Review of Russell Hittinger, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory (Notre Dame, 1987), 232 pp.
By W. H. MARSHNER
FAITH AND REASON
Vol. XVI, No. 2
The job of ethics is to tell us which actions are right and wrong, while the job of a “grounding” for ethics is to tell us why. For example, a “grounding” might show that right actions measure up to something, and the wrong ones don’t, and then tell us why this measure matters. Different kinds of grounding have been tried in the history of ethics; one is called “natural law” theory, and the three authors at issue in this review — Thomas Aquinas, Germain Grisez, and Russell Hittinger — all favor some version of it.
Natural law theory comes in more versions than one might suppose, and thence arises the present tale. Grisez claims that his version is indebted to Aquinas’s version but departs in some particulars and does the job better. Hittinger wants to be on Aquinas’s side more thumpingly; he stresses Grisez’s departures and argues that Grisez’s system does not do the job so well.
There is no point in rehearsing the particulars of this quarrel because Hittinger has already lost it. The “departures” for which he principally faulted Grisez turned out to be serious misreadings of the latter’s position. When Grisez pointed this out, Hittinger had no reply.
Rather, it will be useful to look at some larger questions. If a contemporary natural law theory is to follow the main lines of Aquinas, what should it look like? Does Grisez’s system, in general, look like that? If it does, why does he have Thomistic critics? What are the critics looking for?
Since a natural law theory is a design with many parts, one could be pursuing these questions at very great length indeed, if one raised them afresh for every part; so, to keep this review within printable length, let us raise them only for one part, but a crucial one — the problem of “complete good.”
According to Aquinas, human actions get their rightness or wrongness from how they measure up to man’s “complete good.” A good is “complete” when it includes in itself (in a general way) everything we really want and leaves nothing to be desired outside of itself. Because it leaves nothing out, it leaves no room behind it for a more ultimate good that would draw one to seek it. For that reason, a “complete good” will serve as the “ultimate purpose” of a human life. This is why it matters that our actions measure up to it. According to Aquinas, this ultimate good and purpose is happiness — something we all pursue, though we differ in how we identify it.
Grisez agrees with this. So for him, as for Aquinas, a basic question to be resolved is how we ought to identify happiness. The question is not about particularities, in which the happiness of one person inevitably differs from the happiness of another, but about the overall concept we should form of happiness. Please consider two plausible concepts.
- Happiness1 is everyone’s “all-around flourishing.” Happiness1 is enjoyed by everyone’s participating in the full set of goods which are intrinsically fulfilling to us — goods like friendship, recreation, integrity, knowledge, and life itself.
- Happiness2 is possession of the highest good. Happiness2 is possession of an object whose limitless goodness would fulfill human desire entirely, i.e. God.
Grisez’s moral system, insofar as it is a philosophical ethics, is based on happiness1. You could call Grisez’s philosophy a take-off on happiness1, in which the intrinsically fulfilling goods are separately enumerated as seven “basic goods,” the ingredients of happiness itself. A human choice is found to be “morally good” if it is the choice of a coherent way to pursue some of these goods without violating any of them. Only insofar as Grisez’s system is also a moral theology does it deal with happiness2. Most people wouldn’t find this procedure very surprising, since the thesis of happiness2 — I mean, the thesis that total fulfillment through God is available to man — is a Christian thesis.
But there is a valid issue about the preparation for Christianity inside of Grisez’s philosophy. How he manages the transition from ethical philosophy to moral theology has been questioned. Does Grisez build a good enough connection between happiness as all-around flourishing and happiness as having God?
Hittinger asked this question, and it would have been a fair one, if he had made it answerable. You see, Grisez can only answer his critics if they will kindly tell him what kind of connection is good enough. Then Grisez could say, “I’ve met your standard,” or “Your standard is wrong-headed, and here’s why.” But in general the critics do not articulate a standard. Hittinger didn’t. He never told us in clear terms what he wanted to see in an “adequate” natural law theory. Like other “Thomistic” critics of Grisez, Hittinger seemed to think he could get by with an implicit standard, consisting basically of a batch of texts from Aquinas. Implicitly, the standard is that the kind of connection St. Thomas makes (between happiness as flourishing and happiness as having God) is good enough.
But what kind of connection is that? Did Aquinas understand ‘flourishing’ in the same sense as Grisez, the sense captured by happiness1? Hittinger ducked the question. How would Aquinas have defined ‘happiness’ without his theology? Hittinger didn’t say.
