by God’s special providence: God does not of course cheat, but given the divine goal of guiding humanity towards atonement God speaks with different voices and different ideas in different historical contexts, and even in different personal contexts. And God does so precisely in order not to confuse. Had God inspired writers in the OT milieu to write down Christian ethics people would think they were mad. God reveals truth – indeed Christ reveals Himself – to the degree people are ready.

      It is a demerit of your reading of the New Testament that it rules out the punishment of disobedient children by parents [snip]

      The disciplining of children is an act of pure love and has nothing to do with punishment or of “retribution” or “just deserts”.

      “[cnt] the confinement of those guilty of less than capital crimes, etc.”

      The confinement of criminals is an act of self-protection by society. As for the “guilty” is not for us to judge who is morally guilty but only who is a danger to society.

      showing us a way to read the New and Old Testaments consistently).

      I think that to try to read the New and Old Testaments consistently is precisely what we shouldn’t do. Christ is the savior not a lawyer. The NT is full of stories of Christ responding to the learned who objected to His not showing proper respect to the law of the Sabbath etc.

      Why do you flatter yourself that you know Catholic teaching better than Catholics when you won't even look at it?

      As I have much respect for the CC and as I expect her to play an important role in the future of humanity, I wrote “I trust” that her understanding of scripture is more nuanced than Feser’s. As for what Catholics say I notice there is some disagreement among them which I think is a good sign. And I am happy to see that among others Pope Francis and Msgr. Stuart Swetland express themselves in ways I find I am agreeing with.

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    6. @ Dianelos

      This comment doesn't merit a response.

      Delete
    7. @Danielos

      The formal principle of faith - "God does not deceive nor can be deceived." You seem to be denying it... or you are denying the PNC. Either way, good riddance.

      -VRS

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    8. @ VRS

      The formal principle of faith - "God does not deceive nor can be deceived." You seem to be denying it...

      No, I am saying exactly the opposite: Since God does not deceive (“cheat” was the word I used), God speaks with different voices and different ideas in different historical contexts, and even in different personal contexts. If God didn’t do that then people would be utterly confused and thus deceived.

      It’s a simple idea. I always find it amazing how difficult it is to carry one’s meaning across.

      Here I would like to add that the existential and thus fundamental principle of faith – the principle of the principles - is not about revelation but about love: That God loves each one of us as Christ.

      or you are denying the PNC.

      What is the PNC?

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    9. You find it difficult because you are a sentimentalist hegelian. Clarity and strict meaning are not something all too close to you.
      And the PNC is the principle of non-contradiction, which you do seem to deny.

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    10. @ Dianelos

      No, I am saying exactly the opposite: Since God does not deceive (“cheat” was the word I used), God speaks with different voices and different ideas in different historical contexts, and even in different personal contexts. If God didn’t do that then people would be utterly confused and thus deceived.

      But you are not merely saying that God speaks through A in language M about topic X at one time and place, and speaks through B in language N about topic Y at another time and place. You are saying that what God says in one historical context contradicts what he says in another.

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    11. @Danielos

      Adding on the other responses, your interpretation would be plausible if that speaking led to action which does not contradict another action - in this case, capital punishment. The speech leads to action, and therefore it is quite easy to understand what is meant. Beyond this, it just goes to show you why it is necessary to have the living Tradition protected by an accessible and adaptable authority, viz., the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium.

      On top of all of the other problems here, what you say is swinging close to Marcionism - as unfortunately my friend Msgr. Swetland did as well. "The Old Testament gets it wrong." Then we have two gods, or two truths, or deceit on the part of one God. Take your pick.

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    12. @ Ivan Knezović,

      Principles of reason such as the principle of non-contradiction are tools, and as is the case with any tool should be used wisely and not unreflectively. In particular they should be used only in the contexts where their use is appropriate. Now even when reasoning about everyday objects the context is relevant. Thus when one approaches an object in one way it may have properties it will lack when approached from another. Even in lowly physical realism the electron has the properties of a wave if approached in one way and not the properties of a wave when approached in another.

