We had an excellent discourse in response to a recent post about the existence of “rights.”  The comments delved a bit deeper into the existence of God and the Natural Law.  This morning I came across a paper written by Frank Beckwith, summarizing the work of J. Budziszewski on the Natural Law (Beckwith and Budziszewski are two of the biggest influences in my thinking on the subject).  I find Beckwith’s opening illustration apt to our recent discussion.  He writes:

Several years ago when I was on the philosophy department faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when the school sported a very good basketball team, one of my students, obviously frustrated with the points I was making in class, blurted out the question, “Why is the truth important?” I distinctly remember the befuddled look on her face seconds after I offered the reply, “Do you want the true answer or the false one?”

A few days later, in the same class, another student, taking up the cause of his befuddled peer, claimed, with great confidence, that there are no objective moral norms and that there was no way that anyone, including his professor, could possibly show him otherwise. At that point, I looked at him squarely in the eye, with as stern a facial expression I could muster, and told him, “Please sit down and shut up. I am right and you are wrong. And that’s that.” He was, as one would guess, visibly shaken. There was dead silence in the classroom. His peers, who were obviously displeased with the treatment he received, were not about to come to his defense. They were, rightfully, upset with their professor. But they remained mute. So, I let the moment sink in, for about 15 seconds, though it seemed like an eternity.

I then broke the silence, and asked the shaken student, “Are you upset about something?” “Yes,” he answered, “you treated me rudely.” I replied, “I do not disagree. Am I wrong in thinking that you had a justified expectation that I should have dialogued with you in a way that was respectful?” “No, you are not wrong,” he said, “That is exactly what I expected.” I continued, “It seems to me that your expectation is perfectly justified, and that I was wrong in treating you in the fashion I did. But that expectation relies on the veracity of a deeper truth, that you are the sort of being that is entitled to reasons when matters of moral concern are brought to your attention. I did not give you reasons. I merely asserted my power. What you realized at the moment of offense was the moral truth you have always known: might does not make right.” I paused and again let the silence do its work. For the student knew where the conversation was going. He knew that he had been relying, unwittingly, on the resources of the natural law in order to reject as illegitimate the treatment he had received at the hands of his mean professor. We were like two men at a restaurant sharing a meal while debating the existence of the chef, and one of the men was talking with his mouth full.

Now, one might argue that the student was simply displeased with the unusual treatment he received at the hands of his professor.  But mere “displeasure” does not go far enough to explain the fact that he was offended.  There are other unpleasurable and unexpected things the professor might have done, like give a pop quiz.  That would have been irritating, not offensive.  Our notion of “offended” implies an offense, the violation of something more than a man-made rule.  Moreover, the student’s expectation that his professor would offer him reasons that truth exists in response to his assertion demonstrates the student’s belief in the necessity of objective reasons, which necessitates objective truth.

In the Interest of Fairness…

September 22, 2009

Since I recently reported a disturbing U.K. health practice and the potential implications for that practice in the U.S., I thought I’d also report a disturbing practice in one corner of the United States that may be exported to the U.K.: assisted suicide. 

I will pause to note that assisted suicide takes place in Oregon, but not the entire U.S.  That is a testament to federalism: bad laws are passed, but they are isolated to certain localities, and the rest of us can be impressed, horrified, or indifferent. 

At any rate, the Oregon practice has led to at least one horrifying side-effect:

It is something that came to blight 64-year-old [Oregon resident] Barbara Wagner’s last days. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, the former bus driver vowed to fight the disease so she could spend as long as possible with her family.

Even after her doctor warned last year that she had less than six months left, she refused to give up, pinning all her hopes on a new life-prolonging treatment.

But her request, at the beginning of last year, for the £2,500-a-month drug was refused by Oregon’s state-run health plan as being too expensive. Instead, she was offered lethal medication to end her life.

‘It was horrible,’ Barbara told reporters. ‘I got a letter in the mail that basically said if you want to take the pills we will help you get them from a doctor and we will stand there and watch you die – but we won’t give you the medicine to live.

‘I told them: “Who do you think you are to say that you will pay for my dying, but you won’t pay for me to possibly live longer?”

‘I am opposed to the assisted suicide law. I haven’t considered it, even at my lowest ebb.’

Of course, the prospect of such a practice being imposed on the entire United States is frightening, just as it is frightening in the U.K.  It would be best to keep social healthcare and wicked policies that encourage suicide isolated to places the size of Oregon, where the people can cause a change in local policy in a relatively short time period if they discover that the state’s practices have rather unpleasant consequences.  I would also hope that cases like the above serve to deter the British from adopting similar assisted-suicide laws to go along with their public medicine program.

C.S. Lewis drafted an interesting essay in 1944 that proves to be useful today.  Lewis argues that democracy is warranted not because we all deserve to be our own autonomous rulers, but because none of us do: Read the rest of this entry »

The Natural Law Explained

September 17, 2009

To follow up on an earlier brief post, I want to give a more detailed accounting of the meaning of Natural Law from Thomas Aquinas.  I’ll pick a couple of his comments in his Treatise on Law (a subpart of his Summa Theologica).

1.  On the substance of the Natural Law itself, Aquinas states:

[T]he first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.” Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.

Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law. Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” [*Pandect. Just. I, tit. i], such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth. Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.

2.  On the extent to which Natural Law is present in all people, true for all people, and known by all people, Aquinas states:

As stated above (Articles [2],3), to the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally: and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. Now the process of reason is from the common to the proper, as stated in Phys. i. The speculative reason, however, is differently situated in this matter, from the practical reason. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned: and consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. Accordingly then in speculative matters truth is the same in all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions: although the truth is not known to all as regards the conclusions, but only as regards the principles which are called common notions. But in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles: and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all.

It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles whether of speculative or of practical reason, truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all. As to the proper conclusions of the speculative reason, the truth is the same for all, but is not equally known to all: thus it is true for all that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles, although it is not known to all. But as to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rectitude the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all. Thus it is right and true for all to act according to reason: and from this principle it follows as a proper conclusion, that goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner. Now this is true for the majority of cases: but it may happen in a particular case that it would be injurious, and therefore unreasonable, to restore goods held in trust; for instance, if they are claimed for the purpose of fighting against one’s country. And this principle will be found to fail the more, according as we descend further into detail, e.g. if one were to say that goods held in trust should be restored with such and such a guarantee, or in such and such a way; because the greater the number of conditions added, the greater the number of ways in which the principle may fail, so that it be not right to restore or not to restore.

Consequently we must say that the natural law, as to general principles, is the same for all, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge. But as to certain matters of detail, which are conclusions, as it were, of those general principles, it is the same for all in the majority of cases, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge; and yet in some few cases it may fail, both as to rectitude, by reason of certain obstacles (just as natures subject to generation and corruption fail in some few cases on account of some obstacle), and as to knowledge, since in some the reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature; thus formerly, theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong among the Germans, as Julius Caesar relates (De Bello Gall. vi).

(Emphasis added.)

3.  Aquinas further explains how people who know the Natural Law can deny the Natural Law and end up affirming things that are obviously wrong:

As stated above (Articles [4],5), there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above (Question [77], Article [2]). But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rm. i), were not esteemed sinful.

4.  With respect to human laws, Aquinas states that all human laws must conform to the Natural Law:

As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all”: wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (Question [91], Article [2], ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles: while the second mode is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that “one must not kill” may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that “one should do harm to no man”: while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.

Accordingly both modes of derivation are found in the human law. But those things which are derived in the first way, are contained in human law not as emanating therefrom exclusively, but have some force from the natural law also. But those things which are derived in the second way, have no other force than that of human law.

All of this is fairly easy to summarize:  There is an objective code of moral laws (the “natural law”) that actually exists.  The first rules are “do good, avoid evil,” and other obvious rules immediately flow out of or coincide with that (do not harm people, etc.).  These laws are not a matter of opinion and we humans did not decide to make them up, these laws are what they are and always have been.  Everyone knows these obvious laws, but honest men can disagree about the applications of these laws in certain complicated circumstances.  People who violate these laws can become self-deluded and then think they do not know the laws that they know.  Laws that humans make up through government should conform to these laws.

…or so sayeth President Obama.  Not that he is alone.  Republicans call for “bipartisanship” as well.  One media site even argues that the media have been too hard on Obama in examining his bipartisan efforts, and should instead focus on the Republicans’ purported failure to be bipartisan (notwithstanding that the Republicans don’t have any power to block anything the Democrats want to do, so it’s not like they’re obstructing anything). 

Cutting through the rhetoric, bipartisanship is nothing more than bone-tossing.  The masses and the media may be fooled, but no politician is really bipartisan, nor does he or she desire to be.  They are merely cognizant of the need for public approval, so it’s a public relations move.  Does anyone ever really want to compromise unless they have to?  Of course not. 

Bipartisanship for Democrats in power means that they’ll lob Republicans a bone in exchange for good public relations.  Bipartisanship for Republicans in the minority means “if you guys run over us, don’t think we’ll forget it or ignore it in the media, especially if you get everything you want and then you fail.”  (Incidentally, I think the real reason Democrats so badly want bipartisan support on bailouts and universal healthcare is that they don’t want to bear all of the blame if those risky moves blow up in their faces.)

But conversely, bipartisanship for Republicans in power means that they’ll lob Democrats a bone in exchange for good public relations.  Bipartisanship for Democrats in the minority means “if you guys run over us, don’t think we’ll forget it or ignore it in the media, especially if you get everything you want and then you fail.”  You may recognize this from the past election cycle, where the questionable war effort was blamed entirely on the Republicans, and the Democrats went for the throat. 

The media may play a different role on one side than they do on the other, but when it comes to political speeches, politicians left and right are both playing the same game on the same field, and like any championship team, they cheat when they can get away with it.

I prefer local government to big government.  It is easier to contact a city council person than a state assemblyman, a state assemblyman than a congressman, and a congressman than the president.  Government decisions should be made as close to the people as possible.  Nine old men and women residing in Washington D.C. haven’t got the foggiest clue what is in the common good for school children in Hawaii, and yet those robed philosopher kings in the Supreme Court invented the Incorporation Doctrine to apply the constitution’s individual rights provisions to the states–then they declared their own ability to make up new rights under the guise of the constitutional notion of “due process,” and therefore now have the power to dictate matters of curriculum and practice to the Hawaiian school boards.  You’d think that the Hawaiians would get to decide whether they’ll have school prayer or teach evolution and/or creationism, but they cannot.  Despite our current situation, our country’s founders largely believed that the federal government should only do the things that are necessary for the federal government to do. 

There was a time when the federal government did not exist.  The United States had declared their independence, but had no constitution, and power resided in the state governments.  Those who sought to create a federal government had to convince the states to go along.  One of the sources of resistance was the suspicion (read: prophecy) that the federal government would usurp the states’ sovereignty.  The federalists had to assure the states that the federal government would not take more power than the states intended to give it (which was quite limited). 

James Madison responded to those fears in Federalist No. 44 (1788), summarizing the powers that must reside in a federal government and concluding:

We have now reviewed, in detail, all the articles composing the sum or quantity of power delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, and are brought to this undeniable conclusion, that no part of the power is unnecessary or improper for accomplishing the necessary objects of the Union. The question, therefore, whether this amount of power shall be granted or not, resolves itself into another question, whether or not a government commensurate to the exigencies of the Union shall be established; or, in other words, whether the Union itself shall be preserved.

Madison proposes that the minimum amount of power necessary for preservation of the union be given to a federal government under the constitution.  He emphasizes that the proposed constitution contains no measure that is not necessary for the preservation of the union.

With this, I am on board (and apparently the early state legislatures were, too).  However, it would be an understatement to say that our federal government today exceeds those powers by leaps and bounds.  Our federal government now runs private companies, terminates CEOs, regulates and funds healthcare, imposes and funds an abortion regime, regulates and funds primary school education, imposes standards on who can be a public school teacher, dictates state criminal laws and procedures, runs a comprehensive retirement compensation system, etc.  There is a long explanation of how and why our federal government evolved into the current monstrosity, but that’s beside my point. 

My point is merely that the federal government should show restraint and leave to the states all issues not necessary for the preservation of the union (the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which is essentially ignored now, states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”).  The proposed universal healthcare is one example of attempted federal over-reaching. 

If any state wants to fund universal healthcare, then from a constitutional standpoint I can have no objection.  That is (was) one of the great aspects of our federal experiment: each state has the power to try the innovative, and each other state has the right to watch and take notes.  If you’re in Arizona and want to see if universal healthcare will work in your state, it’s much wiser to see if it can work in California than it is to compare Arizona to Japan.  (It might also be wise for Arizonans to observe whether California’s social programs are causing the state to go bankrupt.) 

In sum, it is possible to oppose the federal government’s planned healthcare takeover while simultaneously supporting socialized healthcare in theory on a local level.  That would be constitutional, and probably much wiser than experimenting with a new universal healthcare package on such a grand scale (only two other countries have more people than the U.S.).  Each state is much better equipped to deal with the particular issues unique to their regions.

I thought that title might grab you.  I got to thinking about it because of a recent NCIS television episode wherein one character references Islamic terrorist bombing and another character responds that it’s no different than an abortion clinic bombing.  But isn’t it?

I certainly have no plans to bomb any buildings, but anyone who skims this blog will quickly figure out that I am decidedly pro-life.  That means I believe that an abortion is a murder of a full-fledged, innocent human being.  Whether or not you are pro-life, indulge if you will for just a moment the presupposition that an unborn person is every bit a human person entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you and I are.  Imagine that there are buildings where innocent living children, or even adults, are taken against their will and murdered, sometimes even having their limbs yanked off without anesthesia.  Once you indulge the pro-life position on unborn human beings (i.e. step in my shoes), you must admit that an abortion clinic is the moral equivalent of a gas chamber within the confines of Auschwitz. 

Would it have been moral to sneak into Auschwitz and blow up a gas chamber?  Empty, or even with the guilty Nazis in it?  Those questions, considered in isolation from any reference to abortion, would surely give the Hollywood script writers a bit more to think about.  Indeed, when a black man murders a white redneck who might get away with raping the black man’s daughter, he is heralded as a hero in the fictional movie A Time to Kill.  It is not as though the Hollywood writers are unfamiliar with or opposed to the concept of justifiable homicide.  This fact underscores that the Hollywood writers assume the pro-choice position to be correct (also implying that the pro-life position is nothing more than “crazy”) when writing their stories; the snide abortion-clinic bomber remarks prove nothing but to evidence the writers’ unsupported presuppositions. 

But the question of whether it is morally permissible to blow up the Nazi gas chambers (the instruments of death), or even the entire death camps, with or without the killing of Nazis (perhaps the bombings could take place at midnight while empty, or perhaps with Nazi guards in them), requires much examination, and I do not intend to answer that question here. 

I need not answer that moral question to address whether abortion clinic bombings are justified.  Whether or not the bombings would be morally permissible if they prevented abortions and saved lives, the fact is that such bombings do not prevent abortions and do not ultimately save lives.  Even if the abortion clinic bombers blew up all the clinics and killed all the abortion doctors at exactly the same time (thereby preventing some abortions and causing more live births), more doctors and clinics would immediately replace them, and public support would swiftly turn to the abortionists’ favor.  The abortion war in the United States is at the present time a public relations one, not one of force like in Nazi Germany.  Bombing abortion clinics only gives pro-choice media forces more ammunition, and we see those messages sent out in televisions shows (like the NCIS episode referenced above) and even in the news.  The media and the pro-choice movement have been capitalizing on these incidents since at least 1994.  If one wants to prevent abortions, one must work on changing public opinions and changing laws.  This war cannot be won by force.  Therefore, the use of force against abortionists, even if it could be justified in other circumstances, is unjustified in the U.S. on a macro-scale because the purported justification is illusory.

(Note: my argument above does not support the common argument that abortion should not be made illegal because “they will happen anyway.”  Making abortion illegal will without question reduce the number of abortions and save a great number of innocent lives.  The fact that some women will ignore the law and commit crimes is not a reason to curtail the law to accommodate criminals’ behavior.)

Apparently the government in the U.K. has laws that not only permit doctors to refuse care to certain viable premature babies, but require it.  Little baby Jayden received a death sentence because he was born two days before the time cut-off, even though his mother pled with the doctor for her baby’s life, and even though there was a chance of survival (as established by other similar cases where babies survived). 

Jayden’s mother has since channeled her grief into an effort to change legislation that permits and even requires these deaths-by-neglect. 

If government authorities already think that they have the right to declare which viable humans live and die (whether based on the chances of successful medical treatment or otherwise), what is to stop them from doing so among the elderly?  For medical treatment purposes, even in the abortion regime, there is no logical difference between a viable baby outside the womb and an elderly patient.  In a socialized medical program such as that in the U.K., it may eventually be the government and not the family that “pulls the plug.” 

Consider that baby boomers are aging, and Americans will soon face an unprecedented number of elderly patients requiring very expensive care, sometimes with an outside chance of survival.  The abortion ethic unleashed on this nation by the boomers may come back to bite them.

Apparently there has been an attempt to distribute lesson plans to accompany President Obama’s planned speech to our nation’s youth in schools next week:

The guide for pre-K through grade 6 suggests questions [to] students [to] think about during the speech, such as “What is the President trying to tell me? What is the President asking me to do?”

The plan for grades 7-12 includes a “guided discussion,” with suggested topics: “What resonated with you from President Obama‘s speech? What is President Obama inspiring you to do?”

The most imporant thing for Americans to learn is not that they must serve their government or ask themselves what they can do for the government leaders.  To the contrary, we must remind the government leaders that they serve us

Yes, we should ask ourselves what we can do for our country, but serving our nation and our neighbors is a wholly different thing than serving our government.  Those in political power in a democratic position must be reminded that their position exists to serve the people, not vice versa.  Lets teach our children that truth, rather than allow our kids to be taught that they should figure out the best way to serve the president.