On minding your own business and the unpersoning of contract counterparties

March 17, 2017 § 22 Comments

In Question 49 of the Usury FAQ I discuss whether a merchant may licitly charge an individual[1] penalties for late payment on unsecured merchant credit, distinguishing between two cases.

In one case the individual mutuum debtor has the resources to pay the merchant on time and refuses to do so. This is a form of theft or fraud, and thus is (under the natural law) a criminal act subject to the extrinsic titles and criminal penalties which arise from criminal acts.

In the other case the debtor has suffered misfortune and is unable to pay on time.  By extending unsecured credit the merchant took the risk of this occurring upon himself, and is not entitled to late payment penalties.

Notice that this means that the merchant who extends unsecured credit, and the enforcing sovereign, have to understand the individual holistically and charitably as a human being, in order to make this distinction.  It means – and I’m sorry to break this to you – that the dehumanizing incantation “it is just business” doesn’t actually turn contract counterparties into unpersons.

Treating others like the human beings they are in reality is a lot of work, and doesn’t always make for the most efficient business operations.  The other horn of the dilemma is that failure to extend unsecured credit will almost certainly limit a merchant’s available market.  With those moral constraints in place, it is almost as though extending unsecured personal credit should only be an act of charity, not a business decision.  It is almost as though we are to expect nothing in return when we lend money in exchange for a personal IOU.

But efficiency isn’t everything.

[1] As usual, the prohibition of usury applies to debt qua personal IOUs not to debt qua impairment of specified property.  The balance sheets of institutions are inventories of property and the various claims against that property, so “debt” which impairs the balance sheet of an institution is not the kind of “debt” implicated in usury.

Freedom of association: only skin deep

June 5, 2014 § 45 Comments

In the comments below I wrote that unqualified freedom of association is a libertarian fantasy, which led CJ to ask:

Zippy, not to get all positivist on you, but would you mind discussing principles that should be considered when qualifying freedom of association?

I think it will be easy enough to avoid positivism here, as long as we realize that we are just talking in order to wrap our minds around what is going on not writing computer code that can be executed to decide cases which have been specified in sufficient linguistic detail.

For our purposes here I’ll take “association” to mean pretty much any voluntarily chosen interaction between people, and “freedom” to imply legitimate choice.  Legitimate can refer either to legal legitimacy under the positive law or moral legitimacy under the natural law. I will confine my remarks to the latter.

Leaving aside questions of intrinsic morality which pertain to things like murder and adultery, whether and how to associate with other human beings – who to rent to, who to make friends with, etc – generally falls within the realm of prudential judgment.  Many right-liberals selectively take “prudential judgment” to mean that it is impossible to do wrong, or at least it is impossible to judge that others have done wrong, when it suits their purposes.  This is a particularly common rhetorical tactic when it comes to justifying war.

But here we know better.  Prudential judgment applies to acts that are not immoral in themselves as behaviors, but it doesn’t follow that they cannot be judged morally right or wrong based on intentions and circumstances.  In fact a prudential situation is precisely one in which the morality of what we do is determined by intentions and circumstances.

This applies to every choice we ever make.  There are no amoral choices, strictly speaking, which is why it is important to cultivate virtue, or habits of making good choices.  We can’t explicitly think through everything we do in every moment, despite the fact that everything we do is morally fraught.

But some choices are whimsical, idiosyncratic, and personal; whereas others involve more grave matters.  Whether to drink water or wine with dinner is mostly, for most people, just a matter of personal preference.  There is nothing at all wrong with personal preferences, but they can easily be overridden by more important considerations.  The choice of wine for an alcoholic is imprudent in a way that it is not for the rest of us: and because it is imprudent, it is morally wrong for him to choose it.

To model this more “algorithmically” (with the caveats about positivism in mind – this is just an intuition pump, not positivist rules), lets postulate three levels of moral gravity in the matter of a particular proposed choice: preference, serious, and grave.  Grave considerations outweigh serious ones, and serious considerations outweigh preferences.  So when a choice involves a preference set against a serious concern, a morally just prudential judgment favors the serious concern.

