Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Comedy, Tragedy, and Catholic Thought

Michael reports below on a very interesting exchange about Cathy Kaveny's new book with the eminent value pluralist William Galston.  The transcript to which Michael links has the complete discussion, including this reply by Galston to Michael:

[T]homas following Aristotle believes in the unity of the virtues and the unity of the good, not the incompatibility of different pieces of the good.  So, from the standpoint of that more harmonious Catholic, morally harmonious Catholic teaching, Berlinian pluralism which is based on the idea ultimately of a conflictual universe, finds a very uncomfortable place.  Does that make you a Catholic heretic?

The question was addressed to Cathy (whose book I haven't yet read), but I found myself replying to it.

That is because my book, The Tragedy of Religious Freedom, adopts just such a view of the "conflictual universe."  It takes a Berlinian position (which is not identical to Berlin's own position) on the nature of the conflicts of religious liberty.  It criticizes much of contemporary legal theory--and particularly the legal theory of religious liberty--for adhering to a value monist methodology.  And it further describes that value monist methodology as evincing "comic" commitments traceable in one form or another to Dworkinian beliefs underlying his own claims about the unity of value and the fundamental purposes of legal theory.  

I put it this way in the introduction: "A comedy moves from sorrow to joy.  Its aim is to take an existing chaos and to order it through and through--to give it a satisfying and intimately worked-out architecture.  In a comedy, everything falls into its proper, collision-less place--a place in which a problem that at first seemed intractable has been fully worked out, completely resolved, with the result that the human condition has progressed and been improved."  A tragedy, by contrast, "proceeds not from joy to sorrow, but from struggle to unresolved struggle . . . . Tragedy is a study in opposition, comedy in consilience . . . . Tragedy arises when, as in law, there is partial order and partial disorder. And one feels tragedy's sting in the effort to make a single and perfectly harmonious whole--a comedy--of ineluctably clashing ideals."

Yet I very much appreciate Mike's question, and his doubt, about the compatibility of such a view with Catholic thought.  It's a question that, several years ago, I remember Patrick Brennan gently putting to me at a conference.  That question is not directly addressed in the book (it is not its subject), and I still have not worked out my own answers.

But my tentative conclusion is that the tragic view of our time in this world and of our experiences in this life is distinctively Catholic at least in this way.  It expresses something true about the difference between this life and the next.  It reflects better the conflicts of human aspirations and the limits of human reason in attaining them than can a comic view.  It marks better the difference and the distance between humanity's conflictual universe and God's harmonious universe.  And it accounts better for the reasons for valuing the plurality of human institutions and attachments that Catholics, with good reason, hold dear than can a comic approach.  

I hope to write more about this issue in the coming days.  But that's quite enough heresy for now.


DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink


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Professor DeGirolami, will you bbe writing about the Filioque?

Posted by: Nancy | May 7, 2013 6:46:31 PM

That should be, be.

Posted by: Nancy | May 7, 2013 6:47:45 PM

There's a section of Veritatis Splendor on the nature of the good.

One of its central purposes is to correct errors like "value pluralism".

Posted by: Gary | May 7, 2013 8:50:22 PM

I don't see anything that could possibly be construed as heresy here. Indeed, it comes very close to what Pope Benedict writes in Spe Salvi: "I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ's return and for new life become fully convincing." A tragic view of history fits well with a "comic" eschatology.

Posted by: Matthew Boudway | May 8, 2013 12:59:04 PM

Perfect Justice requires Perfect Love. Man was made for communion with The True God, The God of our Salvation.

Posted by: Nancy | May 8, 2013 1:37:17 PM

There's a difference between saying that we cannot pursue, let alone attain, all the goods of life in our fallen state and saying that those goods are in conflict with each other.

The first position is orthodox. The second position is not.

If Raz is right, the Church is wrong.

Posted by: Gary | May 8, 2013 3:00:42 PM

All that is Good is ordered to Love, thus The Church is not wrong because Love became Flesh and dwelt among us.

Posted by: Nancy | May 8, 2013 4:31:51 PM

Amen, Nancy! Also, to echo the snippet of Galston's reply to Michael, reported on here: God is not only Love, but is also indivisible and utterly simple; His Love, and all of his other qualities, are one. The Psalmist alluded to this when he wrote, "Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss." (Psalms 85:11).

Posted by: Adam | May 10, 2013 4:29:11 PM

Adam, regardless of the fact that we live in a pluralistic society, this does not change the fact that there is only One Word of Love, and thus only One Spirit of Love Between The Father and The Son.

Posted by: Nancy | May 12, 2013 9:14:08 AM