Saturday, November 07, 2015

Whately and the Golden Rule

I've been receiving quite a few search engine hits recently on some variation of 'richard whately's criticism of the golden rule', so I imagine some philosophy professor somewhere has had a unit on the subject. (Probably from Pojman and Vaughan's The Moral Life, which gives its selection from Whately the title, 'A Critique of the Golden Rule'.) In any case, from what I've seen elsewhere, there also seems to be a fair amount of confusion on the subject, so I thought I would say something about it.

Whately's discussion occurs in the Introductory Lessons on Morals. The context is actually quite important. One of the themes of this work is that human beings have a moral faculty, which we call conscience, and one of the subthemes is that all moral rules and standards are addressing this moral faculty, which they presuppose. Thus when Whately 'criticizes' the Golden Rule, he is really arguing that Scriptural moral guidance by its nature presupposes our ability to discern right and wrong. It does not follow that he rejects it or considers it to be unimportant. The Golden Rule, which is his example, cannot be the foundation of morality, but it can be a principle for cultivating and correcting our conscience. His analogy is that of a clock and a sundial, with the clock standing in for conscience and the sundial for Scriptural rules. If you want to tell time, the clock is in general the most convenient way, since it is always available and can be placed anywhere, whereas the sundial can only be used when the sun shines on it. But clocks that go wrong go consistently wrong and cannot correct themselves. If you want to make sure your clock is keeping accurate time, you need to correct it occasionally on the basis of a more reliable timepiece, like the sundial. Thus he concludes (p. 30):

We must be careful, therefore, to regulate both our business by the clock, and the clock by the dial; that is, to regulate our conduct by our Conscience, and our Conscience itself by the commands and instructions which God has given us.

The Golden Rule in particular, as Whately sees it, serves to counterbalance the bias of self-interest. Although he does not say explicitly, I think Whately here is drawing from Butler, who in his sermon on self-deception notes our excessive partiality to ourselves and uses precisely the example that Whately uses: David and Nathan. David, having committed adultery with Bathsheba and caused her husband to be slain, had less of a sense of the wrongness of the act than he did from Nathan's story of a rich man stealing a poor man's lamb; he did not apply his correct principles in the latter to himself until Nathan turned the story on him. Thus the Golden Rule serves as our Nathan:

And we, if we will make a practice of applying the golden rule, may have a kind of prophet always at hand, to remind us how, and when, to act on our principles of right.

Thus it is misleading to speak of Whately's "criticism" of the Golden Rule. He fully affirms it and insists that it is of extraordinary moral value. What he criticizes, rather, are relatively thoughtless interpretations and applications of it -- interpretations that, it should be said, he does not attribute to anyone or regard as particularly plausible interpretations of the rule in the first place. [ADDED LATER: It's perhaps worth insisting on this latter point: the whole structure of Whately's argument requires the interpretation that he thinks pretty much everyone can see at once that these absurd, wrong, or impossible applications are problematic, and this is further required by his basic thesis that such rules are directed to our innate ability to think morally.] People do not, in fact, tend to interpret the rule in the absurd, wrong, or impossible ways with which Whately opens his discussion -- they are raised in order to open a larger discussion of the relationship between conscience and the moral guidance of Scripture.

Links of Note, Noted for Their Notability

Due to a convergence of time-eating monsters, I'm taking another week to finish Villette, just so I don't have to rush it; so that post will be for next week.

* Les Green criticizes the taste for originality in certain circles of academic philosophy, which leads to competent base-work not getting done properly or else getting ignored.

* The excellent Jennifer Frey has some posts on the value of studying Aquinas in the context of ethics:
Why Aquinas? Part 1
Why Aquinas? Part 2

* Roger Pearse hunts down the sources of the quotation "Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad".

* Sabine Hassenfelder discusses the aporetic tetrad that structures current black hole research in physics.

* Kara Richardson on Causation in Arabic and Islamic Thought at the SEP

* An account of the New Martyrs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who are currently beatified; it also serves as a good summary of just what a trial of fire the UGCC has survived over the past century and a half.

* The Ukraine is currently undergoing an active decommunization, which raises the problem of what to do with Communist monuments. One Ukrainian artist realized that a statue of Lenin would be very easy to repurpose into a statue of Darth Vader.

* Stephan Schmid responds to Sydney Penner on Suarez on final causation.

* Peter Kwasniewski discusses the marriage analogy for the hypostatic union.

* The Battle of Agincourt was fought on October 25, 1415. Anne Curry discusses some of the incorrect views floating around about the battle.