No one doubts that when Aquinas gets around to defining happiness, as he does in the Summa Theologica 1-2, q. 3, happiness2 is what he comes up with. But his happiness2 is formulated with the aid and support of revealed information. This point becomes perfectly clear when one looks at how Aquinas further divides happiness2. His subdivisions go like this (but the labels are mine):
Happiness2e = the essential core of happiness2 = a person’s being conjoined to uncreated good (1-2, q. 3, a. 3). It is the state of affairs which obtains in this life because a person is in the state of grace and which obtains in the next life because a person enjoys the beatific vision. Thus happiness2e is the well-being for man which is the common content of the grace-state and the glory-state.
Happiness2i = the imperfect realization of happiness2 which can be achieved in this life = all that pertains to happiness2 as an antecedent to it (1-2, q. 3, a. 3). Thus happiness2i includes the fulfillment of all such conditions (physical, intellectual, or social) as are required for the flawless conduct of this life (1-2, q. 3, a. 3 ad 2um). Because its core is remaining in a state of grace, this happiness includes the “right willing” which respects all the goods as one knows them (1-2, q. 4, a. 4) and which therefore tends to yield the morally correct handling and pursuing of all the goods encountered in this world.
Happiness2c = the complete or perfect realization of happiness2 which is achieved in the resurrected life of the blessed = all that pertains to happiness2 as a consequence of it (1-2, q. 3, a. 3). Thus happiness2c includes the fulfillment of all such conditions (physical, social, etc.) as redound to man’s whole nature from the perfective actuation of his intellect in the visio beatifica (1-2, q. 3, a. 3 ad 3um), including a shift in the basis of right willing, from all the goods as I know them, to God as I see Him (1-2, q. 4, a. 4).
Thus it is perfectly clear that the happiness Aquinas defines, happiness2, is a supernatural affair. It pretty nearly translates into an Evangelical bumper-sticker: “Happiness is being saved.”
At the same time, however, it made sense to Aquinas to ask how one would characterize happiness if one approached the question in purely philosophical terms, as Aristotle did, setting aside what we know by revelation. In fact, it made sense to Aquinas to suppose that the philosophical answer one would formulate would also serve to define the good which would have seemed “complete” to us, if God had not offered us a covenant of grace. For in that case, our happiness would have been proportionate to our nature (whereas, in the actual case, our happiness by grace is disproportionate). It would have been naturally knowable to us, and philosophy deals with what is naturally knowable as the fulfillment of our nature. So, what would that happiness have been? Hittinger didn’t say.
Also, there ought to be some kind of connection between the natural happiness and happiness2. Something in or about us is profoundly consonant with happiness2, so that when God reveals it, it comes to us as a delightful surprise rather than a shock. How did Aquinas explain that? If there is no understanding what actions are good without understanding the ultimate end at which actions are aimed, and if there is no understanding that end without understanding the “complete good” which is objectively suited to be that end for man, the connection of natural good to supernatural good ought to be explained in the places where Aquinas deals with “last end” and “complete good” — the first few Questions of the Prima Secundae. At least the clues to the explanation ought to be here. But where exactly are they? Hittinger didn’t say.
More basically, one can hardly hunt for these clues without deciding what one is looking for. The Thomist critic of Grisez must first decide whether Grisez’s construct, happiness1, is in Aquinas. If it is, then we are hunting for clues as to how Aquinas gets from happiness1 to happiness2. It is a question of transition — how Aquinas makes it, and how Grisez makes it. If happiness1 is not in Aquinas, there is no such transition in him, and so there is no point in looking for it. Which situation are we in? Hittinger didn’t say.
These are serious omissions. You see, Grisez is charged with lacking a proper preparation in his philosophy for the God- centered account of happiness which appears in his moral theology (and which must appear in any Christian theology). On account of this alleged lack, Grisez is even accused of “fideism” by Hittinger. Aquinas, by contrast, is held innocent of all mistake. So what has Aquinas got that Grisez doesn’t? We ought to be told.
Now let’s start to remedy these omissions. Let’s suppose that Grisez’s happiness1 is not in Aquinas, and see where we come out.
If happiness1 is not in Aquinas, there has got to be something else in him — a happinessx — because there has got to be a happiness other than happiness2. Something has to be the happiness that philosophy can account for and that would have been man’s “complete good” on a natural basis. It can’t be happiness2, because the complete good natural to man is the good whose attraction anyone must feel just because he or she is a human being — the good someone can therefore understand, desire, pursue and attain independently of supernatural help. You can’t say this about happiness2 without making Pelagianism true, or without making Baianism true (take your pick), or without making some version of Blondelianism true, such as the one for which Henri de Lubac was censured. The natural end of man cannot be made happiness2 without fudging (to the point of abolishing) the distinction between nature and supernature.
