July 07, 2010
Continuing the conversation . . .
I'm grateful to Michael P. for continuing the conversation about a "dictatorship of relativism." Michael thinks that Pope Benedict's talk of such a "dictatorship" is "less than clear." It does not strike me as especially obscure or unclear, and I've indicated what I believe Pope Benedict meant by it. Of course, I could be wrong, but Michael has offered no reason to think I am. The Pope's words make good sense if we interpret him as criticizing what I described in my previous comment as "a cultural ethos in which many people live by (and the media of communication and entertainment frequently promote or valorize) the philosophy of 'the heart wants what the heart wants.' Where such an ethos prevails, one who challenges it risks being labeled a reactionary and even a 'bigot'---and being treated as such." If that's so, then I think it is a mistake to belittle the Pope's concerns or dismiss them as hand wringing.
Michael and I also seem to disagree about how properly to classify and label John Mackie's view about ethics. I said: "One of the most powerful and influential defenses of the subjectivist position was written by John Mackie of University College, Oxford." Michael responded by saying that "I doubt that it clarifies much by calling [Mackie] a 'subjectivist.'" I must say that I'm surprised and puzzled by Michael's response. Let me say why.
The opening chapter of Mackie's influential book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong is entitled "The Subjectivity of Values."
The first sentence in the book is: "There are no objective values."
Later in the chapter, Mackie expressly accepts the label "subjectivist" for his view (he also accepts the label "moral sceptic," though he warns that any label is simply a shorthand and is therefore of limited utility).
In support of his self-acknowledged subjectivism and skepticism about values and ethics, Mackie offers two main arguments. The first is what he labels "the argument from relativity" (viz., the claim that the diversity of moral opinions across cultures and, sometimes, even within cultures, renders plausible the claim that objective values do not cause moral beliefs). The second argument is "the argument from queerness" (viz., the claim that objective values, if they exist, are utterly unlike anything else in the universe, and require a special faculty of perception or understanding that is utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing things). (For those who are interested, John Finnis, in his book Fundamentals of Ethics, provides compelling responses to both of Mackie's arguments for subjectivism. Finnis knew Mackie and his work very well, the two men having been longtime colleagues as Fellows of University College.)
Michael says that Mackie "is best understood" as a "moral fictionalist." I think Mackie is best understood as what he himself said he was, namely, a subjectivist---someone who believes that values are projections of feeling and other subjective states, not objective truths that provide more-than-merely-instrumental reasons for choices and actions. If there are no objective values---if all values are merely subjective---then there is no rational basis for ethics, eudaimonistic or otherwise. Eudaimonistic accounts of morality, in particular, rest rather obviously on the belief that there are indeed certain ends or purposes that we can understand as providing more-than-merely-instrumental reasons for choices and actions---objective human goods.
Michael says that "the serious disagreement between Pope Benedict and Robby (and Catholic moral-theological traditionalists generally) on the one side, and some Catholic moral-theological dissidents on the other, with respect to the issue of same-sex sexual conduct, is a disagreement about the requirements of human well-being. This is a disagreement between two groups neither of whom is relativist (or subjectivist), both of whom are fiercely anti-relativist." Well, I think this is too simple a characterization of the disagreement. Michael and I should debate it. It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of those Michael characterizes as Catholic moral-theological dissidents (I'm assuming he has in mind people like Joseph Fuchs, Louis Janssens, Bernard Hoose, Charles Curran, and the late Richard McCormick, SJ) embrace a consequentialist ("proportionalist") method of moral decision-making. In an effort to render the method workable, most adopt a psychologistic conception of value. This method and conception, according to critics such as Finnis, Bartholomew Keily, Paul Quay, SJ., Anselm Mueller, and (for what it's worth) me, tends to relativize morality by eliminating the rational basis of exceptionless norms (or "moral absolutes"), such as the norm against directly killing innocent human beings or the norm against engaging in sodomitical and other intrinsically nonmarital forms of sexual conduct.