      Reasoning about the Absolute in an unreflective way (in a kind of automatic or formal way) is insufficient and may lead one astray. Consider for example the propositions “God’s distinct attributes are identical to each other” or “The Trinity is simple”. Such propositions are incoherent if one is not willing to transcend the common modes of thinking. God in one approach is simple but in another isn’t; God in one approach is personal but in another is not personal. Trying to put the Ultimate in conceptual categories of either-or is not fruitful. This much is known for millennia. The way I like to put it that “God is X but not only X”. Thus to say that God is simple does not entail that God is nothing but simple. To think that God is necessarily subject to such either-or categories because of the principle of non-contradiction would be too limited indeed; like putting logic above God :-) On the contrary, necessarily, perfection often and naturally transcends such distinctions.

      Logic and reason in general are just properties of God’s will as expressed in nature – thus both fundamental and irrelevant depending on the context. They are certainly not a limiting factor to God.

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    13. @Danielos

      If you deny the PNC you deny the ability to know anything at all. Which you seem to.

      Aren't you also the one who supports abortion? If so, riddle me that... No execution of mass murderers, but unborn life is not so lucky...

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    14. @ Greg,

      But you are not merely saying that God speaks through A in language M about topic X at one time and place, and speaks through B in language N about topic Y at another time and place. You are saying that what God says in one historical context contradicts what he says in another.

      Well, a surgeon will say to her child “you should eat” and to her patient “you should not eat”. When I am at this spot the best way to reach the peak of the mountain may be to turn right; when I am at that spot the best way may be to turn left. Ethical truths are always objective, but objective to the present state of affairs. Thus to think that ethical principles are absolute and hold always and everywhere is misleading; what is absolute is the ground of ethics which is the goodness of God. The closest one may come to an absolute ethical principle is Christ’s call to self-transcendent love. A memorable example for this insight is the gospel story where Judas chastized Mary for wasting the precious perfume to wash Christ’s feet. Judas was right by the light of reason; but was wrong in the eyes of God. For it was self-transcending love which moved Mary.

      Let us consider what I think is the matter of our current disagreement, the tension between “an eye for an eye” in the OT and the “do not return evil” in the NT. The former was written at a time where it was considered good to return an evil multiple times over (like - somebody from the other village killed one of ours and in response we should kill everybody in that village). In this state of affairs the teaching “you should not return more evil than you suffered” was a good message; a push towards the right direction; the best possible message considering. Christ’s later “do not return evil” (for evil by its nature is never justified) is a much more advanced ethical message. Why should we be bothered that it contradicts the previous message? When Christ came to us in bodily form we were ready for a greater understanding.

      Now come to think of it in the matter under discussion it’s not like scripture “errs”. It is we who err by assuming that ethical teachings once written down in scripture are absolute. And for lack of faith it is we who fear that should we say that they are not absolute then the whole authority of scripture will come tumbling down. I say the authority of scripture in the eyes of the many rests on the example of the life of the faithful. And in the eyes of the educated rests on the proper interpretation of it, which requires more than superficial lawyerly reading. To understand and take into account the historical and cultural context is necessary – but is not sufficient:

      I trust we agree that the end of revelation is to move humanity towards atonement. Then the first principle in understanding scripture as a work of revelation (which it is not exclusively) is to interpret it under the light of Christ’s atoning message and work. Christ is the light. To try to understand the OT or even the NT epistles without using Christ’s message of atonement as guiding light may and probably will lead to error.

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    15. @ VRS,

      But I don’t deny the principle of non-contradiction. Please read again what I wrote. I said that this is a principle of propositional logic with its proper use and field of application. Propositions about God are a case where we must be very careful, since God transcends either-or categories which are present when we discuss other matters.

      Our case though is simpler. Consider if you will the following propositions:

      1. God is the metaphysical ultimate.
      2. The metaphysical ultimate is simple.
      3. God is simple.
      4. God is nothing but simple.