Now, many people think that happinessx can be a natural- law clone of happiness2 — a natural enjoyment of the Prime Mover, based on a natural knowledge of His essence or causality, rendered so compellingly attractive to us by our “natural desire to see God” that, even without divine revelation, we could take it seriously as our complete good. I suspect that this is the real position of many Grisez critics, including Hittinger. They seem to think of natural-law reasoning as beginning with metaphysical premises and running along more or less as follows:
- There is a hierarchy of being, in which some beings are higher than others.
- Insofar as anything is a being, it is good.
- So there is a corresponding hierarchy of goods, in which some are higher than others.
- Man flourishes by possessing or participating in the goods he naturally desires.
- Thanks to his intellect, man is not limited as to the level of good he naturally can desire, but open-ended.
- Therefore, man flourishes the more, in proportion as he participates in goods that are higher.
- So man flourishes supremely if he possesses the highest good.
- But the highest good would have to be the highest being.
- The highest being is God, as proven to exist in metaphysics.
- Therefore man flourishes supremely if he possesses God.
- The more man flourishes the happier he is.
- Therefore man is supremely happy if he possesses God.
You see where we end up. We deduce a natural-law clone of happiness2. Between the clone and the real thing (Christian beatitude) there is then a sameness of idea (‘having God’). No conceptual transition from the one to the other is necessary. We get from philosophy to theology just by adding a few facts about Jesus, grace, and glory. Divine revelation comes as a delightful surprise because what God is revealing is just that through Jesus He is making Himself easy to get. Christianity greases the skids to what natural reason already assures us is “all we want.”
If I am not mistaken, something like this is how Hittinger thinks things go in Aquinas, and therefore how he thinks they ought to go in an “adequate” natural-law theory. He looks for stuff like this in Grisez and doesn’t find it. Instead of the natural clone, Hittinger finds happiness1 in Grisez, which is conceptually distinct from happiness2. Instead of a deduction like this from metaphysics, appealing to speculative reason, Hittinger finds in Grisez an induction of the “basic goods” and an appeal to practical reason. Instead of a speculative hierarchy of beings and goods, he finds in Grisez a practical incommensurability of goods. So Hittinger writes a dyspeptic book.
Well, it is certainly true that the stuff Hittinger seems to be looking for is not in Grisez. But I submit that it is not in Aquinas either — key premises of the above argument do not appear in the places where St. Thomas is grounding ethics. They aren’t there, I submit further, because the deduction sketched out above is humanly and philosophically worthless.
I don’t say this because I doubt the objective hierarchy of beings and goods, speculatively considered. I concede, for example, that a cockroach, because it is an animate being, is a better being than a mountain of gold, an inanimate being. But I have no plans to obtain a cockroach. The good of its being is no good to me. A thing’s high degree of ontological goodness simply does not imply a correspondingly high contribution to anyone’s happiness. Hence premise (6) above is false, and as a result premises (1) through (3) are irrelevant.
When one sees this, one sees why the “grounding” of ethics has to begin with the goods that are good “to us,” the goods we humans spontaneously seek; it cannot begin with the metaphysical truths Hittinger seems to miss. A ground for ethics has to begin with practical reason.
To be sure, the goodness of God has practical import. God would have had some bearing upon our happiness, I concede, even if He had remained unattainable, because we “naturally” want to see God. There isn’t a man or woman alive who doesn’t want to “see” if there is an intelligent Being behind the universe — behind the Big Bang, if you will. And I concede that there are people who would bend every effort to see this. Maybe everybody would, if you caught them in the right mood and at the right point in their lives. An entrepreneur who could provide transit to the edge of space-time, and there provide a first-hand look at the Maker, would turn Pascal’s wager into a paying proposition. I’m convinced of it.
But these concessions only prove that seeing or possessing God would naturally be “a” good for man, not the complete good.
To begin with, you can’t turn God into a tourist attraction. That’s part of the problem. Setting aside Jesus and His grace, a human being cannot get to know God in the way that is delightful and connatural to us, the way of personal encounter. If we don’t have an “economy” of revelation, we can only get to know about God through philosophizing, and there are precious few people who would bend every effort to see God, if they found out that “seeing” Him was like seeing the truth of a theorem in Euclid. There is a refined sort of pleasure in such “seeing,” but there is no friendship. You need to use your head, but there is no need for any other virtue.
As a result, this kind of “seeing” can’t be the “complete good” on which to ground a livable morality. Let the reader think this through for himself. Identifying man’s “complete good” is basic to morality, for Aquinas, because the complete good is involved in the definition of right willing (recta voluntas). Right or upright willing is willing that respects the complete good (1-2, q. 4, a. 4). Well, then: if a “natural vision” of God were our complete good — and I don’t care whether it was realized by philosophy in this life or by metaphysical experiences in the hereafter — then willing anything at all would be “right willing” just in case it was open to this good alone, and the only “sin” possible would be disinterest in First Philosophy. Caligula would have been glad to hear it.