Earlier in our careers, Michael and I debated proportionalism, value psychologism, and related issues in an exchange that, I believe, remains illuminating of differences among people who wish to promote and defend eudaimonistic understandings of morality---that is, understandings of morality as deeply connected to the well-being or flourishing of human beings. See Michael Perry, Morality, Politics, and Law (Oxford University Press, 1990); Robert P. George, "Human Flourishing as a Criterion of Morality: A Critique of Perry's Naturalism," Tulane Law Review, Vol, 63, No. 6 (1989), pp. 1455-1474; Michael J. Perry, "A Brief Response," Tulane Law Review, Vol. 63, No, 6 (1989), p. 1673 and following; Robert P. George, "Self-Evident Practical Principles and Rationally Motivated Action: A Reply to Michael Perry," Tulane Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 4 (1990), pp. 887-894. Christopher Kaczor has done a good service by publishing a fine collection of readings by leading proportionalists and their critics. See, Kaczor, Proportionalism: For and Against (Marquette University Press, 2000).
December 03, 2008
Bainbridge on Kmiec; and Penalver on Bainbridge on Kmiec
Eduardo is quite persuasive, in my judgment. But check for yourself, over at dotCommonweal.
November 07, 2007
More on Glendon
At the risk of being deemed "pissy," let me play devil's advocate on the Glendon appointment. Over on my personal blog, I expressed my considerable admiration for her while still wondering whether her long service to the Hoy See in various capacities doesn't raise a conflict of interest. It seems a bit odd to hire someone who has devoted much of her life to representing the interests of State A to be the ambassador of State B to A. Would we hire a lawyer who spent much of her professional life representing China in global trade negotiations to be our ambassador to China (recognizing that the cases are not on all fours)?
October 23, 2007
On Being a Catholic Judge
Justice Scalia may not be a "Catholic judge," but he is both a Catholic and a judge ... and that matters. I elaborate at my blog.
October 18, 2007
More on the Ave Maria Litigation
My former research assistant Sarah Prescott is now an attorney with the Deborah Gordon law firm in Michigan, an employment law boutique firm. Along with name partner Gordon, Presoctt just filed suit on behalf of three Ave Maria law school faculty members - Stephen Safranek, Edward Lyons and Phil Pucillo - against the law school, law school Dean Bernard Dobranski, and law school founder and chairman of the board Tom Monaghan. Sarah forwarded a copy of the complaint to me, which I've made available here. An early news report states:
The three professors, Stephen Safranek, Edward Lyons and Phil Pucillo, contend they were wrongfully discharged in violations of the state’s public policy law, whisteblowers’ law and their contracts. Safranek, Lyons and Pucillo also allege conflicts of interest between Monaghan, the law school and other organizations associated with Monaghan. Two of those nonprofits, Friends of Ave Maria School of Law and Ave Maria Foundation, were also named in the suit. AMSL began classes in 2000 in Ann Arbor, Mich. In February, the school announced it would move by 2009 to the new Ave Maria town in Collier County, a town co-founded by Monaghan and centered on Ave Maria University, a university in the Catholic tradition also founded by Monaghan, which began classes at its permanent campus in August. The law school has no official relationship with the university. The lawsuit was not unexpected given the recent controversy at the school. The move and its handling by the school’s administration has been at the center of faculty complaints about the school’s governance in the last two years. Last year, members of the faculty held a vote of “no confidence” in Dobranski and asked the board to remove him, but the board refused. The American Bar Association, which is the primary accreditation body for law schools, is investigating the school’s ability to attract and retain competent faculty members. The ABA also must give its approval for the school to move to Florida.
The news report also states that:
"This lawsuit is the latest debacle in the collapse of Ave Maria School of Law,” the professors’ attorney Deborah Gordon said in a statement posted on the Mirror of Justice, a Catholic legal theory blog.
I have't seen that statement on MoJ. I don't think anybody at MoJ wants to see Ave Maria collapse. To the contrary, our efforts have been aimed at reconciliation so that the law school can go forward in full compliance with the letter and spirit of applicable rules on academic governance.
Update: Gordon's statement in fact was posted at Brian Leiter's blog, not MOJ. The reporter just goofed, apparently.
