Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chapter 4:Organism, Language and Grace (McCabe)

1) Organism: Like animals, we are sensual beings and have a consciousness. We are unlike machines who are manufactured and have no capacity to sense.
2) Language: To be classified as human, we must be a part of a linguistic and cultural system. Unlike Animals who are programmed to recognize symbols, Humans make and institute their own symbols.
3) Grace: Our “divine life” is our participation in God’s Narrative.
4) Aristotle and Descartes have opposing views on Human Freedom/Thinking using the open system/closed system views (respectively)

…what characterizes the human way of living is that it is shared more than the living of other animals(72). Descartes view of being human entailed a completely private way of living and thinking and seems to be in complete contradiction to Aristotle’s view that the only way to know that I am a free thinking being is if I am able to share my thoughts with others. Is it possible for humans to be Thinking/Free in the Cartesian tradition and if not, why?

As McCabe states “Human Freedom, which is an aspect of human thinking, depends on…the world of symbols and linguistic…meanings that are peculiar to the human story.”(72) To be linguistic means that we have inner monologues, which we express and we are capable of “forming aims and intentions for ourselves” (69). We are unlike animals in the way we act because “brute animals can act willingly or unwillingly, there is no possibility that they could have acted differently” (69) Humans are set apart mostly because we are linguistic which means we voice our thoughts, and even though one may argue that a dog is a thinking being, we are set apart from man’s best friend because we can express those thoughts.

As linguistic beings, humans live as characters in both a personal and social narratives. We differ from animals because we can enter into a human story with one another through language. I believe that it is quite impossible for one to do this under the Cartesian idea of consciousness. For Descartes, states McCabe, “consciousness is a way of being private; it belongs essentially to the hidden interior life.” As Descartes says in his Third Meditation, the only way for him to TRULY know that his thoughts were his own, he will “close [his] eyes, [he] will stop his ears, [he] will turn away [his] senses from their objects…” In every way Descartes turns himself away from any human contact. This does not lead to a human person being a thinking being. In fact, this method negates it. Senses are private to the organism experiencing them, and if we say the same for thought, we are no more of free thinkers than animals are.

McCabe agrees with Aristotle’s way of thinking on page 72 and points out that unlike sensations, which I have already established as being private for both animals and humans, “everyone can have my thoughts. If they could not, they would not be my thoughts…they are not unless they can be shared by others. The use of thought, then, is what frees us from the imprisonment in the isolated self.”

That leads directly to a sharing in the Grace Narrative of God. Language is the ability to transcend oneself. McCabe states that “self-transcendence is seen to be complete in grace, in sharing divine life.” So, then realizing that we are more than animals because we speak our thoughts, is it possible for one to enter into grace by being totally and completely alone? (the hermitage scenario) Is it possible for one to be completely alone in the Cartesian sense and enter and participate in the enacted narrative of God?

Monday, September 24, 2007

McCabe on Community and the Moral Life

  1. Being a person is a human activity, and therefore a person can be judged objectively as either a good or a bad human being.
  2. Every individual has a role and a function within a polis, or more specifically, a linguistic community. This polis is concerned with virtue.
  3. A linguistic community can be judged upon how well it fosters virtue in its citizens.
  4. A person can become a good person by recognizing that virtues are desirable, and then deliberately seeking to cultivate virtues for their own sake.
  5. The study of ethics does not merely discuss the nature of goodness, but intends to make individuals good.

    Is moral goodness or badness a characteristic, and if so, how does a person develop into either a good or bad person?
    McCabe begins by addressing the nature of moral goodness or badness in human life. He starts by analyzing Hume, who believes that humans only see what is the case and not what ought to be the case. Followers of Hume claim that, “Ought (prescription) can never be derived from is (description)” (17). Resting on the assumption that moral behavior looks at the way a person ought to behave, the Humeans assert that humans cannot make judgments on whether moral behavior is morally good or bad. In this light, to be a ‘good person’ is to fulfill a subjective definition of moral goodness based upon an individual’s feelings (or to tie in Fletcher, based upon the situation).