      (1) is the basic metaphysical premise of theism and moreover an implication of Anselm’s definition. No theist can disagree with it.
      (2) follows from age-old arguments which I find to be extremely convincing. All classical theists agree with it.
      (3) directly follows from (1) and (2)

      Now consider (4). It strikes one as kind of arbitrary, isn’t it? Why assume that God being simple must also be nothing but simple? As an analogy consider a spinning sphere. The sphere moves, but from this it does not follow that the whole of the sphere moves; indeed its center doesn’t.

      To justify (4) we need:

      (5) God is nothing but the metaphysical ultimate.

      But (5) clearly contradicts Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. Being only, and nothing but, the metaphysical ultimate is far less – far less – than the greatest being we can conceive. Don’t you agree?

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    16. @ Dianelos

      Well, a surgeon will say to her child “you should eat” and to her patient “you should not eat”. When I am at this spot the best way to reach the peak of the mountain may be to turn right; when I am at that spot the best way may be to turn left. Ethical truths are always objective, but objective to the present state of affairs. Thus to think that ethical principles are absolute and hold always and everywhere is misleading; what is absolute is the ground of ethics which is the goodness of God. The closest one may come to an absolute ethical principle is Christ’s call to self-transcendent love.

      If you think that there are no absolute ethical principle, then I don't understand what you mean by saying that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. I also don't understand the sense in which Christ's call to self-transcendent love is less than absolute. (The unargued assertion that this principle is only the "closest" to absolute seems suspiciously like an attempt to dissuade your readers from thinking about an obvious counterexample to your claim.)

      I mean, you seem to want to say "you should not execute those charged with capital crimes." But if the objectivity of this claim is on a par with that of "you should eat"--if the objectivity is just objectivity to the present state of affairs--then it is not even possible for you to state general opposition to capital punishment. If you were to say that you can give a general description of states of affairs in which the principle holds, then the same problem will arise, until your description is sufficiently determinate that you have an absolute ethical principle.

      Your position is simply--and as usual--deeply confused and post hoc.

      Now, what are we to think about "you should not eat" and "you should not eat"? You take this example to support a decidedly less than trivial philosophical claim: "Thus to think that ethical principles are absolute and hold always and everywhere is misleading...."

      That we are obliged to draw this lesson is far from clear. We should first observe that your two statements do not contradict each other, because "you" is an indexical, so there is no prima facie need to relativize objectivity.

      You could bring them closer to objectivity if you were to stipulate that they were both said to the same person at different times; at one time, a mother tells her daughter to eat, at another, not to eat. But then the tension between the statements will be no more than the tension between
      - "You are 4' tall", spoken to the daughter at one date, and
      - "You are 5' tall", spoken to the daughter at another.
      Philosophers will have different ways of accommodating this in their theories, and your example gives us no reason to think that the ethical case is different.

      I think that there may be some legitimate differences in ethics, since more than one incompossible actions may be permissible, though still, I don't think there will ever be a need to say that ethical principles are objective only to the present state of affairs.

      Anyway, this will be my last post on the matter. The lack of probity of bald claims like yours is very evident, and it is not worth showing it every time you open your mouth.

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    17. @Danielos

      I have no idea why you are talking about Anselm, and I don't care to put in the effort to try to understand, not only because Anselm's argument doesn't work (see STh I q. 2 a. 1), but also because I see no point in trying to continue this conversation.

      In the words of the great Marshall Mathers, "I'm outtie."

      -VRS

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    18. I don't know why anyone bothers talking with this guy. We all know his position by now. He judges everything, including scripture and the church, by his blend of sentimentalism and liberalism. It is deeply simplistic and tedious, and causes him to engage in the rankest sophistries to make it all fit together. He is only one step up from the likes of SP.

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    19. @ Greg,

      If you think that there are no absolute ethical principle, then I don't understand what you mean by saying that capital punishment is intrinsically evil.

