Sunday, November 27, 2016

Right to Pursue Happiness: Eudaimonia

When I teach introductory or ethical portions of various American law courses, I usually lay the foundations with broad principles law seeks to protect and promote. And I go to America's Foundations (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Jocke Locke, etc.).

Things like: Life, Liberty, Property, Equality, Promotion of Commerce, Order, Health & Safety, Diffusion of Knowledge.

As noted above (parenthetically) we do the Declaration and John Locke. I don't put "pursuit of happiness" on the list; though I do discuss how in Locke's original it was "life, liberty and property" and Thomas Jefferson changed it from  "property" to "pursuit of happiness."

The classes I teach tend to be survey classes (that is we don't get too deep into the tall weeds). So I attempt to briefly gloss over what I am about to write. First, scholars debate why Jefferson and the Declaration's other authors made this change and what, if anything it means. Left leaning scholars, I have observed, tend to emphasize Jefferson did this to give short shrift to property rights. Others, I have observed, argue simply the right to "pursue happiness" means "property rights."

To me and others, on the face of it, the rights to "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness" sound like a redundancy.

I suspect however, such was a bit of wisdom the authors of the Declaration attempted to impart that traces to Aristotle (Eudaimonia). For reasons I need not get into in this post, I reject the argument that the Declaration and American Founding ought to be understood that there is only a right to do what's right, or that there can be no right to do wrong.

And that's not, as far as I understand, what Eudaimonia means. Rather, what such means is ... well let's let George Washington explain:
There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; ...
In other words, in order to be truly happy (or perhaps we can say happiest), you must do what's virtuous. Certain unvirtuous behaviors may, in short, make us feel good; but we will probably wake up the next day feeling worse than we did before we did the dirty deed.

So use your liberty wisely. You can use it to do what's right or perhaps not right; but if you use it to do the latter, you won't end up happiest. Perhaps not happy at all. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dr. Robert P. Kraynak on Strauss, Voegelin, and Burke

Check it out here. A taste:
Following the logic of their positions, Strauss and Voegelin agree on crucial points in the development of Western thought but diverge on the role of Christianity. For Strauss, Western thought is a philosophical drama in which the classical philosophers and their medieval developers made virtue the standard for politics; this approach provoked the accusation of modern thinkers that the ancients “aimed too high” and that one should lower the goal of politics to the satisfaction of selfish human passions in a regime of freedom and material prosperity. While the modern revolt against any authority above man at first glorified scientific reason in the conquest of nature, it eventually led to the destruction of reason and produced the crisis of moral relativism or nihilism—the denial of any objective standard of right and wrong and the complete forgetting of eternity. Faced with this situation, Strauss sought to recover the classical rationalism of Socrates, which he understood to be a kind of zetetic (or searching) skepticism that allowed for rational standards of morality in natural right.
For Voegelin, the development of Western thought is mostly a religious drama (“history is Christ writ large”) in which Christianity changed human consciousness in ways that make it impossible to return to classical philosophy. While Christianity advanced the consciousness of the West by elevating the dignity of all persons, it also created a problem for political authority by dividing the spiritual and temporal into two realms and by radically secularizing or “de-divinizing” the political realm. This division eventually provoked a reaction among medieval thinkers like Joachim of Flora who sought to re-connect the two realms by giving politics an eschatological dimension. Their efforts produced a deformed kind of spiritual knowledge that Voegelin calls Gnosticism—the attempt to realize heaven on earth through secularized political religions, such as radical Puritanism, progressive liberalism, Comte’s “religion of humanity,” socialism, communism, and fascism. The history of the West is thus a Christianized history of consciousness that leads to misguided efforts to bring about worldly salvation through utopian ideologies, resulting in the totalitarian tyrannies of the modern age. Faced with this situation, Voegelin sought to recover the primary experience of openness to transcendence in the “mystic-philosophers” of earlier ages in the hope of restoring the authentic basis of order.
Both Strauss and Voegelin thought John Locke was "modern." Hat tip: Tom Van Dyke

Saturday, November 19, 2016

VoegelinView: "Redefining Rebellion: John Locke’s Slight of Hand"

By Scott Robinson here. A taste:
Voegelin was indeed quite critical of Locke on those occasions when he wrote about him, labeling Locke among “the most repugnant, dirty, morally corrupt appearances in the history of humanity”1 because Voegelin saw Locke as “an ideological constructor, who brutally destroys every philosophical problem in order to justify the political status quo.”2
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, and their respective followers, disagree on much. One thing in which they were agreed is that John Locke was up to something.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Historians Against Trump" vs. Dart-Throwing Monkeys

[Reposted from July 24.  Since the usual suspects are at it again post-November 8, so too the rebuttal.]