You see, the good of “seeing” God will crown an arduous pursuit of the good of knowledge, but it won’t include any other good we value, unless one or another special arrangement is in place. In Christianity, the special arrangements are at least four in number.
First, there is an ontological arrangement, whereby “seeing” God becomes an interpersonal union; it is not just having Him as an object of cognition but having Him as a Friend and having Him inwardly — so inwardly that His limitless goodness floods into us and satisfies every longing we could ever have — including our longings for comfort, companionship, and pleasure.
Second, we get a foretaste of this arrangement in the joys that attend our interior renewal in this life, in justification by grace. For this involves the “indwelling” of the divine Persons in our souls; with Them comes “the peace that passes understanding” and a full range of other gifts. These are mystical gifts that are nevertheless widely verified in the experience of ordinary Christians. They make “new life in Christ” a delicious reality, especially when we can live it with “brothers and sisters” in the Church. Thanks to this company, and these gifts, and this peace, it will make sense to organize one’s whole life around remaining in the state of grace, despite tangible and technicolor temptations, and even though we cannot yet possess God in that all-fulfilling way mentioned above.
Third, there is a providential arrangement, whereby “all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose” (Rm 8:28). This arrangement pertains specifically to this life, where we face a daunting range of material needs and financial responsibilities. Through this providence, God makes good on what would otherwise be an implausible promise: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things [food, clothing, etc.] shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33). This is not exactly a promise to enrich the elect, as Calvinists have sometimes supposed, but it is a promise of material support. It makes “abandonment to divine providence” a livable option. In less lyrical terms, it takes the worry out of the devout life. It insures that God will not ask us to choose between losing Him forever and watching our children starve (though the ration He offers the righteous can be an austere diet).
Fourth, there is an eschatological arrangement whereby, if we die united by grace to God in our souls, He gives us our bodies back glorified in the Resurrection, so that we can look forward to participating as whole human persons in the endless city-life of the New Jerusalem, with the companionship of Divine Persons as our common good.
Routinely, defenders of the natural clone theory have forgotten these arrangements and how special they are. But Aquinas didn’t. He dealt extensively with the Christian arrangements. He knew that without the first arrangement, the “friendship of God” would be flatly impossible; without the second, it wouldn’t affect this life; without the third, it would pose a tragic dilemma in this life; and without the fourth, it would alienate us from our bodily nature.
Hence the natural clone theory is untenable. A purely natural “seeing” of God cannot be the happiness natural to man, as Aquinas would have conceived of it.
Yet as soon as one says this, one is forced to face a powerful objection arising from other Thomistic texts. Sometimes Aquinas flatly quotes Aristotle (Ethics X, 7) as saying that the natural happiness of man would be philosophical contemplation of God (the optimum intelligibile) in this life, and Aquinas shows no signs of disagreeing with this (e.g. in q. 62, a. 1). Quite the contrary, Aquinas seems to reach the same conclusion through the drift of Question 2 in the Prima Secundae. In this question Aquinas asks what happiness “consists in,” and through eight relentless articles he rejects one answer after another, from money to power, from pleasure to brains, until he ends up contending that it can’t consist in any created good. By sheer process of elimination, one is left with uncreated good, which would be God, and so the natural clone theory would seem to be vindicated after all.
This objection is pulverized by several considerations.
First, the whole “process of elimination” in 1-2, q. 2, is an exercise in Christian apologetics. It assumes that the Christian answer — “possessing Uncreated Good in a vital conjunction to It” — is available to man; the argumentation conducts one to this answer over the obstacles posed by certain popular rivals, like possessing plenty of money. As an exercise in apologetics, the argumentation is free to assume what a philosophical grounding of ethics could not assume (and could not prove either, for that matter) — namely, that it is possible as a practical matter for man to “possess Uncreated Good” — possess It in a way that would involve not only the good of knowing but also every other good that enters into our “complete flourishing.” Hence the text of 12, q. 2, is not a philosophical exercise, is not a place where ethics is being grounded philosophically, and cannot be cited as support for the natural-clone theory of happiness.