Choices about whom to associate with and why can involve any of these ‘levels’ of moral gravity in their particular matter; and to the extent that “freedom of association” implies that preferences can morally override other serious or grave considerations, it is just flat out wrong.

Most of the time, choosing Coke over Pepsi is just a matter of personal preference.  But doing so at the table with a bunch of Pepsi executives, knowing that one of them will be fired because of it, is a different matter entirely.  The attempt to sanitize our prudential decisions morally by invoking “freedom of association” is liberal tommyrot.

Bastard is as bastard does

March 7, 2013 § 20 Comments

It is no secret that children raised in broken homes have more problems than children raised in intact homes under the leadership of a competent father. Illegitimate children tend to do worse academically, they get into more legal trouble, they are more likely to divorce, they tend to be angrier at the world and more self-centered — the list goes on.

But the cluster of characteristics surrounding illegitimacy are a stereotype; which is why, just because someone happens to come from an intact home, it doesn’t follow by logical or ontological necessity that he isn’t a pathetic bastard.

And the converse is also true. Bastard is as bastard does.

UPDATE: The context for this post is the off-topic comment thread below this post.

More “Spirit of Vatican II” religious tolerance ecumenical madness

February 22, 2013 § 10 Comments

Those who sincerely desire to bring those outside the Christian religion to the correct faith should be earnestly engaged in displays of courtesy, not harshness, lest hostility drive far away those whose minds a clearly thought out reason could challenge.  For whoever acts otherwise, and wants to keep them away from their customary practice of rites under this pretext, is shown to be more concerned with his own interests than with those of God.  For the Jews who live in Naples complained to Us that some people have unreasonably sought to prevent them from celebrating some of their solemn feast days, so that they were not permitted to celebrate their solemn festivals, as they, up to the present, and their ancestors for a long time previously, were allowed to observe or honor.  If such is the case, these men seem to be engaged in a useless pursuit.  For what advantage is there when, contrary to long practice, these have been forbidden and it serves no benefit toward their faith and conversion?  Or why are we setting up rules for the Jews on how they should celebrate their ceremonies if in doing so we cannot persuade them?

This, then, is the agendum: by being encouraged more by reason and gentleness, they are to wish to follow, not flee from us, so that by showing them what we affirm from their Scriptures, we may be able, with God’s help, to convert them to the bosom of Mother Church.  And thus, Your Fraternity, as far as possible with God’s help, should awaken them to conversion by admonitions and not allow them to be further disturbed in their celebrations.  But they should have complete freedom to observe and celebrate all their feast and holy days as up till now … they have possessed.

Pope St. Gregory I The Great, Qui Sincera, November, 602 AD (Quoted in Denzinger)



Although We have no doubt it stems from the zeal of devotion that Your Nobility arranges to lead Jews to the worship of Christendom, We have nonetheless thought it necessary to send you Our letter by way of admonishment, since you seem to do it with a zeal that is inordinate.  For we do not read that our Lord Jesus Christ violently forced anyone into his service, but that by humble exhortation, leaving to each person his own freedom of choice, he recalled from error whomsoever he had predestined to eternal life, doing so not by judging them, but by shedding his own blood. …

Likewise, the blessed Gregory forbids, in one of his letters, that the said people should be drawn to the faith by violence.

Pope Alexander II, Licet Ex (to Prince Landolfo of Benevento), 1065 AD, (Quoted in Denzinger)

Chivalry is dead; long live chivalry!

February 20, 2013 § 336 Comments

And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more. – Luke 12:48

In my previous post on chivalry we learned that there are two quite distinct traditional concepts of chivalry[1].   The Catholic Encyclopedia takes a dim view of female-focused “court” chivalry: I’ve attempted to put this dim view in contemporary terms by expressing it more or less as “don’t be a beta orbiter, not even just for a day”.