“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being of course determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.”--E. H. Carr

You may have heard from our friend John Fea about a group of academics calling themselves "Historians Against Trump."  Philosopher Stanley Fish took to The New York Times to question the validity of such an enterprise in an essay called "Professors, Stop Opining About Trump." and I think historian/historiographer E.C. Carr would quite agree.

From the liner notes: 

Historiography consists partly of the study of historians and partly of the study of historical method, the study of the study of history. Many eminent historians have turned their hand to it, reflecting on the nature of the work they undertake and its relationship both to the reader and to the past. Carr was a well-known authority on the history of Soviet Russia, with which he was in ideological sympathy. Invited to deliver the 1961 George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures, Carr chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study. At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity.

He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.

In short, historians are entitled to their opinion, but it's not necessarily any better than normal people's. And although some individuals are quite brilliant in forecasting the future, social psychologist Phillip Tetlock's famous study proved that when grouped together [say, as "Historians Against Trump"], experts' predictions were worse than those of dart-throwing monkeys!

In the end, there's really no difference between a consensus and a mob; the wise individual speaks only for himself.

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau (The British Republicans) & Modernity

One of these days I'm going to write a piece examining how current Western liberal democracies reflect the different ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (and the British republicans as a proxy for Rousseau or vice versa). The current system of bureaucracy, including military bureaucracy is Hobbsean. That he, unlike Locke was unpopular among America's Founders is irrelevant: His vision of huge government prevailed.

To speak of a "republican" tradition in contradistinction to Locke's "liberalism" is important because many scholars after most notably Bernard Bailyn argued republicanism prevailed over liberalism. I am suspicious of this claim and have concluded there were simply viable streams of thought that were in tension with one another (harmonized as unified by the "Whigs").

Likewise with egalitarian republican Rousseau. He wasn't popular in America. But both present day America and Europe have similar safety nets, redistribution of wealth and income, and regulations on businesses, with Europe tending to be slightly more progressive. A difference in degree, not kind.

Late 18th Century England and America may not have cared for Rousseau, but they did have their own stream of "republicans" who argued for economic leveling on very similar grounds. They tended to do so using biblical language. However, Rousseau was, at least exoterically, a theist who claimed to be a Christian.

So we can swap Harrington for Rousseau, and it doesn't make much of a difference.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

EJ Spode: "The Calvinist Roots of American Anti-Intellectualism"

Check it out here. A taste:
The sanitized story about Protestantism that has been passed down to us is that it represented a revolt against corruption in the Church and brought a focus on Biblical writing rather than Church traditions as a source of authority. And it was indeed about those things. Partly. But more than that it was a revolt against an idea, espoused by Saint Aquinas, that we can come to know nature without the aid of religion (in the insider terminology, we can understand nature without the help of grace). The idea that part of the world that could be known and understood without aid of religion helped ignite the Renaissance but was an idea that Calvin in particular could not tolerate. In his view, separation of grace and nature would lead to no end of troubles; every aspect of our lives (science, culture, etc.) needed to be brought under religious control.
I think this certainly accurately describes some Calvinists. I for one have come across many American Calvinist fideists.  I wonder though, whether this accurately describes the big picture.

Hat tip: The Barefoot Bum.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Does Christianity Really Authorize Slavery?

Leading unitarian William Ellery Channing, in his own highly influential 1835 polemic "Slavery," quotes the well-known Christian ethicist Francis Wayland's "Elements of Moral Science" in one of the more elegant religious arguments of the era.

One criticism of "fideism" is that it calls for the abandonment of reason and common sense, but as we see, that critique is spurious:

I close this section with a few extracts from a recent work of one of our most distinguished writers; not that I think additional arguments necessary, but because the authority of Scripture is more successfully used than any thing else to reconcile good minds to slavery.

