Why all the negativity?

July 20, 2018 § 4 Comments

The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. – Veritatis Splendour

Abstractly speaking an authority can take either a “whitelist” approach to property exchanges (only approved transactions are endorsed and enforced) or a “blacklist” approach (transactions are presumptively endorsed and enforced, but exceptions apply).

As a practical matter though the latter is the only real possibility for actual finite human authorities. Any attempt at the former proposes to actualize a potential infinite, and thus in practice would become a perverse and sociopathic version of the latter.

So blacklists it is. There is good reason why categorical commandments take the form “thou shalt not.”

(Originally a comment here).

§ 4 Responses to Why all the negativity?

  • […] Source: Zippy Catholic […]

  • In my very short lifetime, I’ve found that the positive precepts are much more difficult to follow. While the negative precepts do not admit exception, it makes them very simple. The positive precepts tend to be more complex and are thereby much more difficult to fulfill.

    Fulfillment of the positive precepts, especially the works of mercy, seem to exemplify heroic virtue. The saints seem to be characterized much more by the positive fulfillment of virtue than the negative avoidance of vice. It becomes very obvious that the lack of faith by clergy for the laity to fulfill even the negative precepts of the moral law is a type of despair.

  • Zippy says:


    Yes, I think I agree that to truly and in fact fulfill the positive precepts is more difficult. The categoricity of the negative precepts helps.

    But the negative precepts come under more fire, perhaps because it is easy to rationalize (and virtue signal) the positive, because of their open endedness: I “supported poor immigrants” by posting stuff on Facebook, but who are you to tell me what I shouldn’t do in the bedroom?

    As the virtue pool gets ever shallower nobody complains about giving to the poor, but everyone whines when it is suggested that they mustn’t do what they want to do but in fact ought not do.

  • I think the amount of fire the negative precepts comes under is indicative of how far away the vicious and incontinent are from fulfilling the positive precepts. It is easier to see the challenging demands of the negative precepts, but the same people who rationalize them away will not even consider that significant hardships will be required by the positive precepts. It is easy to rationalize the difficult away as imprudent, so all of the real demands of the positive law can be hidden under the bushel of “prudential judgment.”

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