Second, the question about wherein happiness consists, as raised and pursued by Aquinas in 1-2, q. 2, is not a question about which goods are intrinsic to human fulfillment. These goods, as ingredients of happiness, are partially enumerated by Aquinas elsewhere. Rather, the question is about how that man is situated, whom we ought to call “happy. ” Should we call a man happy when (or better: because) he is so situated as to have riches? Not necessarily. Should we call a man happy because he is so situated as to have honors? Not necessarily. Etc. In other words, the question being resolved by process of elimination is not about the set of goods involved in “complete good” but about the set of conditions under which those goods (whatever they are) will be delivered. This is an extremely important distinction, and we shall return to it. For the moment, it suffices to understand that the process of elimination in 1-2, q. 2, reaches the conclusion that, unless you are so situated as to possess an Uncreated Good, the true content of human happiness is not being delivered to you. It does not reach the conclusion that a merely natural mode of this possessing would involve as an ingredient every good that human flourishing involves.
At this point, the objection from Aristotle becomes relevant. If Aristotle, knowing nothing of supernatural arrangements, says that man’s fulfillment/happiness will be found in contemplating the optimum intelligibile, and this contemplation would therefore count as a natural mode of possessing the Uncreated Good of God, and Aquinas agrees that this would have been our natural happiness, if we hadn’t been gifted with a supernatural mode instead, then how is it possible to avoid the conclusion that this natural mode of possessing God would have involved, according to Aquinas, every ingredient of human flourishing?
How is it possible? Easily. In Book IV of the Contra Gentiles, in a series of chapters culminating with chapters 54 and 55, Aquinas shows at greater length how he would reach Aristotle’s conclusion, and it becomes perfectly clear that the condition of contemplating God naturaliter is not viewed as an isolated condition, sufficient in and of itself, but as part of a set of conditions in which man’s prior needs would be met, so that it is the whole set which is sufficient. This set includes favorable economic conditions, so that man’s material needs are met. It includes favorable moral conditions, so that man’s civic needs of justice, order, and tranquillity are met. For it is only in the context of a favorable economic, moral and political situation that the philosophic life is possible. Transparently, this contextualization was Aristotle’s view as well. But as these other conditions are fulfilled, goods involved in our happiness are delivered. So the conclusion is obvious: the same contextualization is to be understood in 1-2, q. 2. The sense of the process of elimination is this: is happiness delivered in having X plus, as context, the supporting conditions of having X; if not, consider Y: is happiness delivered in having Y plus the supporting conditions of having Y; if not, consider Z; etc. Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas ever imagined that the natural contemplation of God just in itself would involve or deliver all the goods involved in human happiness. Its supporting conditions would deliver most of them. Just in itself, the natural contemplation of God, as an optima] use of our highest faculty, would be a kind of summit of human fulfillment, but it would be a necessary condition of human happiness, not a sufficient one.
The same cannot be said of grace. God offers to be “all in all” through grace. Standing in the friendship of God through grace, I can be happy in any adversity. Told to starve or deny my God, I can starve happily. Told to leave the polis with nothing but my God for a possession, I can make the desert bloom. “Taste and see how good the Lord is!”
There is no comparison, then, between “having God” as the supernatural end of man and “having Him” as a natural end. In particular, there is no comparison between the way in which the supernatural end sweeps up, includes, and delivers all the goods involved in our happiness, and the way in which knowing God as a natural end would stand to these goods. The failure of the natural knowledge, just in itself, to include and deliver all the goods means, quite simply, this: the good of knowing God in a natural manner could not possibly persuade practical reason — could not satisfy practical reason — as the good of remaining in a state of grace persuades it and satisfies it. But what persuades and satisfies practical reason is the consideration of happiness. Therefore, a natural contemplation of God could not possibly serve as a natural clone of happiness2.
In sum, the attempt to foist off some such clone as Thomistic, by putting together metaphysical premises like the twelve points laid out above and buttressing them with the argument of 1-2, q. 2, and parallel texts, is preposterous.
With that mistake laid to rest, I return to the pending question: what, according to Aquinas, is the happiness natural to man? That it would include a natural contemplation of God, and would be incomplete without it, I concede. But what else is it? What as a whole is it?
Well, the answer is all over the place in both Summas, and Aquinas got it from Boethius. Beatitudo est status omnium bonorum aggregatione perfectus. Happiness is participation in all the goods we seek, and it can’t be had except as a fruit of the virtues. If one thinks about this definition philosophically, in a way that avoids cracker-barrel mistakes, one comes out exactly where Grisez came out: with happiness1.
So of course happiness1 is in Aquinas. And so of course the interesting question is how Aquinas gets from happiness1 in his philosophy to happiness2 in his theology. It is a question of transition. It is a question of what kind of connection he is able to make between the one and the other.
We are now ready to state what I think is the deep reason Grisez’s Thomistic critics are ulcerated. They think Aquinas builds some sort of necessary connection, through speculative argument, between the two happinesses; and Grisez doesn’t. Those who hold the natural-clone theory accept the conceptual connection which it offers. But others ply a different route. It has to do with the unrestricted reach of a will informed by an abstractive intellect.
