Friday, January 1, 2010
Over the past several days the Mirror of Justice has hosted a spirited debate on a variety of themes that have offered perspectives of colleagues and friends on matters that are important to the law and, therefore, Catholic Legal Theory.
One of themes addressed in recent postings has been the role of reason. Reason and how it is utilized has a definite bearing on the law and how the law addresses or should address issues including homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sexual/reproductive autonomy, and abortion.
As has been observed by other members of the Mirror of Justice family, reason is crucial to the law and, therefore, Catholic Legal Theory. Of course the natural law tradition, so much a part of the Catholic understanding of legal matters, places an emphasis on right reason in this endeavor. But as Time Magazine in its essay on John Courtney Murray rhetorically asked almost fifty years ago, whose reason is right? What makes reason right? What is vital to its method?
Let me offer a few suggestions in this regard.
The first would be this: I consider that most people have the ability to exercise right reason. They are born and equipped with the intellectual capacity to think about issues, events, happenings, etc. in such a way as to see more clearly what is at stake and what is involved. Of course, this task requires patience: patience with one’s self and patience with what is being considered and studied. The exercise of right reason does not require the distinctive and super-human acumen of Professor Ronald Dworkin’s Judge Hercules. It does require, however, fidelity to a thoughtful and objective process, and patience is a virtue needed to facilitate this process.
A second matter deals with how a person conducts one’s self in the intellectual enterprise of reasoning that brings together observation, consideration, and evaluation (both normative and moral). Initially, we all see and think about the universe that surrounds us from a personal perspective. Hence we begin our reasoning from a subjective point, but this does not mean that we should stay there throughout the entire process in which we exercise reason. Our subjective perspective must sooner or later be tempered by objectivity. I know some of my Mirror of Justice friends are likely to challenge me on this because they have done so in the past. Let me present the point once again: objectivity is that ingredient that enables the individual who exercises reason to transcend the familiar, the desirable and get closer to the truth.
Ah, yes, the truth. This is the third matter which I wish to raise today in what may well be but an installment in the project of our ongoing discussion and possible debate. Is there truth about anything? One may insist that he or she knows the truth, but in fact confuses the familiar that is comfortable to or desired by this person with what is beyond the known, the familiar, the desirable. For the Catholic, be he or she legal theorist or otherwise, there is one Truth, who is God. The closer we become to God, the closer we become to the truth that enables us to see what is right and what is wrong with the positions we hold and assert. As we acknowledge that some positions are right and some are wrong, our reasoning is more inclined to be associated with the modifier right. As one long-involved with the process called legal reasoning, I don’t often see the case made for including in it the Truth who is God. So be it. But if one professes or asserts that his or her legal reasoning is a part of the Catholic world, then God as Truth is indispensable to his or her participation in the process of legal reasoning.
Indeed, rigorous thought and exhaustive evidence gathering are a part of the process of legal reasoning, too. For many but not all, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness are also essential elements. But so is the ability to hone those skills necessary to distinguishing right from wrong, truth from falsehood.
I look forward to what my friends here at the Mirror of Justice might have to say about these thoughts.
In the meantime, a blessed New Year to you all! May God who is mercy and truth be with us, and may Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Mirror of Justice, pray for us. Amen.