Tuesday, September 3, 2013
At Catholic Moral Theology, David Cloutier has a post ("Immigration and Prudential Judgment") that is worth reading and that tries to push the conversation toward clarity when it comes to "absolute norms" and "prudential judgments." I have a few specific disagreements (e.g., his suggestion that questions about abortion-regulation should be framed in terms of "toleration of individual choices", a framing that risks obscuring the fact that abortion-regulation is connected to the obligation of the political community to protect the vulnerable from violence) but agree with the piece's basic point, i.e., that "prudential judgment" cannot be an "escape" from or a license to ignore those Church teachings with which we disagree:
By claiming “prudential judgment” in these significant discussions, what is obscured is the claim Catholic teaching makes to be a complete vision, a unified whole. That vision does not provide a simple blueprint for policy. However, it does provide clear orientation for the ends of policy, an orientation that is in significant conflict with the philosophical assumptions (or if you prefer, the theological anthropology) that founds other kinds of policy.
The distinction between a "blueprint" and an "orientation for the ends of policy" is an important one, I think. David is focusing in this piece on the immigration debate (and I agree with him that it is not a matter of "prudential judgment" whether or not we should figure out a way -- putting aside the question whether the current proposals *are* such a way -- to regularize, in a sensible and fair way, the status of the people who are, at present, in the United States unlawfully); for me, a good example (coming from "the other side", I suppose) of mistakenly taking the "blueprint" approach was the way many simply invoked Pope Leo XIII and Rerum novarum as resolving all questions about public-employee unions. And I'm sure we can think of other illustrations . . .
This side of Heaven, it will be a rare legislative proposal or piece of positive law that is the only, or that is obviously the best, way of promoting human flourishing and the common good. But, as David points out, this fact is not a license or excuse to say "anything goes" or to opt out of the hard work of reasoning through the problem, carefully, considering all the facts, and going with the all-things-considered best option.