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, August 31, 2010

The development of norms that promote the virtuous person



Thanks to Rob for his posting entitled “The disappearing social stigma of STDs.” Like Rob, I am astounded by the attitudes that accept the practices regarding not only our children, but adults, and the surrounding culture in which we live.


Some might say that I am arguing from a particular moral—and perhaps antiquated—perspective. Sin involving sexual activity has been around for a long time. But something new is added to the mix when a major voice in contemporary culture offers rewards for that which physically and morally endangers every member of our society who lives the life that the culture exhorts.


Does the law have a role in any of this? More relevant to the project of this group, does Catholic legal theory have a part to play? My brief answer today to both of these questions is in the affirmative. Does it mean one could pursue what others might consider draconian, puritanical measures and have them incorporated into the civil law? Perhaps, but at this point I think something far more enduring and far more Christ-like is in order.


Rob concludes his post with a critical comment about the presence and wide acceptance of “increasingly permissive sexual norms.” Well, there it is: there are norms regarding the attitudes about casual sex amongst youth and adults alike. So, if there are permissive norms, could alternative norms be proposed as an antidote? It think so, and I suggest that this is where Catholic legal theory plays a role.


I submit that an alternative to increasingly permissive norms that accentuate the exaggerated autonomy of persons that can quickly lead to their harm, i.e., sexually transmitted diseases, have existed and still exist today. These norms are neither punitive nor draconian. Rather, on the other hand, they are designed to cultivate the virtuous person who can be a role model for others. I have been thinking hard about what are role models the contemporary culture presents to youth and adults alike. Are there any? It seems that the role model is the individual of any person—famous or otherwise—whose portrait can nicely fit into the “model” of the anti-hero who is restrained by nothing when it comes to sexual activity. But what if the society and its laws were to cultivate a counterpoint to this? Let’s say that there were social and legal norms cultivated by families, schools, cities, states, and the nation that substituted the model of exaggerated autonomy with that of the noble person who understands the significance of and practices forbearance or temperance, prudence, and fortitude regarding promiscuous sex. What would the existing popular culture say to that? Well, one thing is certain: it would have to acknowledge in some fashion that there is competition for what the contemporary culture can promote. And, I would say that this competition would be most welcome for us and for our posterity.


RJA sj



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