"This very course, which the Gospel takes on this subject, seems to have been the only one that could have been taken in order to effect the universal abolition of slavery. The Gospel was designed, not for one race or for one time, but for all races and for all times. It looked, not at the abolition of this form of evil for that age alone, but for its universal abolition. Hence the important object of its author was to gain it a lodgment in every part of the known world; so that, by its universal diffusion among all classes of society, it might quietly and peacefully modify and subdue the evil passions of men; and thus, without violence, work a revolution in the whole mass of mankind. In this manner alone could its object, a universal moral revolution, have been accomplished. 

For if it had forbidden the EVIL, instead of subverting the PRINCIPLE, if it had proclaimed the unlawfulness of slavery, and taught slaves to RESIST the oppression of their masters, it would instantly have arrayed the two parties in deadly hostility throughout the civilized world; its announcement would have been the signal of servile war; and the very name of the Christian religion would have been forgotten amidst the agitations of universal bloodshed. The fact, under these circumstances, that the Gospel does not forbid slavery, affords no reason to suppose that it does not mean to prohibit it; much less does it afford ground for belief that Jesus Christ intended TO AUTHORIZE IT.

"It is important to remember, that two grounds of moral obligation are distinctly recognised in the Gospel. The first is our duty to man as man; that is, on the ground of the relation which men sustain to each other; the second is our duty to man as a creature of God; that is, on the ground of the relation which we all sustain to God. --Now it is to be observed, that it is precisely upon this latter ground that the slave is commanded to obey his master. It is never urged, like the duty of obedience to parents, because it is right, but because the cultivation of meekness and forbearance under injury will be well-pleasing unto God. --The manner in which the duty of servants or slaves is inculcated, therefore, affords no ground for the assertion, that the Gospel authorizes one man to hold another in bondage, any more than the command to honor the king, when that king was Nero, authorized the tyranny of the emperor; or than the command to turn the other cheek, when one is smitten, justifies the infliction of violence by an injurious man."*

*Wayland's "Elements of Moral Science," pages 225 and 226. The discussion of Slavery, in the chapter from which these extracts are made, is well worthy attention.

Arnhart on Natural Law, Darwin and Weakness of Fideism

See here from Larry Arnhart. A taste:
As some of the panelists indicated, one of [J.] Budziszewski's main ideas is to oppose what he calls "the Second Table Project."  It is said that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone.  Traditionally, the first four commandments are identified as the first tablet or table, and they concern the worship of God; the last six commandments (beginning with honoring father and mother) are identified as the second table, and they concern moral laws.  Some Christians (Roger Williams, for example) have seen here a separation of Church and State, in that the Church enforces the first table of theological law, while the State enforces only the second table of moral law.  The first table requires religious faith.  But the second table can be known by natural reason.  The first table corresponds to divine law that can be known only by those who are believers in the Bible as divine revelation.  The second table corresponds to natural law that can be known by all human beings, even those who are not biblical believers, because it depends on natural human experience.  The second table can stand on its own natural ground without any necessary dependence on the supernatural.  But this is exactly what Budziszewski denies, because, he insists, there cannot be a natural law if there is no divine lawgiver.


 A third example of natural law correcting the Bible is recognizing the wrongness of the Bible's endorsement of slavery.  While the Bible sanctions slavery (see my post here, which includes links to other posts), Budziszewski knows by natural law that this is wrong, and therefore he looks for some way to correct the Bible to conform to his natural moral knowledge that slavery is wrong.  He writes: "Consider how many centuries it took natural law thinkers even in the Christian tradition to work out the implications of the brotherhood of master and slave.  At least they did eventually.  Outside of the biblical orbit, no one ever did--not spontaneously" (The Line Through the Heart, 36).  The explicit teaching of the Bible is that the "brotherhood of master and slave" is consistent with preserving slavery as a moral good, and this was the understanding of many Christians in the American South before the Civil War.  But Budziszewski rightly judges that Christians had to correct the Bible by seeing that human brotherhood demands the abolition of slavery as a great moral wrong.
In the title of my post I used the term "weakness of fideism." Admittedly, it's only a weakness if we understand the Bible's apparent sanction of slavery to be problematic.