    McCabe disagrees, claiming that being a person is a definite human activity and that as such, an individual can be judged as being either a good or a bad human being, just as an informed person can judge a good or bad ice skater. “To be human,” he writes, “is to be political, to be part of a polis” (25). (Based upon this assertion, he does not believe there is a need to bring God into the discussion at all.) Every individual has a role and a function within a community, but “community and individuality are not rivals”: an individual is the product of his or her linguistic community (which is distinct from an animal grouping) but the individual is also the product of his or her “free decisions” (28). In seeking to become a good person, which McCabe describes as becoming more yourself, a human being must “be educated into and respond creatively and critically to the tradition of [a] place and time” (30). This education develops in the way we live our daily lives.

    So what does it mean for us to be part of these larger communities, specifically, our respective linguistic communities? Our capacity for creativity and our ability to create meanings sets us apart from animal groupings. Through this creation of meanings, a person’s statements achieve a sense of objectivity, and the person, “behave[s] in a way that is not simply individual” (35). McCabe hones in on Aquinas’s belief that human beings’ thoughts are not essentially private. As a result, we as humans “are constituted as who we are not just biologically… but also culturally, spiritually, by the linguistic community, the polis in which we live” (37).

    McCabe expands on this concept of polis through describing Aristotle’s belief that a polis must “concern itself with virtue” (38). If the primary focus of the polis is to shape people to grow in virtue, then McCabe argues that we can use this as the critical standard upon which to judge a society. In examining any society in a particular time, we must focus on the extent to which “it fosters the virtues of its citizens” (39). McCabe then takes this standard a step further by narrowing in on the virtue of justice. He argues that, “one who has the virtue of justice is one who has learnt to want the things that are just” regardless of external reward or honor (40). When a person does a just act in order to gain the approval of an outside party or the internalized teachings of his or her conscience, the person is not truly acting justly. To become just, McCabe writes, a person must discover, “a new way of being in the world,” and to recognize justice as desirable in itself (48). He believes that every person strives to attain fulfillment, and that this fulfillment can only be attained through the “deliberate cultivation of virtues” (57). McCabe discussed justice and courage, but what do you think are some other universal virtues necessary to being a good human being? Can a person possess certain virtues very strongly yet be devoid of others? If so, do you believe that some virtues are more important than others?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Virtue with McCoy and McCabe

1. Virtue in the sense of happiness, or flourishing, to make a success of life.

2. Virtues are comparative to skills because they are acquired through practice. Vices are also perfected by practice.

3. Only with the learning and acquisition of virtue are we able to recognize a good person and these moral perceptions and understandings from the society and tradition in which we are born and raised.

4. Intellect is not just in discovering meaning, but what meaning we impose on the world by our intelligent capability.

5. We need practical reason to develop intellectual virtue, which cannot be exercised without moral virtues, which in turn, are not effective without infused divine virtues.

How do humans come to be virtuous?
McCoy says that Aristotle wants to make a distinction between what we would consider virtue and what he believes virtue to be. Virtue is to acquire the “final good” or happiness. However, happiness is used in the sense of “eudaimonia, or flourishing, to make success of life”(McCoy 109). To become a flourishing human being means using a capacity that only man possesses, the activity of the human mind’s intellect. We use our natural capabilities to make sense of the world. Virtues, therefore, “are concerned with the promotion of human well being, determined by rational judgment and choice about appropriate courses of action or conduct”(113).

Intellect is what distinguishes human beings from animals. Animals can only approach with world through sensation. They see what they want, make a snap decision, and go for it. However, humans not only interpret the world through sensual engagement, “we add our understanding of the world through our intellectual capacity and linguistics” (McCabe 80). “We raise sensual meanings to concepts” (83). This allows us to be able to make a multitude of decisions and the chance to have acted differently. Moral understanding, therefore, is not some mysterious moral sense, but an education of being able to recognize a good act from a bad one. Intellect allows humans to be educated. Aristotle emphasizes the importance of education in becoming virtuous. “Only an educated person, the one who has learnt how to be good at being human, the virtuous person, is in a position clearly to recognize virtue for what it is” (9). Then we use intellect to distinguish and make choices that will fulfill our humanness.