Update2: Law Blog has more details on the allegations, some of which are quite troubling:
The 20-page complaint focuses the most on plaintiff Stephen Safranek, among the first professors to teach at the school, who reported to authorities his concerns about some Ave Maria staff members’ alleged obstruction of a criminal investigation and the legality of the school’s federal income-tax return, among other things. According to the complaint, on the tax return, the school represented former Supreme Court nominee and Ave professor Robert Bork “as being a full-time tenured faculty member…while paying him as an independent contractor through the Bork Law Firm, PC.” (The Law Blog has reached out to Bork.) The suit also says Safranek reported to authorities that certain staff at Ave Maria obstructed “a criminal investigation into a priest’s alleged involvement in sex offenses, including possession of child pornography.” Safranek was suspended after the school claimed he engaged in some trivial wrongs — from calling the dean a “liar” to his face — and some more serious ones, such as intimidating the dean’s assistant in the parking lot, a charge Safranek denies. Dobranski released this statement: “We are confident that the actions of the School of Law were both proper and legal and we look forward to the court coming to this same conclusion.”
Prior PB.com coverage:
|Ave Maria Law School Sued by Faculty||My former research assistant Sarah Prescott is now an attorney with the Deborah Gordon law firm in Michigan, an employment law boutique firm. Along with name partner Gordon, Presoctt just filed suit on behalf of three Ave Maria law school faculty members - Stephen Safranek, Edward Lyons and Phil Pucillo…||10/18/07|
|A Reply to Michael Novak re Ave Maria Law||Michael Novak’s writings on economics, Catholic social thought, and theology were a major influence in my journey to Catholicism. So it saddens me to be swiped at by him in his critique of the MOJ statement on the situation at Ave Maria law school (HT-Reynolds): Recently, however, I came across…||10/03/07|
|Ave Maria Law Watch||As Walter Olson observes: Ave Maria School of Law keeps lurching from crisis to crisis. A blog called Fumare has been providing extensive coverage.||10/03/07|
|Ave Maria Law Watch||From the Detroit News:The alumni board of Ave Maria School of Law has issued a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Catholic college, the latest attack on an administration that is increasingly the subject of negative Web logs, petitions and complaints. The alumni board last week called—for…||10/01/07|
|MOJ Joint Statement on the Situation at Ave Maria School of Law||From MOJ:We, the members of Mirror of Justice, are a group of Catholic and Christian law professors and former law professors. We wish to express our profound concern with the course of events at Ave María School of Law (“AMSL”). While we differ among ourselves in our religious and political…||09/12/07|
|Ave Maria Law||We the undersigned alumni and other members of the Ave Maria School of Law community past and present, hereby strongly oppose the actions of the school's administration and Board of Governors in ejecting Professors Stephen Safranek, Philip Pucillo, and Edward Lyons from our community. The administration and Board have disregarded…||08/27/07|
|The Meltdown at Ave Maria Law||Mark Sargent provides the full text of a letter signed by the bulk of the Ava Maria law school faculty concerning "the outrageous behavior of the Law School's administration." Mind-boggling stuff.||04/30/07|
October 03, 2007
Michael Novak’s writings on economics, Catholic social thought, and theology were a major influence in my journey to Catholicism. So his seriously misguided critique of the MOJ statement on the situation at Ave Maria law school saddens me greatly. Yet, it must not go unnoticed. I offer a detailed critique on my personal blog.
October 01, 2007
Ave Maria News
From the Detroit News:
The alumni board of Ave Maria School of Law has issued a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Catholic college, the latest attack on an administration that is increasingly the subject of negative Web logs, petitions and complaints.
The alumni board last week called -- for the second time -- for the resignation of Dean Bernard Dobranski and the ouster of board Chairman Thomas Monaghan, the Domino's pizza mogul who has donated more than $50 million to fund the law school. ...
The board's move followed a rebuke earlier this month from a group of Catholic law professors from around the country. The group issued a joint statement sharply criticizing the law school administration's "failure to live their Christian commitment."
September 28, 2007
Cathedrals of California...