      I mean that in all states of affairs I can conceive it is evil.

      (Not to mention it conflicts with Christ’s call to self-transcending love for all. And to Christ’s call to forgive those who harm us. And to not resist evil but return evil with good.)

      I also don't understand the sense in which Christ's call to self-transcendent love is less than absolute.

      Well, “absolute” has a precise sense. In our context only what grounds ethical truth (the goodness of God, or God’s character if you prefer) is absolute. The truth of ethical precepts depends on their place in relation to that ground. Now Christ’s last commandment, His call to self-transcendent and universal love, is probably the closest an ethical proposition may come to God’s character. That’s what I meant. In all states of affairs I can conceive a choice moved by self-transcendent and universal love will be ethical.

      Philosophers have wondered about the connection between “is” and “ought”. On theism, and in particular on soteriology, I think the answer is clear: The ethical choice is that which transforms one’s soul more into the likeness of Christ, and thus brings the soul closer to God in spirit (or, in other words, what increases the charity in our soul). That’s the metaphysical connection between “ought” and “is”.

      Coming back to our disagreement: Do you believe the act of carrying out capital punishment may increase the charity of anybody involved with it? That somebody involved may become more like Christ? If you don’t believe that then you don’t believe that capital punishment may be an ethical act.

      The unargued assertion that this principle is only the "closest" to absolute seems suspiciously like an attempt to dissuade your readers from thinking about an obvious counterexample to your claim.

      Here you lost me. Please speak plainly because getting one’s meaning across is difficult in the best of conditions. Are you perhaps suggesting that you can think of some counterexample: of a state of affairs where self-transcendent and universal love moves a person to an unethical act? (Incidentally I find that the self-transcendent love will by its nature be universal too.)

      We should first observe that your two statements do not contradict each other, because "you" is an indexical, so there is no prima facie need to relativize objectivity.

      Well, the surgeon’s patient may be her child, but that’s neither here nor there. As your own examples demonstrate propositions including ethical propositions (at least in many cases) refer to particular states of affairs. So it is possible that two ethical propositions appear to contradict each other when in fact they don’t. When one understands the different contexts in which they were given all tension disappears. In contrast, if one assumes that these ethical propositions are absolute then confusion may issue. So in the case of the OT “an eye for an eye” and the NT “do not return evil” - there is no tension whatsoever once one understands that they are given to different people at different times. The former was given in the context of preparing society for the coming Christ, the later in the fulfillment.

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    20. @ Greg,

      Anyway, this will be my last post on the matter.

      Thanks for the stimulating discussion. It gave me much food for thought.

      I was thinking about the wisdom of the OT’s “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images” and how that wisdom reaches far beyond the usual understanding. So a “graven image” is not only a statue or painting one takes to stand in for God, to be worshiped and valued as divine. A graven image is any idol which one holds possesses God’s attributes. And to make or take idols unto oneself is a sin because it obscures God to the eyes of the soul and thus obstructs the soul from approaching God. So, when read incorrectly as the literal Word of God the Bible becomes an idol, since the Word of God is Christ and the Bible is a book about the Word of God. When one misses out on the metaphorical use and thinks that there are holy objects or holy people or holy institutions then, again, one is making an idol. Our discussion led me to realize that to think of ethical commands as absolute is also a case of building an idol of God, for only God is absolute. All knowledge and all understanding are true only when they are grounded in one’s knowledge and understanding of God.

      But, you may ask, aren’t there absolute truths such as 2+2=4? Isn’t that proposition intrinsically true, necessarily true, true everywhere and always? It is, but *only* in the sense that it refers to the order of God’s will in creation. Or, if you prefer, to how all that exists is an expression of God’s will. All propositions ultimately refer to the absolute ground of all which is God. What I think is wrong to say is that the proposition 2+2=4 is true by itself. On theism there is nothing that exists by itself or is true by itself. All true propositions refer to some being, and all being is grounded in God’s being.