McCabe compares learning virtue to a football game. There are boundaries, or prohibitions, and there are rules that guide the play. When one cheats, or commits a vice, one is not playing the game; one is playing outside the field of play. To play well does not need rule books, however, but training in accordance to the teaching. As children, when we commit a vice in the sense that we do not know it is a vice as of yet, we are reprimanded and taught the virtuous action. Encouragement and practice is what teaches us how to distinguish and use virtue.
We also acquire virtue by a natural inclination to become a flourishing human person. These virtues are not only rooted in our efforts, but in “the initiative of God”(89). Becoming a good human person, a flourishing person, is in part something we share with the gods, with whom we take the example of goodness. These natural inclinations rising from virtue “means taking the path that conforms to and spring from who you are and what you treat as ultimately satisfactory”(90). It is not a chance that we are human, being human is what it takes for us to each exist and we must fulfill it by the practice of practical intelligence in order be “flourishing.”
Is there an absolute truth in being and becoming a virtuous person? Is it possible for people to flourish as a result of vice instead of virtue?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Moral Abominations by Jeffrey Stout

1. Anything loathsome counts as an abomination according to Stout. Anything out of natural social order will be abominated as well.

2. Cannibalism offends us because it threatens our definite status as human beings.

3. There is a sharp line between men and women, humanity and the animal kingdom, between male and female roles, and human and non-human.

4. Ethical theories are to blame for our deepest moral feelings and beliefs.

5. We must restore the historical and cultural context of the moral life in order to classify what is abominable in contemporary theory.

Stout defines abomination in many different categories and classifies different judgments that revolve into abominations. However, why is it so difficult to make sense of abominations and classify them? It is so difficult to make sense of abominations because something is abominable only if it is a threat to social structure. (10) This remains difficult since every society has different norms and ethics. Stout defines abominations as anything loathsome. (10) Other abominations such as cannibalism, bestiality or sodomy stand as abominations in our culture but may not in others. There aren’t clearly defined roles as Aquinas would like to believe. Each abomination has defining traits. If one has independent kind of defining traits, they are not likely to be abominated. (15)

Certainly we cannot define an abomination; much like we could not define an absolute. We can culturally define an abomination according to our moral feelings and ethical theories. (17) Abominations are not defined among theories. “Ethical theory should not be viewed as a mere reflection of its context; its relation to context is dialectical. It continues to shape and reshape the ethos even as that ethos poses its problems and supplies whatever resources the theorist possesses for the task of resolving them.” (20) According to Stout, “we have little hope of finding out [what an abomination is] unless we begin to restore the historical and cultural context of the moral life.” (22) Stout displays the flaws of thinking morally or by using universal standards. Ethical dilemmas like abomination do not fall under the category of doing what is good for the most people. How is cannibalism best for the good of the people? Unless you are dying out at sea?

Many situations we consider to be abominations are merely judgments; such as homosexuality. “As Needham says, it is methodically defective to consider only prohibitions. Judgments of abomination are typically just the other side of affirmative valuations and cannot be understood without keeping these in mind.” (16)

If the realm of morality is not properly conceived, how can we define what is morally ethical? Are there constant moral flaws that we live by on a regular basis?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kavanaugh and McCabe


  1. Many Americans believe that torture is necessary, to the extent that the benefits outweigh the costs.
  2. Reducing people to mere numbers in order that the greatest good for the greatest number is achieved is not acceptable, not matter what the number of people being tortured is, and that this utilitarian approach will only spill over into how we view “the birth of mildly handicapped infants, the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients and the execution of people on death row.”
  3. Love must be defined by those things which are NOT love, which are defined as moral absolutes, or love is a completely vague term.
  4. The concept of love, if open as to what it DOES mean, must be able to change and evolve due to circumstances which we have not yet encountered, and in doing so, we must look back at how we have defined love and be willing to rewrite what the concept of love means in light of these new circumstances.
Why must we define love by those things which it is not, instead of by those things which it is?

