The Virtue of Partial Impartiality

August 21, 2006 § 2 Comments

Another recent discussion involved (though it wasn’t primarily about) the virtue of impartiality. Impartiality is one of those funny terms that can mean both itself or its opposite. As a virtue it seems to me that impartiality means an openness to the truth: we are often wrong about things, and even when we get them right it is generally only a limited view of what is right. Impartiality is a form of prudence with respect to our limitations as knowing beings.

On the other hand, though, there isn’t anything impartial about the truth itself. Truth is the ultimate partiality, a partiality harder than diamond which will grind us to death if we don’t accept it.

There is no virtue in the sort of impartiality which denies the existence or knowability of definite truth, because the existence and knowability of definite truth distinct from texts and from what I will, perceive, or want is the sole reason that impartiality is a virtue to begin with. If there is no knowable, definite, objective truth then an impartial quest to know it is pointless. Thus the postmodern catastrophe.

Involuntary Choices

August 21, 2006 § 5 Comments

I was involved in an interesting discussion recently which goes right to the heart of our conception of duty and vocation.

Suppose we have two soldiers. Both are fighting justly in a just war, defending their country. Both die valiantly in battle. The only significant difference between the two is that one was a volunteer and the other was conscripted. One planned to be a soldier, the other did not. The volunteer sought out soldiering as his vocation and made the ultimate sacrifice; the conscript did not volunteer but responded to the call of duty and acquitted himself nobly, also making the ultimate sacrifice, when specifically called.

Everyone seemed to have a different opinion.

At least one person saw conscripts as always victims. In this view it seems that there is never a positive duty to fight to defend one’s country: to be told one must go off and fight under penalty of law is always an injustice.

Some see the volunteer as always more noble than the conscript when all other things are equal. Interestingly one was the same person who saw conscripts as categorically victims.

Some see them as indistinguishable in terms of the nobility of the sacrifice.

Still others see the conscript as making the greater sacrifice, all other things equal. The conscript did not plan to become a soldier, but he responded to his duty when specifically called and acquitted himself valiantly. He gave up something more in the call of duty than what the volunteer gave up: he gave up his other plans, whatever they might have been.

This raises an interesting vocational question: is there more merit to making a sacrifice we didn’t plan to make in the call of duty than there is to seeking out the particular sort of sacrifice that suits us? Is it a greater nobility to care unselfishly for an unplanned disabled child than it is to seek out and adopt one on purpose, knowing ahead of time that we are equipped to do it? Is it more noble to remain perfectly continent with a disabled spouse than it is to actively seek out a celibate life?

I don’t know if the involuntary choices – the positive responses to an unplanned duty, where failing to respond positively would be at the least a moral failure – are more morally meritorious than the planned ones. But it does seem clear that they involve the sacrifice of something more than the sacrifice entailed by a strict voluntarism. Seeking out and choosing the cross we want to carry is certainly less difficult than carrying the one thrust upon us by moral duty.

This gets right to the heart of duty and vocation. There isn’t anything wrong, and perhaps there is a great deal right, with every single child being an unplanned child. And perhaps with every ordination being an unplanned ordination. Your will, Lord, not mine. Have it be done unto me as You will.

Bye for now

August 5, 2006 § 1 Comment

…I’ll be back later in the month.

Book Meme, Danno

August 3, 2006 § 3 Comments

Uh oh, I’ve been Memed.

1. One book that changed your life: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Survival Sense for Pilots by Robert Stoffel and Patrick LaValla (Though all other things equal I’d rather have a PLB).

4. One book that made you laugh: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

5. One book that made you cry: The Great Facade by Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods

6. One book that you wish had been written: Chaucer and the Two Johns: How Islam Gave Birth to the Reformation by Sandra Miesel. (Not that she would write such a book, but she is St. Blogs’ most knowledgeable medievalist).

7. One book that you wish had never been written: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

8. One book you’re currently reading: The Last Good Woman by William Luse. Also The Day Without Yesterday by John Farrell. (I know it only asks for one, but I am a very ADD reader and am usually reading six or seven at a time. Zippy books are like dog years in reverse.)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Divine Comedy by Dante

My obligatory tags are Patrick, Darwin (I know he’s reading here lately if only as a matter of self-defense, and I’ve got to get him while he is still around), and the good Professor Luse.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make your own list and tag three more bloggers. My brain will self-destruct in five seconds…

The Argument from Infinite Regress to Precedent

August 3, 2006 § 15 Comments

A commenter below observes that Roe doesn’t expressly assert a right to abortion. The commenter is right. Roe asserts that because of the right to privacy (already established by precedent), whatever the woman says is binding, independent of the moral content of her decision. The Clean Flicks decision doesn’t directly assert a right to distribute uncut moral trash in films even though that is what everyone was talking about, it asserts that whatever the copyright holder says is binding independent of the moral content of his decision.