Let’s start this way. Suppose my complete good is “all I want.” And suppose I am naturally ordained to want certain things. All right: why should the good I am naturally ordained to want be “all” I want? Why should I be satisfied with what is naturally attractive to me? Some people think that natural law theory answers this question via two connections.
(1) I should be satisfied to want only the things it is rationally defensible to want.
(2) It is rationally defensible to want all and only the things I am naturally ordained to want.
Both of these connections are assumed to be necessary, and a natural law theory is assumed to be “adequate” when it shows that they are necessary. I am going to concede the first and question the second. Why should the things it is rationally defensible for me to want be restricted to the things I am naturally ordained to want? The alleged answer is: because, as a rational creature, able to conceive the good in full generality thanks to my abstractive power, I am already “naturally ordained” to every conceivable good. Aquinas says something similar in at least a dozen places. I ask: how does this build a necessary connection to happiness2? Well, says the theory: if I am naturally ordained to “the good” as grasped by abstraction, I am naturally ordained to the good as such — and by a non-contingent law of being, where Good as such exists, it is God. So between being naturally ordained to will the whole extension of ‘good’, as in happiness1, and being naturally ordained to will the Subsistent Good, as in happiness2, there is a necessary, conceptual connection.
Permit me to embarrass this theory with a dilemma to which it leads with arrowlike celerity. Consider supernatural union with God. Am I naturally ordained to it? Am I naturally ordained to the supernatural? No; such talk is Blondelian gibberish.
Then, is the supernatural inconceivable — or evil? It must be, if I am naturally ordained to every conceivable good but not naturally ordained to the supernatural.
You see, a dilemma. We are trapped between Blondel and Voltaire. How to escape?
The solution is called Thomism. I am “naturally ordained” only to such goods as I am “naturally” in a position to know. This makes good sense: nihil naturaliter appetibile nisi naturaliter cognoscibile. This will secure to man, as his natural last end, the full horizon of good as it is naturally conceivable and realizable. But beatific union with God is not naturally cognoscibile; it is only revelabile, which means knowable by revelation. This dissolves the dilemma, but it also does something else.
It makes the identity between what I am naturally ordained to want (which is my natural last end) and what it is rationally defensible for me to want as “all I want” contingent. The identity can break down in the odd eventuality that something goes awry with my human nature that can’t be fixed by natural means. For in that case, our natural last end might become curiously unattainable, or the pursuit of it mysteriously vexing. Paradoxically, the pursuit of happiness might make us miserable.
Aristotle, for whom natural kinds are immutable, wouldn’t have imagined such an eventuality. He wouldn’t have imagined that the minority of us who are so situated that we enjoy the philosophic life amidst the amenities of an opulent civilization might find that we are not having happiness delivered to us. But Christianity proclaims this exactly. It proclaims the Fallen State of man. For Aristotle, human nature has no states. For Christianity, human nature has been in many states, and the state of pure nature is not one of them. It has never been actualized. Our fallen state is privitively supernatural, and in that state the evidence of a paradox accumulates. The happiness that would have been natural to me eludes my grasp; the pursuit of it makes me miserable, and my heart is restless. How shall I escape? “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”
In the midst of the paradox, Christianity’s God reveals a supernatural solution. As the weight of the paradox oppresses me, and as Christianity’s claims become credible to me, something begins to shift in my reason — my practical reason. The “all I want” which I find it rationally defensible to want begins to include something to which I am not naturally ordained — the supernatural solution. I begin to want Christ. I look at my natural circumstances, however favorable and philosophic, and, finding that happiness is not being delivered to me, I begin to count my dearest gain but loss, in comparison to Christ. Is my experience typical? Ask any convert.
In that shift in the practical reason of whoever undergoes metanoia, the transition we are looking for has occurred: we have moved from happiness1 to happiness2.
How did the transition happen? By a necessary connection? Of course not. The transition was routed over free decisions of God: to create man for glory, to permit the Fall, to repair the Fall with grace in Christ. At least, as far as Aquinas was concerned, these decisions were free. They were neither necessities of divine generosity nor exigencies of “finite spirit.” Leibnizians, Hegelians, Blondelians, Rahnerians — a zoo of modern thinkers — disagree. Allergic to contingency, they seek to pave over the via dolorosa with logical necessity. A genuine Thomist despises their project. A genuine Thomist revels in contingency. The to- be of every creature is a glorious contingency, and the to-be of the grace that heals the creature is a contingency of a contingency.
