Methodological Moralism

September 10, 2008 § 29 Comments

It has been a while since I’ve gone on a rant about positivism, the bugaboo intellectual error I see lurking under every rock. One way to think about positivism is that it substitutes method for meaning. I get the impression that a significant number of Catholics, at least in the blogosphere, have been confusing method for meaning in all the chatter about figuring out how to vote. The notion seems to be that it is jim dandy to vote for whomever I decide to vote for, as long as I use the right method in making my determination. As long as I can check the boxes next to “I don’t intend his evil policies” and “I think if he becomes President that will be better than if the other guy becomes President”, I can’t go wrong. There is no objectively right or wrong answer (especially NOTA); only right or wrong methods for achieving the answer. Method is all that constrains; meaning I get to supply myself.

Funny thing how positivism empties things of all meaning, making room for the arbitrary will. Next stop: postmodern relativism.

Tagged:

§ 29 Responses to Methodological Moralism

  • c matt says:

    what is NONA? (aside from the name my kids call my mom).

  • zippy says:

    A typo for NOTA – none of the above :~)

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,‘As long as I can check the boxes next to “I don’t intend his evil policies” and “I think if he becomes President that will be better than if the other guy becomes President”, I can’t go wrong.’That is hardly the case at all; it is about deciding upon the right course of action.– e.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,This post actually raises some questions for me that hadn’t occurred to me before: does your post here imply that when you are attempting to discern the right course of action in a given situation, you actually consult Catholic resources in order to devise a method by which to corroborate your theories?

  • zippy says:

    e:I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a Catholic say in effect that one may vote for whomever one chooses, so long as one is procedurally right in following the guidelines of <>Faithful Citizenship<>. There are no wrong answers, only wrong procedures for arriving at them.(This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. I did not have you in mind when I wrote the post).anon:My post is not a polemic against method. It is a polemic against <>sola method<>, if you will.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:Thanks. In all actually, I just wanted to proactively address an entirely different matter altogether (albeit, tangentially); i.e., I didn’t want the casual non-Catholic visitor (who might not be knowledgeable about Catholicism) to think that is what Catholics do: look over Catholic Teachings as if following some Protocol in order to produce a certain programmed result.In any case, the Catholic is to decide for him/herself what is right in a given real-world situation; the Church can only provide us with certain guidelines just as the Apostles and the early church did in earlier days.Best,e.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy, you are right that some Catholics are methodologiests, and ignore the substance of what they are doing in attention to method alone. I dare say that there are methodologists in other circles as well – almost any circle that includes people who wish to be moral, but not if it involves decisions that are unsatisfactory to them. On the other hand, one of the main points about Catholic teaching is that certain things are wrong in principle, and no circumstances can make them right. So principles matter. In judging about moral actions, application of such principles (and other ones) to specific events is kind of the very essence of careful moral judgment. How do you manage to distinguish between careful use of principles and prodeeduralism?

  • zippy says:

    <>How do you manage to distinguish between careful use of principles and prodeeduralism?<>Well, usually the error shows up in a refusal to acknowledge that there are not only principles involved, but also facts: that there is a fact-dependent moral truth of the matter at hand, which means that someone is objectively doing wrong and shouldn’t do it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,<>Well, usually the error shows up in a refusal to acknowledge that there are not only principles involved, but also facts: that there is a fact-dependent moral truth of the matter at hand, which means that someone is objectively doing wrong and shouldn’t do it.<>e. here.Seriously, Zippy, read Plato’s <>Meno<>.You seem oblivious to why folks should pay proper attention to such counsel by the Church for the very reason you ironically allude to here in order to determine the <>right-ness<> of their action.