McCabe holds to the idea that it is not “absolutely clear what relationship love is suppose to have to behavior” (14). In this, he is explaining that there are behaviors which, in and of themselves, do not lend themselves to being seen as either good or bad. Without knowing the intentions behind such behaviors, we cannot ever really know if the behavior is good or not. Due to this fact, we may be surprised to find a person who participates in a behavior that many people may view, in and of itself, as a bad behavior. However, if the person actually partaking of the behavior is doing so out of love, then it is not possible to judge that specific instance of the behavior as bad. In this way, we may be surprised to witness certain expressions of love. However, this leaves open the possibility of everything being an expression of love, in which case, the concept of love inevitably becomes vague. To avoid this vagueness, we must state those behaviors which are not loving, leaving the other end of the spectrum, those things which are loving, wide open. Fr. John Kavanaugh draws on Charles Krauthammer’s definition of torture as a “’monstrous evil’” when he explains that if we don’t draw the line saying that all torture is evil, then we will, sooner or later, come to discussions about degrees of evil in situations concerning the sanctity and care of human life itself. He goes on to ask “is there any evil we would not do, to be victorious over evil?” and comments that if we are not able to find one “monstrous evil” which we are not willing to partake of, under any circumstances, then those who we currently find to be evil will undoubtedly succeed “in conquering, not our lands, but our souls.” McCabe draws on many examples of society, and how a society can change, to some extent within itself, without redefining itself, but that any significant changes within the society must cause the society’s structure to change as well. Combining these two points of view, we can see that if we fail at defending ourselves from those who we currently view as evil, our society, through each and every soul in it, will be taken over by them. This can only be seen after the change has taken place, however.

Is there a way for us, as a society, to define what we will deem to be NOT LOVING behaviors? If these behaviors are defined, and our society was to follow through on behaving in a LOVING way, would it be possible to overtake those who do not behave as such without torture? What kind of world would we come to know; one which is still infiltrated with evil or one more utopian than that which we currently know?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher

1. There can be rules for ethics but there are always exceptions to those rules.
2. There are no universal laws.
3. Christian ethics is a situation ethic.
4. Love (Agape) is the law for Christians and it is not relational.
5. The end justifies the means.

Fletcher makes a strong case for situation ethics. Why is it difficult for people to make sense of situation ethics? How can they do it?
Fletcher maintains that the law for Christians is love, more specifically, agape. He says, "Agape is giving love--non-reciprocal, neighbor regarding--'neighbor' meaning 'everybody,' even an enemy" (79). Loving one's neighbor is an important commandment for Christians. In fact, Jesus commands us to love one another. So what is difficult about accepting Fletcher's ethics? It is not for anyone to say "this is right" or "that is wrong" according to situation ethics. Each situation is unique and requires thought and consideration for the greatest good. Herein lies the difficulty. When people are confronted with ethical issues, they search for an easy answer. "The law," to Fletcher, provides those answers through absolutes. It is challenging to take each situation as an individual problem and to seek out its most appropriate response. He says, "A common objection to situation ethics is that it calls for more critical intelligence, more factual information, and more self-starting commitment to righteousness than most people can bring to bear" (81). All one has to do is think of an ethical issue and it becomes clear that making a choice (especially when it pertains to life or death) is incredibly complex.
Of course, maybe the choice doesn't seem so hard. The Church teaches that killing is wrong, no matter what. Aborting fetuses, euthanizing the elderly and infirm, murder--all of these are unacceptable. There are no situations that can validate taking another human life. (Although there is a Just War Theory). Maybe there is no difficulty for some Catholics in situation ethics because they simply view Fletcher's ideas as wrong and as an easy excuse for people to do what they want. However, this is not Fletcher's point at all. He does not encourage people to make excuses or act irresponsibly. He does encourage love as a motivation for making the right choices. He maintains we are called to choose what is useful and good for the most people in a given situation (95, 96, 97, 115, 119).
If we want to make sense of situation ethics, we must accept Fletcher's principles of love for all and doing good for the sake of that love. It is necessary to take the responsibility of making an ethical decision--of becoming well informed on a subject one is unfamiliar with and seeking advice when a situation is extremely challenging. On the contrary, if one does not see value in Fletcher's situation ethics and accepts moral absolutes instead, that is their decision.
So with these two extremes of accepting or not accepting Fletcher's ethics, what are our other options? Is there a middle road? If there is, what would Fletcher say about it?