So: will a genuine Thomist insist on a necessary connection between happiness as human flourishing and happiness as having God? Of course not. For even if our flourishing would “naturally” include having God in sight somehow, the only way to have God that delivers happiness, by identity, is to have Him in Christ. He, Christ, is a practical necessity reposing effortlessly upon a metaphysical contingency — like a Samaritan to a man beaten up by thieves. When this Christ binds up our wounds and takes us to an inn (His Church), He isn’t promoting the good of religion to a superordinate status over the other goods involved in our flourishing. He is promoting all the goods at once, equally. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
This is why the metaphysical premises and hierarchies Hittinger looks for in Grisez, to “ground” ethics, aren’t there, and aren’t there in Aquinas either. Bits and pieces are there, but put to other ends; they make the choice of supernatural happiness a plausible option, not a mandate of nature. In overall architecture, the “new” natural law theory of Germain Grisez is the same as the theory in Aquinas; the differences lie on a finer level of detail. They swim into clarity at a higher magnification than Mr. Hittinger could obtain.
- Germain Grisez, “A Critique of Russell Hittinger’s Book, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory,” New Scholasticism 62 (1988), pp. 438465; Russell Hittinger, “A Response to Professor Grisez’s Critique,” ibid., p. 466. ↑
- That our happiness may involve a “conjunction” of many goods is conceded by Aquinas at 1-2, q. 1, a. 5, ad 1um.Grisez tries to reach the right list of ingredients for this conjunction. His list of seven has only one disputed entry, the “good of religion.” This is not religion itself but the good that people are after when they perform religious acts. It can be defined roughly as the good of being in harmony with ultimate and supra-human reality. An atheist can understand that this is what people are after, even though he disapproves of the prayers and other acts they perform to try to attain it. Hence, in order to justify including this good among the “basic goods” involved in human happiness, it is not necessary to prove the truth of any religion first, nor that religious practices “work.” It is only necessary to prove that the good people are after in religion is irreducible to the goods people are after in other activities. Crude Marxists and old-line Freudians dispute this, along with a shrinking minority of cultural anthropologists, who offer a reductionist account of religion in terms of economics, psychology, or social control. But increasingly today philosophers and anthropologists reject the old- fashioned reductionisms. ↑
- He did say, almost at the end of his book (p. 192), that the task of a natural law theory is show “how nature is normative with regard to practical rationality.” But this is a statement so vague that, under one plausible construction (namely, to show how nature contributes to the genesis of norms), Grisez could claim to have done it, and, under another plausible construction (to show how nature is itself the norm), no one could do it, because it demands the impossible teasing of ‘ought’ out of ‘is’. ↑
- Pelagianism, the heresy that man can attain to salvation by his own natural virtues and free choices, was condemned at the Council of Orange in 529; see Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Enchridion Symbolorum, nn. 370-397. Baianism is the heresy that grace was natural to men and angels before the Fall; it was condemned in 1567; see Denzinger- Schonmetzer, nn. 1901-1980. Blondelianism is the opinion that grace, while remaining in some sense a gift, is nevertheless so intrinsic to rational creatures that God could not have created us without ordering us to Glory as our ultimate end; because this opinion compromises the wholly free gift-character of the supernatural order, it was sharply criticized in the encyclical Humani generis of 1950 (see Denzinger- Schonmetzer, n. 3891), and Lubac’s book, Surnaturel, which embraced Blondel’s opinion, was put on the Index. ↑
- It is suggested occasionally that, with respect to man’s end, a hard and fast distinction between the natural and the supernatural is missing from Aquinas, and that it was invented later by his commentators. This suggestion is untenable in the light of crystal-clear texts, such as ST I, q. 62, a. 1, where Aquinas speaks of rational creatures in general (angels as well as men) and contrasts the natural happiness they can have or achieve through the resources natural to them with the supernatural happiness they can achieve only through divine gratuity. ↑
- Hence Hittinger thinks there is a massive gap between Grisez’s philosophy and Christian theology, and he can’t figure out how Grisez fills it. Absurdly, he accuses Grisez of fideism. ↑
- Hence Hittinger accuses Grisez of metaphysical “thinness,” i.e. of leaving out important speculative considerations. ↑