If it is possible to support the Clean Flicks decision on the grounds that it isn’t formally about the moral content of the copyright holder’s decision, then it is every bit as possible to support Roe on the grounds that it isn’t formally about the moral content of the woman’s decision. The argument isn’t with Roe, and Christians are free to support Roe. There may be an obligation to go further back in time to Griswold and oppose that, but opposing Roe is entirely optional based on prudential judgement.

Of course I am sure we can find some precedent to Griswold which will excuse us from the duty to oppose it as well.

Bringing a Material Knife to a Formal Gunfight

August 3, 2006 § 13 Comments

In the conversation below about whether Christians have a duty to resist the affirmation or expansion of filmmakers’ legal rights to produce and distribute morally objectionable content, I think I may have been talking past some of my interlocutors. Implicit in the discussion is the traditional distinction in moral theology between the formal and the material, with my virtually exclusive focus in the discussion on the former and with Darwin’s focus almost exclusively on the latter.

Lets suppose that one really, truly believed that a legal decision like Roe vs Wade or Planned Parenthood vs. Casey would decrease the number of abortions. In fact lets go one better, since we are positing counterfactuals anyway: let us suppose that in fact the effect of the Roe vs Wade decision is/was to decrease the number of abortions. What, then, is a Christian to do?

Christianity is not morally consequentialist. Affirming a right to abortion is formal cooperation with evil, even if, as a material effect, affirming that right results in fewer abortions. Formal cooperation with evil is never licit: it must always be resisted. A prediction, no matter how sincere (and indeed no matter how accurate), that the formal assertion of an evil (legal) right will have the opposite (or a good) material effect does not excuse Christians from the duty to oppose the formal assertion of an evil (legal) right.

So in a case like the Clean Flicks case, which formally asserts/affirms the legal right of filmmakers to distribute movies containing “sex, nudity, profanity, and gory violence”; and elsewhere “profanity, nudity, strong graphic violence and sexual content or innuendos”, and which the parties to the case have themselves characterized as being about their legal right to insist that the morally objectionable content (e.g. out-of-wedlock sexual relationships portrayed positively) of their films be retained without censorship, it isn’t clear to me that a material argument against the practical effectiveness of what Clean Flicks was doing carries any moral weight.

Another argument is that what Clean Flicks was doing doesn’t go far enough: that because Clean Flicks shipped an original movie with the cut version, and because their edits putatively wouldn’t be very effective (or even at all effective) in improving the moral content of the movies, they weren’t really reducing the distribution of smut in movies but in fact were increasing it. But this objection again brings a (material) knife to a (formal) gunfight. The basic issue for Christians isn’t what a particular party to the case was doing (and there were many parties to the case, not just Clean Flicks but many current parties and presumably all future interested parties). After all, Christians don’t resist Roe because of the particular details involving Roe and Wade, about which most Christians have no idea, but because the case formally asserts a legal right to do something evil. The basic issue for Christians with Clean Flicks is that the decision explicitly (that is, formally) asserted/affirmed/reaffirmed that filmmakers have a legal right to distribute morally objectionable content without censorship.

And as Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.”

Take a Bow, Men

August 2, 2006 § Leave a comment

Finally, let me point out that the data deals a fatal blow to the negative stereotype of traditional men, namely that they are not pulling their weight within families. In fact, traditional men ought to take a bow: the data shows that they are more actively committed to family life than either feminist type men or feminist type women. They are more likely to have children, to work to support them, and to spend time with them. They don’t deserve to be lectured by feminists, whose commitment to family life is weak in comparison.

True or False?

August 1, 2006 § 43 Comments

In the light of Pope Paul VI’s words below, and of the duty every Christian has to work for the common good, Christians have a positive duty to unanimously and publicly advocate for the regulation, taxation, and censorship – enforced by the police power of the State – of morally bankrupt Hollywood.

Follow-up Question:

If the answer is “true”, then does that mean that when the State asserts that a movie maker has the right to produce “social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen” that Christians are required not to recognize that (legal) right?

Paul VI, Movie Critic

August 1, 2006 § 29 Comments

Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.

UPDATE: TSO spans Steven to the effect that it is hubris to “pretend” to know with some certainty what objective artistic merit obtains in a particular case. On the contrary I say “It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture.”

And although when I suggested the Picasso bonfire I was being ironic in the face of what I perceived as an aesthetic all-or-nothingism, his more vulgar works probably really should be burned.

UPDATE II: To emphasize, though, it is not all-or-nothing:

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