It’s an ad hominem because the guy saying it is a bad person

March 18, 2010 § 4 Comments

An archetypical exchange:

Socrates:

Bob’s argument is consequentialist.

Hipparchus:

Bob is not a consequentialist in a sense that involves dissent from the Magisterium. According to Veritatis Splendour, a consequentialist

“… den[ies] the existence of negative moral norms regarding specific kinds of behaviour, norms which are valid without exception.”

and

“… holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.”

Bob does not deny and hold, respectively. In fact he insists that cutting your toenails on alternate tuesdays is always wrong without exception, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice was made or the consequences of the act. Therefore, by counterexample, Bob is not a consequentialist.

There are at least two obvious problems with Hipparchus’ argument.

The first is that he shifts focus from Bob’s argument to Bob the person.

The second is that the argument divorces Veritatis Splendour from the actual content of the moral law: from the actual negative moral norms, the natural law and the teaching of the Church on specific kinds of concrete actions which are always, without exception, morally wrong to choose.

An argument is consequentialist when it contends that a particular kind of intrinsically immoral act – an act, like rape or torture, taught to be intrinsically immoral by the Magisterium of the Church – cannot be qualified as morally evil apart from the intention for which the choice was made or the consequences of the act. Furthermore, a consequentialist argument of this sort is in fact in conflict with the Magisterium of the Church.

Oh, and since everyone always insists on personalizing things in the blogosphere, a person who advances consequentialist arguments is a consequentialist, and in a way which materially involves dissent from the Magisterium. Whether it is politic to say so or not is one thing, of course; but it is certainly true.

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§ 4 Responses to It’s an ad hominem because the guy saying it is a bad person

  • I try my best to remember to say that x argument is a consequentialist argument rather than x person is a consequentialist. Not because I don't think it is justifiable in many cases; it's just to prevent a 10-post “What did you call me?” rabbit trail.

    Then there is the problem of the selective consequentialist. Much like when I run into a relativist. He's only relativist in the sense that we haven't discovered his hobby-horse yet. When we do, watch him become more dogmatic and absolute than all the popes that ever lived.

    Scott W.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Not because I don't think it is justifiable in many cases; it's just to prevent a 10-post “What did you call me?” rabbit trail.

    Ever try to have a discussion on Vox Nova? If you refer to “liberals in the Democrat Party” you may as well be wearing a white hood.

  • Ever try to have a discussion on Vox Nova?

    Not even with a HAZMAT suit on, but I can imagine. 🙂

  • […] Catholic consequentialists who pretend to follow Veritatis Splendour and the tradition of the Church are always trying to recast the “object” of an act as, not the objective part of the act – the behavior chosen by the acting subject – but as the goal of an act or what motivates the act. The objective part of a human act (the “object”) of an act is a “goal” only in a very limited sense: as you initiate a behaviour in the will your “goal” is to move your body or use other powers under the control of your will to make that specific behaviour a reality.  An intrinsically immoral act is one in which “that specific behaviour” – the object – is knowingly chosen by the acting subject and is an immoral behaviour.  In the case of sex, “that specific behaviour” is either the sort of behavior that sometimes naturally and without interference results in pregnancy and children, or it is a modified unnatural behavior which by its nature qua behaviour attempts to gain the other benefits of sex while ruling out pregnancy.  The former kinds of behaviour are consistent with the telos of sex; the latter are not.  Choosing natural intercourse is consistent with the telos of sex.  Choosing sodomy or condomistic sex isn’t. But Catholic consequentialists are always trying to conflate the deliberate choice of specific behaviors with intentions – with what the person is ultimately trying to accomplish, with whether or not the couple is actually trying to and wants to get pregnant, etc.  That is tommyrot.  Veritatis Splendour: Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. […] One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned. Recent attacks on the traditional understanding of the telos of sex are ill founded, because they rest on a faulty understanding of what the natural law is and is not.  Natural law is not “basically law which can be derived by a fair minded and reasoned look at the facts.”  Natural law is moral precepts derived from the metaphysical nature of persons and things.  The nature of persons and things are such that certain kinds of sexual behaviours are the kind of behaviours which produce children.  This doesn’t mean that they always actually do produce children; just that they are the kind of behaviour which produces children. Other kinds of sexual behaviours, intrinsically by their nature qua behaviour, block the generation of children. The Social Pathologist writes: The natural law tradition which Humanae Vitae sought to uphold was right in upholding the traditional principle that coitus should not be privated  but wrong in its understanding of what constituted a privation.  In asking men to conform to the laws of nature they were asking men to conform to the understanding of the laws of nature as understood in the medieval period, not the laws of nature as understood by modern science. The document has the remarkable distinction of being right in principle but wrong in application due to an error of fact. Modern scientific triumphalism cannot change human nature and the metaphysical nature of sexual acts, and it is more than a little precious to propose that those benighted people who lived in the dark and ignorant past didn’t know that some sex acts are infertile.  Heck, surgeons have been doing vasectomies for 500 years or more.  St. Augustine knew all about a woman’s infertile periods more than a millennia and a half ago.   There has been absolutely no new “scientific” information, for thousands of years or more, that could affect the metaphysical nature of the sex act. […]

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