- Hittinger is perplexed by the fact that Grisez doesn’t deny the speculative hierarchy; he just doesn’t put it to work to “ground” ethics. Hittinger is boggled by this because he is convinced that, somehow or other, the speculative hierarchy has got to be the key to right and wrong. He could have learned better by reading sections v and vi of Cajetan’s commentary on 1-2, q. 1, a. 4, dealing with the second objection and Aquinas’s answer to it. Cajetan’s point is that an intrinsic order among entities as entities does not imply the same or any other order between those entities as causes. Thus the intrinsic superiority of one being over another does not imply the stronger attractiveness of that being as a “final cause.” And since it is only as attractive goods, that is, as final causes, that things influence practical reasoning, the ontological order among them has nothing to do with determining what we ought to choose, and hence nothing to do with the grounding of ethics.Furthermore, if it turns out that each of the seven basic goods, as a direct component/ingredient of happiness, is willed for its own sake, then all are “equally” attractive, and none is superior to another qua cause. This is what Grisez means by incommensurability, and it makes very good sense. If it were not so, it would be difficult to see how choices in which different basic goods were at stake could be free choices; an objectively unequal attractiveness of the goods at stake would short-circuit deliberation, in favor of the more attractive good. Hittinger doesn’t seem to have thought of this. ↑
- It is this special arrangement that attaches moral preconditions to the “seeing” of God. The Lord has standards for His friends that wouldn’t apply to His spectators. ↑
- In fact, the project of remaining in a state of grace is the utter minimum of Christian intention, to which those persons sink who just want to please themselves without displeasing God (to borrow a phrase from Newman). Active Christians intend far more. They want to please God rather than themselves by finding His will for them and being led by His Spirit into the work He has for them. ↑
- 11Even the neo-Platonic mystics, the last people who believed it was possible to get to God through philosophy, posited special arrangements. They posited that a state of “ecstatic union” with God was reachable, and that philosophy would lead to it. They posited that all sorts of purifications, moral and dietary, were prerequisite to this union and to true philosophizing. In other words, they turned their philosophy into a pagan religion. ↑
- The Stagirite literally could not have imagined a philosophical Desert Father, living happily on the thought of God alone in eremitic detachment from political conditions. Aristotle’s happy men are a tiny, philosophic minority situated in city conditions. ↑
- “Happiness is the state made perfect by compresence of all the goods.” See De Consolatione Philosophiae, book III, prosa ii. Cf. Summa Theologiae 1, q. 26, a. 1, and a dozen other places. ↑
- Aristotle, Ethics I, chapter 9, n. 3. Aquinas cites this and agrees another dozen times. ↑
- Technically speaking, holding the status of being “all I want” is the ratio of completeness in a good or set of goods. ↑
- To be precise, in connection (2) I accept the word ‘all’ and question the ‘only’. ↑
- E.g. in the Prima Pars q. 59, a. 4, and in the Prima Secundae q. 2, a. 7. ↑
- It was to secure only this result that Aquinas used and repeated the argument for the open-ended character of human volition, thanks to our abstractive power. He wanted to prove that the natural object of our volition (i.e. the object of voluntas ut natura for us) is formally universal. In any such universal, one must distinguish between the sense abstracted (a formal issue) and the range of referents from which it is abstracted (a material issue) or to which it can be applied (another material issue). We abstract the sense of ‘good’ from certain appetibilia to which we are naturally inclined to be sure; but the other material issue is the vital one for ethics: how should we apply the concept, once we’ve got it. Aquinas distinguished the formal issue from this second material issue in 1-2, q. 1, a. 7. It is this distinction which prevents the concept of the good from telling me already, a priori, what the complete good is. The concept tells me that a rationally defensible “complete good” will have a panoramic quality, but it doesn’t tell me what there is “out there,” in real life, that might, singly or collectively, show this quality. There is thus no “transcendental deduction” of the content of happiness from the concept of the good. In particular, there is no “ontological argument” from the concept of the good to the existence of a Good Thing that satisfies the concept in one exhaustive Instance.Rather, there is only a spill-over from the concept of ‘good’ to the ratio of ‘complete’. The formal universality of “the good” puts a constant rational pressure on the constitution of “all I want” — a pressure to make what counts as “all I want” as broad and encompassing as I understand “the good” itself to be. The concept of the good thus tells against any putative last end that is arbitrarily narrow. The concept of the good makes the willing of any incomplete and non-panoramic good as my last end irrational. So if I “naturally know” that seeing God would be a good, ignoring that good totally in my pursuit of happiness would be irrational. ↑
- As Oscar Wilde remarked, there are two kinds of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it. ↑
- To be precise, we have moved to happiness2i. The good that bears the ratio of “complete good” is no longer the set of goods included in happiness1 understood on a natural basis but the same set understood on a supernatural basis. In this new understanding, many of the goods are at stake in new ways. If I submit in faith, so as to receive the state of grace (conjunction to uncreated good), I receive all those goods at once, transfigured. If I sin so as to lose the state of grace, I violate at least the goods of life, friendship, integrity and religion. I throw away my divinized life, snub my divine Friend, dis-integrate my conscience, and disrupt my harmony with Him Who Is. ↑