  • Anonymous says:

    To help facilitate an understanding of my meaning, Zippy, allow me to draw attention to a specific Passage in <>Meno<>:===================================Soc. And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good? Men. Certainly. Soc. Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good? Men. I think not. Soc. There are some who desire evil? Men. Yes. Soc. Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them? Men. Both, I think. Soc. And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding? Men. Certainly I do. Soc. And desire is of possession? Men. Yes, of possession. Soc. And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm? Men. There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm. Soc. And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils? Men. Certainly not. Soc. Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods? Men. Yes, in that case. Soc. Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them? Men. They must know it. Soc. And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them? Men. How can it be otherwise? Soc. But are not the miserable ill-fated? Men. Yes, indeed. Soc. And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated? Men. I should say not, Socrates. Soc. But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil? Men. That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>You seem oblivious to why folks should pay proper attention to such counsel by the Church…<>I find the notion that I think people should ignore the counsel of the Church downright bizarre. People should not ignore the counsel of the Church.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,What I was attempting to express is the fact that there are folks who (perhaps through no fault of their own, as can be surmised by my reference to <>Meno<>) mistakenly believe a “wrong” to be “right”; those who fail to discern that what they have actually deemed as “right” in a given real-world situation is not at all so.This is the very reason why folks must seek the counsel the Church provides in such matters; not as some procedural manual, mind you, that must be looked over as if a Protocol to follow but, more precisely, in order to do the “good” and not <>what is believed<> by the person to be the good but, in all actuality, is not.Take, for example, a Catholic who seriously think it is morally justified to support Obama even if it means at the tremendous cost of innocent lives of children <>via<> FOCA & all other presidential acts Obama is committed to doing and the inevitable catastrophic consequences for not just the Pro-Life Movement but, more importantly, the many thousands of additional innocent victims an Obaman administration would lay waste to.– e.

  • Tom says:

    I can think of two different “objectively right” answers to the question, “How should I vote?”One, the one I take Zippy to mean, is the answer arrived at if I follow the proper method <>and<> properly judge facts and weigh competing goods.The other is the answer arrived at if I follow the proper method, which includes judging facts and weighing competing goods — <>even if<> my judgment and weighting are faulty. This is an “objectively right” answer because I am bound by conscience to act according to it.And of course, I don’t have access to the first answer, but I do have access to the second answer.So while some people may not acknowledge the existence of the first answer, I’m not sure what practical effect not acknowledging it has.(BTW, with Blogger comments people can choose the “Name/URL” identity and enter a pseudonym without a URL so their comments don’t come from “anonymous”.)

  • zippy says:

    <>This is an “objectively right” answer because I am bound by conscience to act according to it.<>Well, I still wouldn’t call that ‘objectively right’. I would probably borrow the words of John Paul II: <>“It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.”<>

  • The other anonymous says:

    Zippy, I thought that the error in judgment here (in JPII’s context) was specifically an error about, for example, whether THIS act falls into moral category Z, which moral category we know a lot about, categorically. In that case, an error in judgment can make what is an objectively bad choice, to be non-culpable, but not into a moral good. Far otherwise, however, is a different kind of error in judgment in how it affects the moral act. If I judge that more good will come of supporting charity M than supporting charity K, while unknown to me charity M CEO is using the money to buy his mistress an apartment, I make an error in judgment. But this in no way modifies the moral consequence of my act in my own regard, nor does my material support of adultery make my act evil, though I judge erroneously – I gain just as much merit in my choice as if I were right in my judgment. If voting for Obama is objectively disordered, in the sense that it is wrong categorically, then being in error about this cannot make voting for him into an objectively good act. Is voting for Obama objectively disordered categorically?

  • zippy says:

    t.o.a:I don’t take the statement to be referring only to intrinsically immoral acts. Although intrinsically immoral acts are indeed a central focus of <>The Splendour of Truth<>, they aren’t the only thing discussed. For example, positive duties are also discussed. I don’t understand the encyclical to be saying that the positive duties, unlike the negative prohibitions against intrinsically immoral acts, are a subjective matter about which there is no objective truth. In fact I don’t think that kind of reading of the encyclical is even remotely tenable: the entire larger point is about the splendour of truth, not the splendour of subjective judgments.Beyond that, I think the statement is true on its face without appealing to the authority of an encyclical. Calling an erroneous subjective judgment “objective” is just wrong.

  • Tom says:

    Well, if you want to call one “the objectively right answer” and the other “the correct answer,” that’s fine, too.

  • zippy says:

    If it is an error, it isn’t correct.