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    21. @ VRS,

      I didn't use Anselm's argument but Anselm's definition of God, which is the definite expression of age-old philosophical understanding.

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  29. Paul's command that slaves should obey their masters is not an endorsement of slavery, anymore than Jesus's command to turn the other cheek is an endorsement of physical assault.

    In his letter to Philemon, Paul invites Philemon to welcome his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother rather than a slave, since both Philemon and Onesimus are Christians. In light of Christ, all worldly status loses significance; those differences don't go away, they just shouldn't matter to Christians.

    I was surprised - almost shocked - to hear the Monsignor say that, contra Paul, we should encourage slaves to rebel rather than obey their masters. In other words, he is saying the only legitimate Christian response for a slave is to kill his master. And this from a man who is against the death penalty for the reason that death is never the answer.

    Slave revolution may be an appropriate response to a condition of slavery; but if it's the only appropriate response, then not just Paul is wrong, but Christ is wrong that we should do good to our enemies. At least in the instance of the slave, apparently, that command doesn't hold.

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    1. "I was surprised - almost shocked - to hear the Monsignor say that, contra Paul, we should encourage slaves to rebel rather than obey their masters. In other words, he is saying the only legitimate Christian response for a slave is to kill his master. And this from a man who is against the death penalty for the reason that death is never the answer."

      I look forward to reading Swetland's take on Venezuela.

      I also suppose that he would encourage violent resistance to and the overthrow of those who would plot to make us slaves or compel us to involuntary servitude, even if they were in the form of corporate bodies or organized collectives spouting gibberish about altruism or utilitarian claptrap about the "greater good". And of course, this principle would also apply concerning our involuntary and coerced inclusion in one of those left-fascist, so-called "positive liberty" collectives, wherein the responsibilities and benefits were not perfectly reciprocal and distributive.

      Many slavers have spent their entire lives insinuating themselves into this body politic, and conspiring to turn a formerly libertarian polity into a social welfare mill skimmed by the managerial class.

      It is so good to finally see a priest take a principled stand against this horror. Ahem.

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    2. @ David T.

      Paul's command that slaves should obey their masters is not an endorsement of slavery, anymore than Jesus's command to turn the other cheek is an endorsement of physical assault.

      Christ’s call is to not resist evil; Christ's call is not to cooperate with it. Thus Christ did not resist His capture, but neither did He cooperate with it. Nor did He cooperate with the unjust court of law in front of Pilate. Finally Christ – God incarnate - did not resist the great evil of His crucifixion, but returned good for evil praying for the forgiveness of those who nailed Him to the wood. The personal example of Christ expresses Christian ethics as well as His words. Incidentally, beyond the example of Christ non-resistance to an evil has been practiced in the struggle for Indian independence, by a Hindu. The power of our will reaches to our fingertips, so that’s also how far our moral responsibility goes.

      Contemplating Christ’s call to not resist evil is one of the key instances where reason fails and the insight of the divine takes over. Whoever doesn’t see the glory of self-sacrificial non-resistance has not seen the beauty of God. And has not really understood creation; self-sacrificial non-resistance is foundational in it. On the other hand pity those who have seen the beauty of God and do not repent. They are the sorriest fools of all.

      Coming back to Paul’s sentence to the slaves I feel no great need to interpret it. Perhaps he meant it as a means to keep the social peace which was propitious for the growth of the incipient church. Or perhaps he cared for the physical wellbeing of slaves and knew that remaining in their condition and obeying their master did not at all hinder them from atonement. Perhaps his wording was not the best, or perhaps we fail to understand its meaning, or perhaps that meaning suffers in translation: perhaps he didn’t ask slaves to obey their master “as to Christ” but to consider their condition as a sacrifice to Christ, a heavy injustice that will be light if they bear it for the sake of Christ.