* Tom Simon discusses the ozamataz and legosity of fiction that builds up a fan base.

* A short history of the ellipsis.

* Thomas Heinrich Stark discusses the relationship between mercy and justice in Thomas Aquinas.

* Leigh Johnson reflects on the case for having students memorize poetry.

* Bob Kurland discusses Duhem's account of the history of science.

* A selection from Ludwig von Pastor on the corruptions introduced by the Avignon Papacy.

* A look at how construction in Iceland accommodates the common Icelandic belief in elves.

* Mike Flynn on the rise of sentiment and the fall of civilization.

* MrD has an excellent critique of Fr. Thomas Reese's commentary on the synod.


* Dorothy Cummings McLean has some scathing comments about certain sectors of academic theology.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Hume and Hopes for Moral Wisdom

I am currently substituting for another professor's Ethics course, and was pleased to see that I would be able to do a little David Hume next week. Unfortunately, the text is Russ Shafer-Landau's The Fundamentals of Ethics. This is what Shafer-Landau says about Hume in the second edition (pp. 76-77):

There are many skeptical arguments that try to undermine hopes for moral wisdom. Here is a perennial favorite, a variation on an argument developed by the brilliant Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). Let's call this Hume's Argument, in his honor:

1. We can know only two sorts of claims: conceptual truths or empirical truths.
2. Moral claims are neither conceptual truths nor empirical truths.
3. Therefore, we can have no moral knowledge....

Hume had a supporting reason for thinking that moral knowledge could not be mpirical. Empirical knowledge tells us how to describe the world. And when we describe the world, we talk about what is the case. But morality speaks of what ought to be the case. How can we get from descriptions to prescriptions? How does knowing how the world actually works enable us to learn how it ought to work? Hume thought that there was no answer to this question. If he is right, there is a gap between what is and what ought to be, a gap that can never be crossed.

One hardly knows where to begin. I suppose one has to begin with what Hume's actual view is. Hume thinks moral claims can be empirical truths. Shafer-Landau footnotes the Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part 1 as the source of "Hume's Argument"; but Book III, Part 1 is specifically about rationalism. In Shafer-Landau's terminology, it argues that morality is not a conceptual truth (more precisely, it is not a relation of ideas recognized by reason). If one reads just a little more, into Part 2, one quickly discovers that Hume is a moral sense theorist, and thus in Shafer-Landau's terminology holds that morality consists of empirical truths about moral sentiment. This is the very first paragraph of Part 2:

Thus the course of the argument leads us to conclude, that since vice and virtue are not discoverable merely by reason, or the comparison of ideas, it must be by means of some impression or sentiment they occasion, that we are able to mark the difference betwixt them. Our decisions concerning moral rectitude and depravity are evidently perceptions; and as all perceptions are either impressions or ideas, the exclusion of the one is a convincing argument for the other. Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judged of; though this feeling or sentiment is commonly so soft and gentle, that we are apt to confound it with an idea, according to our common custom of taking all things for the same, which have any near resemblance to each other.

He then goes on to talk about how moral distinctions are founded on sensations, namely, some kind of pleasure and pain (but not every kind of pleasure or pain). This is as empirical as it gets; it would have been recognized as obviously such in Hume's day, and Hume's own empiricism requires taking it as such.

As to the claim that you can't get an ought from an is, I have discussed this before, so I will simply link to some of my posts on it:

Hume on Ought and Is, Part I: Background
Hume on Ought and Is, Part II: The Argument
Hume on Ought and Is, Part III: Conclusions

The irony is that Hume is being deployed in context against natural law theorists on one of a very small handful of things with respect to which Hume agrees with natural law theorists: that we are naturally capable of recognizing moral good and bad.

Fortunately, disagreeing with the book sometimes makes for the best philosophy classes.

Bright, Rejoicing Gates

The Coming of Morn
by Charles Heavysege

See how the Morn awakes. Along the sky
Proceeds she with her pale, increasing light,
And, from the depths of the dim canopy,
Drives out the shadows of departing night.
Lo, the clouds break, and gradually more wide
Morn openeth her bright, rejoicing gates;
And ever, as the orient valves divide,
A costlier aspect on their breadth awaits.

Lo, the clouds break, and in each opened schism
The coming Phoebus lays huge beams of gold,
And roseate fire and glories that the prism
Would vainly strive before us to unfold;
And, while I gaze, from out the bright abysm
A flaming disc is to the horizon rolled.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Music on My Mind

Nightwish, "Élan".

Due to various unexpected events, my schedule this week has been thrown utterly out of joint, so posting is likely to be fairly light in content and perhaps volume for the rest of the week.

Monday, November 02, 2015

All Souls

When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e'er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn'd,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight:
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.

Bl. John Henry Newman, Dream of Gerontius.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Maronite Year I

I have a strong attraction to the Maronite liturgy, one that predates my becoming Catholic. A little-known fact about me is that when I did become Catholic, I seriously considered doing so by way of the Maronite rite; I ended up not going that route for logistical reasons, but the Maronites are still one of the things I like best about the Catholic Church. This Sunday happens to be the beginning of the Maronite liturgical year, and one of the things I especially like about the Maronite liturgy is how its liturgical year is structured, so I thought I might try doing a series of syllabic poems for the Sundays and holy days of the Maronite year. I don't know if I'll manage to do all the major ones, but I should be able to get a few of them.

And so we start with the first Sunday. As an Antiochene church, the Maronites put an immense amount of emphasis on the confession of Peter, and it is with this that they start their year.

Sunday of the Consecration of the Church
Hebrews 9:1-12; Matthew 16:13-20

Earthly sanctuaries men have built,
by reason forming respectful rites,
to render homage to Most High God;
but God to Israel gave a higher way.

By law and earthly sanctuary
He gave us light, and holy bread,
prayerful incense, and covenant;
but even greater has God given to us.

A living temple He has formed.
His anointed is the Lamb on high,
the Priest who offers Himself to God;
Light and Bread of Life, He brings new covenant.

Who is our high Priest? Hear Peter's words:
"You are Christ, Son of the living God."
This is a divine revelation!
On Peter and his word Christ has built His Church.

Peter and all of the apostles,
joined as one, are the firm foundation.
Paul raised the structure. We are the stones.
Inside, the Lamb is enthroned, our salvation.

Entering the Church I was in awe;
I saw prophets, apostles, martyrs,
virgins and righteous men and women;
I saw the priests with baptism and the cross.

Priests raised Christ high above the altars
as cherubim sang alleluias:
earth and heaven were joined in prayer
through perfection, purity, and sanctity.

Rise to shine, O Church! Rise up in grace!
With smiling faces hymn your Savior.
O Christ, drive out evil from Your Church;
make us a lasting tower of salvation.

All Saints

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God.

Margaret Clitherow

The Pearl of York, as she is sometimes called, was born Margaret Middleton in Yorkshire, England, in 1556. She married John Clitherow in 1571 and converted to Catholicism in in 1574, at the age of 21. (Her husband, with whom she seems to have always remained on good terms, continued to be Protestant, but did not interfere with her conversion or devotions or even her dangerous work of protecting Catholic priests.) It was, you must remember, after the Church of England had broken from Rome. She regularly supported the Catholic community in northern England, including hosting Masses, which were illegal, and protecting Catholic priests despite the law. She was eventually investigated and it was discovered in 1586 that her house had priest-holes to allow priests to escape. She was put on trial, where she refused to plead her case (because that would have let the government force her children to testify) and therefore was tortured. She was found guilty and was executed on Good Friday of 1586 in the way criminals with forced pleas usually were: crushed to death. They took the door off her house, put it on top of her, and piled it with rocks until she died; a smaller rock was put under her so that the rocks would break her back. It was a relatively quick way to be executed. She was beatified in 1929 by Pius XI and canonized in 1970 by Paul VI as part of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. She is celebrated with those martyrs on May 4, although on English liturgical calendars she is usually celebrated on August 30 with St. Anne Line and St. Margaret Ward, who also were executed for harboring priests. She is a patron saint of businesswomen.

Kaleb Elesbaan of Axum

The Kingdom of Axum (covering modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea); Kaleb was one of its more important kings and lived in the sixth century. The act for which he is most famous was his invasion of Yemen, somewhere around 520, in order to put an end to the king of Yemen's persecution of Christians. This was successful, although Axum control of southern Arabia did not last very long. Longstanding legend says that after a long reign he abdicated his throne and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he donated his crown to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and became a monk. St. Kaleb, or St. Elesbaan, as he is sometimes called, was a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the bishops of which were not in communion with Rome; but he was put in the Roman Martyrology in the sixteenth century and has been there ever since. He is also on the Ethiopian and Eritrean Catholic calendars. His feast day is October 27.

Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin

Azélie-Marie Guérin wanted to become a nun, but she couldn't find anyone who would take her -- she had serious respiratory problems accompanied by migraines, and thus there were worries that she wouldn't actually be able to contribute to the missions of the religious orders she tried to join. She became a lacemaker to support herself, and eventually fell in love with a watchmaker named Louis Martin. Interestingly, Louis himself had wanted to become a monk and had been rejected because he didn't have the kind of education that the monastery needed. The woman who couldn't be a nun because of a lack of health and the man who couldn't be a monk because of a lack of the right education married each other in 1858. While both had been doing well enough, Zélie's lacemaking was so much more lucrative than Louis's watchmaking that Louis sold his watchmaking shop in order to help Zélie with her work. They were a good pair, if occasionally a little different from normal, and they had five daughters survive into adulthood, all of whom became nuns. The best known of these, of course, was Marie Françoise Thérèse, who became St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church. Zélie died of breast cancer in 1877 at the age of 46. Louis sold the lacemaking business, which he had mostly been involved with in order to support Zélie. He suffered paralyzing strokes and spent the last few years of his life being cared for by his younger daughters until his death in 1894 at the age of 71. Louis and Zélie were beatified by Benedict XVI in 2008 and canonized by Francis in October of 2015. Their shared feast day is July 12.

Gertrude of Nivelles

Gertrude was born in the seventh century to an important Frankish noble family. It is said that she vehemently refused to marry the man her father had arranged for her to marry, swearing an oath that her only spouse would be Jesus. While it's possible that her father could have forced her into the marriage, he died before he could do so, and Gertrude instead became a nun. This was not to be the end of her troubles with marriage, however, because she kept getting marriage proposals by people who wanted to marry into her family. These only came to an end when she and her mother Itta worked together to found a monastery at Nivelles, in modern-day Belgium. After Itta's death, Gertrude became abbess, where she became famous for being even-handed, for building churches, and for making sure orphans were cared for. She died most probably in 659. She was celebrated as a saint locally almost immediately but only raised to the universal calendar a millenium later by Clement X, in 1677. Her feast day is March 17.

Pius V

Antonio Ghisleri was born in 1504. He entered the Dominican order at the age of fourteen, taking the name of Michele, and eventually became first a priest and then bishop. He thrived under Pope Paul IV, but had some problems getting along with the nect Pope, Pius IV. Ghisleri, however, would become Pius IV's successor in 1566 and took the name Pius V. Pius IV had closed the Council of Trent; Pius V vigorously pushed through the Council's reforms. As part of this work, he promulgated the first standardized Missal, reformed the Breviary. He was an important figure in the formation of the Holy League that managed to defeat the Turkish army at the Battle of Lepanto. Throughout his papacy he was extremely active in charitable works. He died in 1572, after six short but extremely active years as Pope. He was beatified in 1672 by Clement X and canonized by Clement XI in 1712. His feast day is April 30.

Clare and Agnes of Assisi

Chiara Offreduccio was born the eldest daughter of the Count of Sasso-Rosso, and thus belonged to a minor but very ancient and wealthy noble family. At the age of 18, however, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach. She left her family, gave up everything, to follow Francis. He sent her to a Benedictine convent, whence her father tried to take her by force. She refused to go with him, literally holding onto the altar in the church. Francis then sent her to another convent, where she was joined by her sister; we don't know for sure the sister's birth name, although there is some reason to think it was Catarina, but the sister took the name of Agnes when she became a nun, just as Chiara took the name of Clare. Francis repaired a building near the church of San Damiano for them, and a number of other women began to join Clare and Agnes, becoming known to the locals as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano. The eventually received a Rule from Francis, becoming the Second Order of the Franciscans, and they just took the title the people had given them: the Order of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano. The house at San Damiano began to interact with other small religious institutes of women that had been formed on a broadly Franciscan model and soon became the dominant and most respected house. For a while Clare was the prioress of the community, governing it under the supervision of a priest and ultimately under Francis himself, but she was eventually made abbess, and thus became herself the supervisor of the order. Clare eventually chose her sister to lead another community in the order that was just starting, at Monticelli near Florence, and Agnes through the rest of her life went from place to place organizing nascent communities in the order. Because of Clare's influence and insistence on Franciscan principles, she was often known as the Other Francis. She died in 1253, shortly after Innocent IV confirmed the legitimacy of Clare's Rule for the order. In 1255, Clare was canonized by Alexander IV, and the name of the Order of the Poor Ladies was changed by Urban IV to the Order of Saint Clare in 1263; popularly they are known by a mix of the two, the Poor Clares. Agnes died shortly after Clare in 1253; she was widely venerated as a saint in areas in which the Franciscans were a significant presence, but she was only raised to the universal calendar in 1753 by Benedict XIV. Clare's feast day is August 11 and Agnes's is November 16.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara

Born in 1805 in the Indian state of Kerala, Kuriakose Chavara was a bright young man and soon found his way to seminary. He became a priest in 1829. With some fellow priests, he sought to form a congregation devoted to the monastic life, the Servants of Mary Immaculate. This congregation became the first Syro-Malabar religious congregation for men. The young group would eventually become affiliated with the Discalced Carmelites, leading to the name they retain today, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. The congregation became an active force, introducing new approaches to religious life and devotion while at the same time firmly upholding the centrality of doctrine and the unity of the Church. The success of this project led him to fulfill another ambition. He had long argued that the improvement of society required an emphasis on education, especially on the education of women, and in 1866 he founded a religious congregation for Syro-Malabar women for this purpose, which is known today as the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel. He died in 1871, was beatified by John Paul II in 1986, and canonized by Francis in 2014. His feast day is January 3.


Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict. She lived most of her life in religious communities, and became known for her intensive study of the sacred texts and of the Church Fathers. She is the primary foundress of the Benedictine movement for women. She died in about 543 and her feast day is February 10. She is a patron saint of nuns.

Vinh Sơn Phạm Hiếu Liêm

Phạm Hiếu Liêm was born in the Tonkin territory of what is now Vietnam in 1732 to a Christian family; when he was baptized, he was given the name of Vicente Liem de la Paz. He eventually was sent to the Philippines to study, and after completing his degree at the University of Santo Tomas, he entered the Dominican order, and was ordained a priest in 1758. He returned to Tonkin, where he actively began preaching the faith. Because of this, he was eventually arrested and brought to trial before the local king and as a result he was executed in 1773. He was beatified by Pius X, and John Paul II canonized him in 1988. His feast day is November 24.

Thorlak Thorhallsson

Thorlak was born in Iceland in the twelfth century. After joining the priesthood, he studied in Paris. When he returned to Iceland, he founded a community of Canons Regular (priests living in community under the Augustinian Rule). He insisted on living a celibate life, which was actually unusual for priests Iceland in his day -- he repeatedly had to turn down marriage proposals. He was eventually consecrated as a bishop by St. Eysteinn Erlendsson and actively worked to root out corruptions in the Icelandic church. After his death he was informally canonized by long and universal devotion in Iceland, where he was on the local calendar, but this was not formally recognized and he was not raised to the universal calendar until John Paul II did so in 1984, when he was officially declared what he had been unofficially for the previous six centuries, the patron saint of Iceland. His feast day, December 23, is a major cultural holiday in Iceland, essentially starting off the Christmas celebrations.

John Damascene

Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun was born into Muslim-occupied Syria; his family consisted of civil servants working in the administration of the Muslim court at Damascus, and his father became secretary to the caliph. Some sources suggest that John also served as a financial officer for the caliph for at least a short time, although there is very little other evidence that this is so. He eventually became a monk at the monastery of Mar Saba (which, of course, still exists, overlooking the Kidron Valley in Palestinian territory). He seems to have been able to speak both Greek and Arabic, and shows some signs of having read the Qur'an. In the 720s, the dispute over the role of images in the prayer of the Church came to a crisis when Leo III the Isaurian in Constantinople began to back the Iconoclast side of the dispute with Imperial power. Being out of the reach of the Emperor, John was able to mount an extraordinary defense of the Iconodoules and criticism of the Iconoclasts, one that managed to be theologically sophisticated and yet also relatively accessible to the common people. John died in about 749. His theology was highly influential at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. In 1883 he was declared Doctor of the Church by Leo XIII. His feast day is December 4.

2014 All Saints Post
Marie Guyart, Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, John Neumann, Hildegard von Bingen, Pedro de San José Betancurt, Benedict the Moor

2013 All Saints Post
María Guadalupe García Zavala, Antonio Primaldi, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse and Augustine Zhao Rong, Josephine Margaret Bakhita, John Chrysostom

2012 All Saints Post
Jadwiga of Poland, Kateri Tekakwitha, André Bessette, Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès, Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

2011 All Saints Post
Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro, Celestine V, Olga of Kiev, Cyril of Jerusalem, Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga

2010 All Saints Post
Moses the Black of Ethiopia, Micae Hồ Đình Hy, Katherine Mary Drexel, Robert Southwell, Lojze Grozde, Andrew Kim Tae Gon