  • e. says:

    Tom,“The other is the answer arrived at if I follow the proper method, which includes judging facts and weighing competing goods — even if my judgment and weighting are faulty. This is an “objectively right” answer because I am bound by conscience to act according to it.”How would you know though that the answer you believe to be right (i.e., what you believe you’re bound by conscience to act according to it) is actually the correct one?That is why, personally speaking, one should spend much time at deliberation and considering the evidence with respect to the Counsel of the Church (whether it be the guidelines she provides, the consult of those members knowledgeable in matters of Catholic Morality, etc.) which efforts, to my mind, Zippy seems to have derided as merely a method by which individuals are attempting to arrive at a particular <>meaning<>.It is because of the fact that, in the end, that decision belongs solely to the individual, for which it becomes his responsibility, whether s/he actually believed it right, although unknowingly was wrong.

  • zippy says:

    <>…which efforts, to my mind, Zippy seems to have derided …<>I think you are nuts. Where have I said anything even suggesting such a crazy thing?

  • Tom says:

    <>How would you know though that the answer you believe to be right (i.e., what you believe you’re bound by conscience to act according to it) is actually the correct one?<>Because the correct answer to the question, “How should I vote?,” is, “According to the answer arrived at if I follow the proper method, which includes judging facts and weighing competing goods.”

  • Tom says:

    <>If it is an error, it isn’t correct.<>Since < HREF="http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2019.htm#article5" REL="nofollow">erring reason binds<>, the correct thing to do is quite likely to be an error.

  • e. says:

    Zippy,I believe I should have worded things differently. You seem to be of the view that those folks who are utilizing the Counsel of the Church (in whatever form that happens to be in) are doing so to justify an end.In other words, it seems to wrongly cast those Catholics who engage in such endeavor as doing so for mere positivist objective or in order to justify an ulterior agenda rather than simply being what it is: a pursuit for the “good” — and I don’t mean good in the <>subjective<> sense.As I said in my above comment: in the end, the responsibility falls on that individual, whether s/he thought it was “good”.This is precisely why such activity ought to be encouraged.

  • zippy says:

    <>Since erring reason binds, the correct thing to do is quite likely to be an error.<>Well, yes — the subjectively correct thing to do when your conscience is non-culpably in error is to follow your conscience. But the subjectively correct thing to do in the case of an erroneous conscience is not to be confused with the objectively correct thing to do. That is to say, “<>In any event, it is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives. In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true. It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience.108 It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. Furthermore, a good act which is not recognized as such does not contribute to the moral growth of the person who performs it; it does not perfect him and it does not help to dispose him for the supreme good. Thus, before feeling easily justified in the name of our conscience, we should reflect on the words of the Psalm: “Who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” (Ps 19:12). There are faults which we fail to see but which nevertheless remain faults, because we have refused to walk towards the light (cf. Jn 9:39-41).”<>

  • e. says:

    Tom,“Because the correct answer to the question, ‘How should I vote?,’ is, ‘According to the answer arrived at if I follow the proper method, which includes judging facts and weighing competing goods.'”Just because you enaged in such due diligence doesn’t necessarily mean it was the “right” thing.If anything, evidence of this abounds in the corporate world, events of which I am a key observer.

  • zippy says:

    <>You seem to be of the view that those folks who are utilizing the Counsel of the Church (in whatever form that happens to be in) are doing so to justify an end.<>OK, I see what has happened. You just completely missed the point of the post.Many – perhaps even a majority – of the Catholics online seem to have adopted the position that there is no concretely and objectively wrong person or persons on the ballot to vote for; that as long as a certain pro-forma reasoning process and set of intentions obtains, one cannot do wrong by voting, no matter which actual choice one makes. See for example < HREF="http://vox-nova.com/2008/08/04/some-brief-answers-to-common-questions-american-catholics-are-asking-themselves-in-2008/" REL="nofollow">this delightful video<>. The sentiments expressed in it seem to be very common. I think it is positivist poppycock: truth-avoidance propaganda. But nowhere have I even so much as hinted that the teaching of the Church should be ignored or disparaged.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,Thanks for benefit of context.This certainly explains things.

  • Tom says:

    <>Just because you enaged in such due diligence doesn’t necessarily mean it was the “right” thing.<>Yes, it does, according to the only sense in which we in the world have access to what the “right” thing is.

  • Tom says:

    <>But the subjectively correct thing to do in the case of an erroneous conscience is not to be confused with the objectively correct thing to do.<>Oh, certainly.In the case of voting for the president of a large republic, though, we do not have infallible access to the objectively correct thing to do, which leaves us with our individual subjective reasons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Methodological Moralism at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: