Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Dominican House of Studies

Welcome from the Dominicans

Some have expressed curiosity about my new(-ish) monastic abode, and now there's a host of new information out there about it, starting with a lovely story in Regina Magazine illustrated with photographs by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.  In addition, it seems someone has written a poem about living at the DHS, and here's reportage from one of our lay students.  On our official site, there's good pop-scholarly writing, lectures (some with video), and music (some of which you can buy in studio-recorded form).  Here's a little video of the end of compline (the night prayer of the church) which we sing at the close of every day:

You're certainly welcome to join us for it any day--the times are on our website.  If you want a bigger taste than that, you should join us on the last night of October for the Vigil of All Saints, an awesome event previously covered by PBS:

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Unified Account of Moral Action

One way of making the complicated relations in objects of action simpler to understand is to begin at the beginning, with “the first precept of law that good ought to be done and pursued and that evil ought to be avoided” and follow Aquinas’ lead that “all the other precepts of the law of nature are founded upon this principle.”[1]  The first way in which one principle may follow from another is by logic, so if practical reason chooses a means, thus making it a proximate end, the form of the reasoning itself has thus shown the Pauline principle that evil may not be done that good may come.[2]  If evil were done that good may come, evil would be a means to good, which would make it a proximate end and thus something pursued, a logical violation of the first precept.  The next level of analysis, the primary subject of the book under review, can be understood as a kind of metaphysical entailment.  To introduce the proper accident of evil into an action is to make it metaphysically impossible for it to be the good action, since good and evil acts differ in species,[3] so the proper accidents of both cannot be present.  Finally, consequences must be weighed, because an action cannot be indifferent even if it be indifferent in species,[4] as “not only are human beings good by being directed to the good; more profoundly, they exist for the sake of the good.”[5]

[1] Thomas Aquinas, “Prima Pars,” in Summa Theologiae, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso, accessed September 22, 2014, q 94, a 2, c.
[2] Romans 3:8.
[3] I-II, q18, a5, c.
[4] I-II, q18, a9, c.
[5] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 295.

When do Circumstances give Species to Acts?

Despite substantial difficulties with interpreting the texts of Aquinas on this point[1] (which Jensen earlier defended against Cajetan’s charge of inconsistency),[2] Jensen arrives at the following formula for when circumstances give species to acts:
Everything hinges, then, on the form that reason seeks to introduce into the materia circa quam.  Those aspects by which the material is able or unable to bear this form will give species to human actions.  All other aspects of the material will be circumstantial.[3] 
He then glosses the above as “[the circumstance] adds something pertaining to reason”[4] or when “[the circumstances] are the proper accidents of some new motive.”[5]  Only the last formulation, from the Summa Theologiae, is adequately precise:  a circumstance adds something pertaining to reason when it introduces a new form, we know it introduces a new form because the old form is unable to bear the form reason seeks to introduce, and we know the old form is unable to bear the new form (in the case where they are not simply contraries or contradictories) because it has proper accidents which are contradictions or contraries of the proper accidents of the old form.  Taking a chalice must be sacrilege as well as theft because consecrated objects are necessarily not reducible to their monetary value.  The Sabbath may be for man, but not by way of mammon.  

This approach to determining when circumstances give species is also relevant to the case of whether moving cargo off of a ship at sea to avoid sinking is the same act as putting the cargo into the sea.[6]  The issue is less that “some negation is involved” but, as Jensen notes, that the cargo becoming waterlogged or sinking is a further result of lightening the ship rather than a means.  Why, though, is becoming waterlogged and sinking not a “proper accident” of the act of jettisoning cargo from a ship at sea?  It certainly seems to follow with basically 100% certainty, much as shooting a man in the head with a magnum revolver or crushing the skull of a child in-utero lead to their deaths.  Aquinas defines a proper accident, however, as “non contingit quin proprium accidens praedicetur de subiecto,”[7] and while jettisoned cargo certainly becomes waterlogged and sinks, it doesn’t necessarily do so.  It certainly doesn’t become waterlogged and sink with the kind of necessary force involved in Aquinas’ examples of proper accidents, such as all natural numbers being even or odd, all rational creatures being risible, or all happy states being delightful.  The species of the action is thus determined by its intended ends, the chosen means to those ends, and the accidents those ends necessarily entail.  

