Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Was it a smear . . . or not? That is the question.

I'm afraid the diversionary tactics won't work, Michael.  Nor will repeating yourself.  Or shifting the discussion to the opinions of Cathleen Kaveny on Germain Grisez's thought.  Your Christmas eve post was a smear against people who do not share your views about sexual morality.  You attempted to tar them as the equivalent of racists and then, in classic passive-aggressive fashion, you claimed to "understand" how difficult it is for them to escape the "socialization" and "psychology" that saddle them with views that reflect nothing other than "aversions" to the "unfamiliar."  I called you on the smear, and now you depict yourself as the victim.  It won't work.

As for whether you conscripted Cathleen Kaveny into the dispute, I'm not the person who initiated that claim -- though you falsely call it "Robby's false claim."  Professor Kaveny herself did.  Don't you recall?  Here are her words: "Since Michael apparently conscripted me into this discussion . . . . "  The two of you can sort the matter out between yourselves.  I'm a bystander on this one.

Off line, Michael Scaperlanda asked why I described Professor Kaveny's comments on Professor Grisez's thought as "ex cathedra."  It is a legitimate question, so let me say exactly what I meant in using that phrase.  I meant that Professor Kaveny's comments were general and conclusory, and the worse for it.  They are difficult to engage because (despite the clarity of Grisez's thinking and writing) they do not identify with clarity and precision the propositions that Grisez allegedly holds and defends and Professor Kaveny objects to; nor do they provide textual evidence that these are in fact his propositions; nor do they give arguments for rejecting as false or unwarranted propositions that he has been shown to hold and defend.  So we get, to cite one of many examples, the claim that "What counts as acting against a good [for Grisez] seems to be defined arbitrarily.  Why does contraception act against the good of marriage but smoking a cigarette not act against the good of life?"  Well, anyone who has read Grisez's work or Finnis's will know that they give careful, reasoned accounts of what it means to act against a basic human good, and they go to great lengths (especially in their treatment of the nature of intention in the theory of action and agency) to show that it is possible to distinguish deliberately acting against a good from performing an act that damages or impedes a good as a side-effect of an otherwise justified choice.  Professor Kaveny does not engage these arguments at all.  She simply declares (without argument, evidence, or any engagement with anything Grisez or Finnis actually says) that "what counts as acting against at good [for Grisez] seems arbitrary."  This will not do.

It is this kind of thing that caused me to characterize Professor Kaveny's pronouncements as "ex cathedra."  What she needs to do if she wants to be taken seriously as a critic of Grisez and Finnis or commentator on their work is to wrestle with what Grisez says about human action and agency as bearing upon basic human goods in, for example, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 1, Christian Moral Principles, especially pages 215-222, 231-236, 239-243, 244-245, 256-259, 268-269, and in chapter 6 (pp.141-171), which is devoted to the critique of proportionalism and other consequentialist theories of moral reflection and judgment; and in his famous article "Against Consequentialism," American Journal of Jurisprudence, 23 (1978), pp. 49-62; and what Finnis says in, for example, "Object and Intention in Moral Judgments According to St. Thomas Aquinas," in J. Fallon and J. McEvoy (eds.) Finalite and intentionalite: Doctrine Thomiste et Perspectives Moderne (Bibliotheque Philosophique de Louvain, No, 35, 1992), pp. 127-148; and "Intention and Side-effects," in R. G. Frey and Christopher W. Morris (eds.) Liability and Responsibility (Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 32-64; and what Grisez and Finnis say together (with Joseph M. Boyle, Jr.) in their book Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, especially at pages 77-86 and 275-319.  When Professor Kaveny moves from speaking in general and conclusory terms (which are safe but ultimately unhelpful) to offering a serious critique that identifies with specificity propositions Grisez and Finnis assert, provides textual evidence demonstrating the accuracy of her interpretations of what they are saying, and gives reasons for believing that their propositions embody or rest on factual errors or illicit inferences or are in some other way faulty, then we will really have something to talk about.  (Criticism of this sort is what I myself tried to provide---and what my dissertation supervisor, John Finnis, insisted on---in my own doctoral dissertation, which was a critique of aspects of Grisez's work in political philosophy.)  What will not do---for Professor Kaveny or anyone else---is to criticize philosophical writings---anyone's---in general and conclusory ("ex cathedra") terms that enable one to sound authoritative but which, in truth, fail to engage those writings in any serious way.  (Incidentally, anyone interested in why Grisez and Finnis and others believe that contraception is contrary to the good of marriage, can have a look at Finnis, "The Good of Marriage and the Morality of Sexual Relations: Some Philosophical and Historical Observations," American Journal of Jurisprudence, 42 (1998), pp. 97-134, available here: http://www.princeton.edu/~anscombe/articles/finnismarriage.pdf.  Note, by the way the careful and rigorous criticisms Finnis makes of John Noonan's claims about Aquinas on sexual morality.  If Professor Kaveny wishes to attempt a defense of Judge Noonan on this matter, I would very much welcome an opportunity to have an exchange with her about it here on MoJ or in any forum she prefers.  This would be a great opportunity for us to get down to specifics, where people are required to take responsibility for what they are claiming by backing it up with evidence.  It would also enable our readers to judge whether Professor Finnis or Judge Noonan is the more accurate and reliable interpreter of Aquinas. On the question of smoking cigarettes, Grisez has analyzed the question showing with characteristic precision how the choice to smoke bears immorally on the basic human goods of life and health. See The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 3, Difficult Moral Questions, pp, 600-603.)

The dispute between Michael P. and myself, however, is not about the pros and cons of Germain Grisez's thought or Cathleen Kaveny's opinions about it.  (The subject came up at all only because Michael's Christmas eve post included an assertion that Kaveny and Jean Porter were more faithful exponents of the tradition running from Aristotle through Aquinas than Grisez and Finnis.  My advice to anyone who wonders about the truth of the matter is to ignore Michael's opinion and my own and simply read some work by Kaveny and Porter and read some work by Grisez and Finnis.)  Our dispute is about whether his Christmas eve post was a smear against honorable people who deviate from the liberal line on sexual morality.  I say it was, and that is why I called him on it.  It's time---past time---people refused to tolerate this sort of conduct.

Oh yes, one more thing.  Michael's latest move is to bring Russ Hittinger into this.  Russ is indeed a noted critic of Grisez and Finnis.  His criticisms are set forth in his book which Michael mentioned:  A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory.  I have offered a critique of Russ's critique in chapter two of my book In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford University Press, 1999).  Whether they are right or wrong, Russ offers specific criticisms of the sort that can be engaged productively.  Our exchanges led to a deep friendship.  In fact, I invited Russ to teach with me at Princeton, which he did, and arranged for him to be a Visiting Professor to teach my courses when I was on leave.  I would be happy to have Russ weigh in with an opinion on the comparative scholarly achievements of John Finnis and Cathleen Kaveny or Germain Grisez and Jean Porter.  Russ is also a forceful defender of Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage.  We might ask him what exactly it was about his socialization that caused him to have an aversion to unfamiliar forms of sexuality. 

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