However, chivalry as a warrior code of honor still echoes down the centuries, and what it represents is a basic moral relationship between the powerful and the powerless: between strong men and the weak and vulnerable.  Powerful men have a moral obligation to use their strength to defend the weak and vulnerable.  Powerful men who use their strength purely for selfish advantage, neglecting the vulnerable, condemn themselves:

There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, 21 Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell. 23 And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: 24 And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. 25 And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazareth evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. 27 And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, 28 That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. 29 And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.31 And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead. — Luke 16:19-31

Our world is filled with weak men, men without chests; and “empowered” women, harlots of Babylon.  The problem with chivalry, real chivalry, is not that it is dead.  The problem is that it brings into sharp relief how many modern men and women are in rebellion against what they are supposed to be.


[1] Actually more than two; but two which are of interest in the current post.

Justice and charity

January 31, 2013 § 2 Comments

Following a link in a comment of Proph’s over at the Orthosphere, I found this wonderful Pope Benedict quote:

“Both justice and charity require love for truth, and essentially involve the search for what is true,” Benedict said. “Without truth, charity slides into sentimentalism. Love becomes an empty shell to be filled arbitrarily. This is the fatal risk of love in a culture without truth.”

It just gets better

January 30, 2013 § 49 Comments

Red Cardigan’s intransigence on the Kathleen Quinlan case, explained in her own words:

But then again, I also see Catholic schools these days as hoity-toity pricy private school options to help predominantly white Catholics escape the dysfunction of the local public schools, so perhaps that’s one reason why I snort a bit at the “morality clause” thing. My 9th grade Catholic “health” teacher taught us how to use contraception, made fun of the Church’s teaching against it, mocked the “rhythm method” (she’d never heard of NFP), and told us if we had a problem with what she was saying, we could take it up with our religion teacher; she was teaching “health.” The bishop was too busy laying down on railroad tracks to protest nuclear weapons to care, and our religion teacher was a former flower-child nun who believed an inner child (a little blond girl, IIRC) lived inside of her and that she was also psychic, so she didn’t much care about our grasp of Catholic moral teaching. I have heard NOTHING in the ensuing decades which tells me anything much has changed; in fact, a teacher I know was fired from her job at the Catholic school for the “mortal sin” of teaching children in her biology class that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.

I could go into my own experiences – then and now –  and how they differ from hers, etc.  But why bother.

I guess that whole Golden Rule thing doesn’t apply to how people who work in and depend upon Catholic education are treated.

The Nine Carat Rule

January 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

Do to others as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:31

Recently the Golden Rule has been paraphrased thusly:

 The Golden Rule compels me to say that as I would wish to be treated … in [a situation], so ought I to treat anybody else in that situation…

(Emphasis mine.  The elipses contained the words “with great love and mercy”, which begs the question: because precisely what is at issue is what in fact constitutes great love and mercy in a particular situation).

Notice the subtle shift from  “would have them do to you” to “would wish to be treated”.

Now, there is nothing wrong with “wish” if what it means is that from the framework of Eternity, looking back on our lives, we would wish to have been treated that way.  But the word wish has a tendency to subjectify and temporalize into here and now: to make this about my feelings in the moment as opposed to the view from Eternity.

From the perspective of feelings here and now we rarely wish to face difficulties, even when those difficulties are our own creation and responsibility, and even when we acknowledge their justice.  My own experience is that what I wish right now is often very much at odds with what I would have done unto me given the wisdom of hindsight.    Life’s trials, and especially those trials I have brought upon myself, have been tremendous sources of grace.

This brings us to the case of someone who wrongly believes that a consequence of her own immoral behavior is unjust.  From the perspective of Eternity, anything that reinforces an erroneous conscience – even the rare case of a completely non-culpable erroneous conscience – is a very bad thing indeed.  It is difficult to imagine a case where we would, with the perspective of Eternity, have others do that unto us.

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