If jettisoning cargo and self-defense are allowed, however, why not craniotomy?  The doctor does not, after all, intend the death of the child or harm to the child, and while resizing the child’s head in-utero by crushing it with forceps leads with moral certainty to the death of the child, the death is not itself the means to the end.  Unlike in the self-defense case, maiming the organ is not even a means to the end, because whereas in the self-defense case if the bullet passed through without damaging an organ the attacker would continue to pose a threat, in the craniotomy case if the skull somehow squished without being harmed that would be a cause of joy to all concerned, allowing the baby to be delivered alive.  Even if the maiming were somehow causally necessary, why should the circumstance of endangering innocent life give species, since maiming is not malum in se?  The answer is to be found in Jensen’s remarkably nuanced treatment of the way “things” are the objects of human acts, by their conception in reason.[8]  In the case of the jettisoned cargo, it is the same thing which the captain throws overboard to save his ship and would be happy to recover intact after the storm had passed.  In the case of the armed defender, the presumptive aggressor is stopped from being an aggressor whether he trips from the noise, is maimed but recovers in handcuffs, or is killed outright.  In the case of the consecrated chalice, however, the cup-as-invaluable is stolen, but the cup-as-valuable is fenced.  In the case of the craniotomy, the doctor begins by crushing the skull-as-organ, which is to say, crushing the baby, but ends by crushing the postmortem skull-as-calcium-aggregate.  His action, which he wishes to describe as “reducing the size of the baby’s head,”[9] turns out to only involve “the head” in an equivocal sense, since at the beginning it is not a thing in itself but a part of a baby, and at the end it is not a thing in itself but an aggregate of flesh and bone.  In killing the baby, he has changed the thing upon which he is acting, but the action as he wishes to describe it does not take stock of this fact, and thus cannot be a correct description.  The armed defendant, insofar as he attempts to act upon the entirety of the aggressor, which he is deputized to do by the aggressor’s presumptive guilt (thereby explaining the earlier condition), does not suffer from this difficulty.

[1] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 114.
[2] Steven J. Jensen, “Do Circumstances Give Species?,” The Thomist 70, no. 1 (2006): 1–26.
[3] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 125.
[4] Ibid., 113 cf de Malo, 7, 4.
[5] Ibid., 114 cf I-II, q72, a9.
[6] Ibid., 99.
[7] In Post. An. I.10.157
[8] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 117–121.
[9] Ibid., 15.

Difficulties with Jensen's Account of Self-Defense: Why maiming is not malum in se

Jensen rejects most contemporary Thomstic accounts of self-defense because they attempt to place the harm to the aggressor, or particularly his death, outside the intention of the defender, which Jensen finds implausible and contrary to the relevant Thomistic texts.[1]  Instead he provides an account of self-defense as implicitly deputized state action, which he acknowledges is not found explicitly in the texts but he judges the most textually compatible means of saving our intuitions that deadly self-defense can be morally justified.[2]  While Jensen’s interpretation of St. Thomas is plausible enough, its ability to save our moral intuitions regarding self-defense seems less assured.  