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  30. Sorry if this is only tangentially relevant here, but I have a question that I'm hoping someone can shed some light on. The post mentions that the catholic church has affirmed the inerrancy of scripture. As someone who grew up in a Fundamentalist environment, what immediately comes to mind is something like the Chicago Statement. What I would like to know is in what ways (if any) does the catholic understanding of biblical inerrancy differ from that of the evangelical understanding? I know that's not a simple question to answer in a paragraph or two, but if someone could distill it down to a few main points that would be great (or post a link to a helpful resource).

    -Matt

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    1. Anonymous - Inerrancy regards the intention of the sacred authors. They do not write anything which is untrue in the way they intend to claim it to be true. The question is, "What exactly do the authors intend to claim as truth?" (And of course, there can be truths conveyed by the sacred authors which they did not intend to convey.)

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    2. That sounds more or less like what I am used to hearing in an evangelical context.

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    3. Hi Anonymous,

      I can recommend a book for you that addresses how the Catholic view differs from the Fundamentalist view if that is what you have in mind.

      Here is the link

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  31. Msgr. Swetland reminds me of the saying "Point weak pound pulpit."

    If he wants to be against the death penalty then God love him he can. Pope Benedict is against it as was the late Cardinal Dulles.
    But both said you may be at odds with the Holy Father on this particular issue.

    But like Mark Shea and others Msgr. Swetland is SOOOOO doing it wrong.

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  32. "Part of the reason Joe and I wrote our book is to contribute to correcting this imbalance, and fostering a more sober and theologically responsible debate."

    I'm interested in the motivation for writing the book. Obviously you think the record needs correcting regarding the Catholic position on capital punishment. But getting down to brass tacks, do you also argue that America today would be well served by capital punishment in certain cases where more lenient sentences are given? In general, is it your position that America is too soft on crime? I cannot find a searchable version of the book online to hunt for answers, so before going to greater lengths I thought I would ask here.

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    1. Yes, part of the motivation is (as they say here) to correct the imbalance in the theological discussion, but part of the motivation is also that they think capital punishment is good public policy.

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    2. I would agree. The point they make when they delve into the detailed look at actual cases of murderers is that there are people upon whom the state needs to exact the severest punishment available, but for whom this is not happening. For reasons of policy, and including practical considerations, some people should be put to death. Like, for example, the murderer who said point blank that he had no compunction whatsoever about killing another if he had the opportunity, as far as he was concerned the only way the state would be safe would be by his death.

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  33. "The personal example of Christ expresses Christian ethics as well as His words. Incidentally, beyond the example of Christ non-resistance to an evil has been ..."

    You do understand that the Christian view of Calvary is that it was an act of redemption, and the establishment of the Church, and not some paradigm case exemplified?

    In fact, the human world, cultural and psychological, as well as institutional, was affected and even transformed through that death and resurrection, much of it radically.

    Ask yourself this: If Christ had not been unjustly brutalized, hung on a cross, and died; only to be said to have risen again; what would have been, do you estimate, the trans-formative effect - merely in the here and now and culturally - historically?

    In other words, in order to produce the world altering effect, it had to be that ...

    And this view of sacrifice, or of giving up something in order to achieve an effect, is not even taking into real account, the more and primarily supernatural atonement aspect.

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    1. @ NorthCharlton,

      You do understand that the Christian view of Calvary is that it was an act of redemption, and the establishment of the Church, and not some paradigm case exemplified?

      Christ’s incarnation is an act of redemption, and also Christ’s life is a paradigm. Beyond Christ’s last commandment for us to love like He did and thus self-transcentently and universally, the idea that we should strive to imitate Christ lies at the center of the Christian faith.

      By doing what Christ asks of us we confirm the redemption of the world. The idea that Christ died for our sins therefore we don’t have to live like He asks of us makes no sense whatsoever. The incarnation of Christ is a timeless act of creation, an act which connects heaven and earth, an act which opens the path to atonement. Christ is the savior in that He opens the path of salvation; but we must walk on this path. We are not just passive beneficiaries, like pebbles being moved by a stream.