... is a fantastic photoblog documenting a project to photograph all of California's Cathedrals (Catholic and otherwise). They're so good, they even managed to make the new Los Angeles Cathedral look beautiful. Highly recommended. (HT: Sullivan)
September 27, 2007
If Mark Sargent were Dean of Georgetown
Rick's post about Georgetown's decision to back away from its policy prohibiting funding for students at summer internships at organizations that promote abortion rights calls to mind Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' comments on Villanova's policy in this area:
Some schools mean it when they say they are Catholic. For instance, Mark A. Sargent, dean of the law school at Villanova University in Philadelphia, writes, “Our Catholic identity is not casual, sentimental, or merely historical.” While the school has many non-Catholic faculty and students, he observes, Villanova remains a Catholic university. The occasion for clarifying all this was a fellowship program in which some students elected to work for pro-abortion organizations. The argument was made that, if the program cannot support abortion, it should just as clearly not support capital punishment. Dean Sargent’s response is marked by what might be described as uncommon lucidity: “Occasionally, we will not do something because we are Catholic. We will not do something that conflicts with our Catholic identity. Such situations are rare, but sometimes we must take a stand. We do so when the conflict is so fundamental and unambiguous that we, in effect, have no choice. Association of Villanova with advocacy for abortion rights presents one such conflict. The fellowship program provides summer stipends for Villanova law students working without pay for public interest organizations. It is funded by an auction, in which Villanova students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate. The program is not an independent student activity. Our name is associated with every aspect of it and makes it go. Our tax-exempt status is used. The auction takes place in our building. The law school administers the funds, and our staff members help organize the program as part of their jobs. Students receiving the stipends are known as Villanova Public Interest Fellows. It is indisputably a Villanova Law School program. A Villanova program obviously cannot be associated with advocacy for abortion rights. Though many individual Catholics believe that there should be some legal right to abortion, the Church’s teaching on the topic is fundamental and unambiguous. We have no choice but to ask program fellows working in our name to agree not to engage in such advocacy. They are, of course, free to take jobs outside the program doing whatever they want. But as program fellows they represent us, and they cannot represent us in advocacy for abortion rights. Some might accuse us of hypocrisy in not banning the program work with advocates of capital punishment and other causes that they believe have the same status as abortion in Catholic teaching. What they do not understand is that the status of these issues in Catholic teaching is very different from that of abortion. Take capital punishment, for example. The Pope has asked Catholics to conclude that capital punishment is insupportable. I agree with him completely. But his statements on the issue were not made with the authority that requires the faithful obedience of all Catholics and Catholic institutions, unlike the Church’s position on abortion. Indeed, many orthodox supporters of the Pope have disagreed with him on this issue and argued that the Catholic tradition does not support abolition of capital punishment. The law school is thus not compelled to disassociate itself from advocacy for capital punishment as it is from advocacy for abortion rights. This is significant, because we are reluctant to constrain our students unless we absolutely must. With respect to abortion, we must. With respect to capital punishment, it is a matter of choice. We could choose to disassociate ourselves from it on Catholic grounds because we are convinced by the Pope’s arguments. And during the next academic year we, as a community, will consider the difficult question of whether we should make that choice. To take time to think hard about what we should do regarding capital punishment is not hypocrisy, but prudence. The need to make a prudential decision about the ambiguous question of capital punishment does not make a principled decision about the unambiguous question of the Church’s teaching on abortion hypocritical.” One hopes that Dean Sargent’s argument will be read, and emulated, by leaders of other schools for whom the name Catholic is not “casual, sentimental, or merely historical.”
I guess it either wasn't read at GU or GU's Catholic name "casual, sentimental, or merely historical."
September 24, 2007
The New ProfessorBainbridge.com
I trust my co-authors will forgive me for briefly hijacking the blog to make an announcement. My personal blog, ProfessorBainbridge.com. has been transformed into a landing page that serves as a planet (a.k.a. hub) site for three content blogs:
- StephenBainbridge.com: A personal journal, focusing on politics and culture
- BusinessAssociationsBlog.com: A professional blog, focused on law and economics
- ProfessorBainbridgeOnWine.com: A wine and food blog
RSS feeds are available either for the combined set or for any one of the individual blogs. For more info, go here. We now return you to your regular programming.