Jensen sets the case as follows:  
To avoid certain confusions we will press the case to its farthest extreme by considering a situation in which merely injuring the assailant is not likely to stop him, so that the only plausible way to defend oneself is to fire the gun with a near certainty that the assailant will die (supposing that one has good enough aim).  Later, we will see that the same considerations apply to situations in which one fires the gun thinking that one will would (but not kill) the assailant.[3]
But why should this causal closeness of firing with death be at all relevant to the moral species?  The soldier blowing up a bridge is not committing the moral species of murdering a child playing on the bridge, even if it seems certain that the child will die when the bridge is blown up.  Only when “injuring the child…is one of the causes that brings about his goal” is the soldier so culpable.[4]  No matter the likelihood of death, however, some degree of injury from the gunshot would surely stop the assailant without causing his death, so the death of the assailant is not actually one of the causes (as conceived by reason) that brings about the goal, even if it is a highly likely concomitant effect of some of those causes and also an alternate cause.  Rhonheimer’s interpretation thus seems more plausible:
It entirely depends on what is going on in my heart, that is, whether I want the enemy soldier to be dead, or simply to stop his aggression and to win the battle.  Therefore, if as a soldier you do not want to be a murderer, you must care for wounded enemy soldiers.  This shows that the object of your acting—the intention involved in your action—obviously was not wanting them to be dead, not even in the moment of battle, even if killing them in the moment was the foreseeable and necessary physical outcome of violence proportionate to stop their aggression.[5]
While one might have reason to quibble with Rhonheimer’s construction of a soldier’s actions in wartime as a case of self-defense, the fact remains that showing solicitude for the wounded illustrates a desire not to kill even if death results in the vast majority of cases from the means chosen.  On the other hand, a defender who chooses not to call 911 after incapacitating his assailant with gunfire is a murderer, though perhaps a murderer possessed of some mitigating circumstances.

Much of the cast of Jensen’s approach to self-defense, therefore, relies on his claim that maiming is malum in se,[6] since it seems incontrovertible that the destruction of some part of a person is part of the causal chain (and thus the proximate intention) by which a defender stops an aggressor by means of a firearm.  Jensen here follows Thomas, who states that “Si ergo membrum sanum fuerit et in sua naturali dispositione consistens, non potest praecidi absque totius hominis detrimento”[7] which would be evil, making an exception only for the judicial case where sin has corrupted the person in a manner analogous to disease corrupting an organ.  Since consent cannot make a malum in se action licit, this poses a host of difficulties which go well beyond self-defense.  First, an operation to remove a diseased organ (an inflamed fallopian tube, say) requires cutting through healthy organs (skin and muscle, at minimum).  Certainly those organs aren’t intended to be completely destroyed (depending on how sharply ‘membrum’ is defined) but the same could be said of those organs damaged by a bullet in self-defense.  In both cases the destruction of the healthy organ is a means to the end; contra Long Jensen wants to maintain that the means is indeed a proximate end in itself,[8] and contra Rhonheimer Jensen wants to maintain that this proximate end in itself gives rise to a human act.[9] Thus the puzzle:  according to the strict reading of II-IIq65a1c of maiming a healthy organ as an act malum in se, while Aquinas’ example may work for a case of gangrene where the whole part of the body removed by the doctor is already less than healthy and naturally disposed, it does not work for the case of salpingectomy, which Jensen wishes to affirm as morally licit.[10] 

Jensen’s reading is too strict to conform with his own moral intuitions or those of the mainstream Catholic bioethics community.  His reading also fails for the case of Aron Ralston, who cut off his own (still healthy) arm to escape likely dehydration after being trapped by a rock,[11] in a microcosm of the fat spelunker case that Jensen judges obviously immoral.[12]  While Ralston has received plenty of criticism for his lack of prudence in entering the situation in which he became stuck, he does not seem to have received any for the supposedly malum in se action of cutting off his healthy arm for the further end of saving his life.  A third difficulty for this reading is that it would decisively prohibit kidney transplants from living donors, where a complete healthy organ is cut out for some further end, yet both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services affirm that “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks incurred by the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.”[13]  If Pope St. John Paul II, who promulgated both Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism  is not to be considered a proportionalist, then maiming must not be malum in se.