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  34. By chance I encountered a philosophical article about the evolution of the concept of God in the West . I was quite interesting to find in one place a record of the historical advancement of thought about God, connecting most great Western philosophers the streams of thought and how the influenced each other.

    The article starts by noticing that we recognize three sources of knowledge about God: experience, revelation, and reason. Since experience is the basis of all knowledge (for example to reason is an act of experience, we can know revelation only by experience such as reading scripture, etc), I take it that in this context “experience” refers to the experience of the divine, our sense of the divine, our sense of perfection. Incidentally I used to think that the insight that God is the perfect being started with Anselm, but I see that it is much older and is found already in Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno of Citium (as well as in the great Eastern religions). Incidentally Anselm’s formula is an excellent one because it works negatively and thus universally: God is no less than the greatest being one can conceive. Thus the child, the uneducated adult, the educated adult, the mystic, the saint – for all it holds that the best understanding they can have of God is that of the greatest being each one of them can conceive.

    It seems to me that the article describes how, reacting to the thought of earlier philosophers and struggling with the problem of how to strike a balance between the three sources, great Western minds thought about God.

    Significantly Aquinas accepts only reason and revelation as sources of knowledge, and rejects experience. Which I think explains some discussions with Thomists in this blog (who consider my references to our sense of the divine as “semintalism”). But as a matter of fact in life of many becoming a Christian is the result of revelation and experience alone. I myself became a conscious Christian after reading the gospels and clearly and powerfully experiencing the divine in them; reason played no role in that initial opening of my eyes. So what is reason good for? I would say that reason modulates our beliefs, and like an insurance policy keeps them from going astray when combined with our natural sense of the divine and with God’s revelation in history. But without the sense of the divine, reason is like an excellent boat on high seas without a compass. Reason and revelation without the light of our sense of the divine may lead us to gross error, for example (in my judgment) that executing people is not intrinsically evil.

    [continues below]

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  35. I recommend reading the above-mentioned article. The sense I get from it is that in reaction to the stream of thought that focuses on reason and which Aquinas epitomizes, theologians such as John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Meister Eckhard downplayed reason in favor of experience. In the Renaissance the theology of transcending reason was misinterpreted by the half-educated as a denial of reason. Given the natural use of reason in the physical sciences, by hasty generalization some people concluded that reason is the only or at least the fundamental source of all knowledge. In reaction Reformation theologians focused on reasoning about the Bible alone, and in yet another reaction during the 17th century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Spinoza focused on reason while de-emphasizing scripture in particular and revelation in general – Spinoza to an extreme degree. At the start of modernity in the 18th century Kant, recognizing the limits of reason but also I think the correct nature of our sense of the divine, shifted the discourse about God from “science and facts” towards “ethics and values”. Hegel, the other giant of modern theistic thought, opened yet another approach to the Divine by overcoming the traditional and rather primitive insistence on simplicity, and revealing the perfection of *becoming* beyond that of *being*. I suppose the contemporary Whitehead and John Hick, and Tillich and Barth and Balthasar, walked on the paths opened by Kant and Hegel. They in turn opened space for the growth of the ecumenical movement.

    So, in conclusion, looking back we see a constant if winding advancement in theistic thought – a long and winding road indeed, but one of great beauty and courage. We see each great mind reacting to perceived errors, and struggling with the sensus divinitatis, present revelation, and the reasoning powers of our mind, in order to in various ways enlarge the window of our understanding of God. The idea that with Aquinas theistic thought reached some kind of apex, and from then on everything went downwards doesn’t hold water. In fact conflicts with our faith in the work of the Holy Spirit who draws people towards the truth.

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  36. I think the case that the Church changed course on slavery is easier to make than that the Church changed course on capital punishment. The former has been the focus when some of my colleagues at a Catholic seminary have discussed the development of doctrine in the Church. Please consider providing some documentation and argumentation against the claim that the Church never affirmed that chattel slavery is not against the natural law.

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