Given the difficulties with treating maiming as malum in se, what are the alternatives?  Jensen could yield to Rhonheimer’s claim that cutting the skin in surgery is not a human act, or to Long’s that it has an intrinsic teleology, but his arguments against these positions are strong.  A better approach would be to make use of openings in the Thomistic text to treat maiming differently, much as Jensen already does with the deputization argument.  A start might be made by noting that in II-IIq65a1, Thomas is arguing against those who believe maiming to never be lawful, and provides the counterexample of maiming for explicitly judicial purposes.  While that may pass even a very strict standard, as Thomas establishes, that need not imply that such a standard is optimal with regard to cases envisioned neither by Thomas nor his objectors.  Indeed the replies to objections open up this strategy.   Replies one and two make reference to the common good and the good of the man, respectively, as ends to which the particular nature or member are subjected, and without reference to any defect of the member.  The third reply provides an even more explicit criterion:  “membrum non est praecidendum propter corporalem salutem totius nisi quando aliter toti subveniri non potest.”[14] This solves the salpingectomy case explicitly, and while it must be extended to solve the live-kidney-donor and self-defense cases, by making bodily integrity only a proportionate good it provides the ground for that solution.  The presumption in both cases is that the health of the kidney-recipient and the defender may not be saved by means other than maiming.  

The need for consent to maiming in the case of the kidney donor but not in the case of the assailant can be explained in that the latter is either not in a rational state of mind or is already making a choice to forfeit the common good, but in either case has already shown his inability to recognize and respond to the common good in consent.  To Jensen’s credit, however, the likelihood of death is not totally irrelevant.  As the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services put it, “The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function”[15] and the Catechism notes that “it is furthermore morally inadmissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.”[16]  This restriction makes sense in light of II-II, q65, a1, ad2 where Thomas orders the part to the whole of the person, but why would the same not be true of deadly force in self-defense, triggering the broader common good argument of ad1?  In parallel, if maiming is not malum in se, and the blowing up of the bridge is a proportionate common good, why may the soldier not fire to maim the child so as to trigger the detonator and blow up the bridge?  The answer is that insofar as each person is a complete instance of the common good,[17] maiming that endangers life requires some (even prima facie) judgment of guilt,[18] which in turn can only be made by a public authority or one deputized as such,[19] for it to be proportional to the life of another.   The reason for this will become clearer in the next section, because this is a circumstance which gives a species.

[1] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 52–66.
[2] Ibid., 219–221.
[3] Ibid., 52–53.
[4] Ibid., 86.
[5] Martin Rhonheimer, The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy, ed. William F. Murphy (Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 88.
[6] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 62–63.
[7] II-II, q65, a1, corpus.
[8] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 46–48.
[9] Ibid., 88.
[10] Ibid., 211.
[11] Michael Brick, “Climber Still Seeks Larger Meaning in His Epic Escape,” The New York Times, March 31, 2009, sec. Sports / Other Sports,
[12] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 68.
[13] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (New York: Image, 2003), para. 2296; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), para. 30.
[14] II-II, q65, a1, ad3.
[15] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, para. 30.
[16] Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2296.
[17] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 155.
[18] Ibid., 221.
[19] Ibid., 64–66.

Is Jensen a Moderate Physicalist or a Moderate Abelardian?

In Good and Evil Actions, Jensen’s dialectical middle course seems closer to Abelardianism than in previous and later works.   In a 1997 article he wrote “physicalism is the view that the exterior action has a moral character in itself, by the very nature of its physical features, and that acts of the will receive their good or evil from the exterior action…I hope to show that Aquinas was a physicalist.”[1]  By the end of that article Jensen took the position that this is only true of the exterior action “as conceived” which he calls “moderate physicalism” because it is not controlled by the will,[2] but of course the exterior action “as conceived” is not exactly exterior or physical, either.  In this work, however, he criticizes physicalism because it “provides little guidance for identifying the proper order of actions; we are left to our own intuitions of the natural orders of actions, which is to say that the account has not helped us to identify the species of actions”[3] without referring to that view as “extreme physicalism.”  Jensen also undercuts some of the motivation for physicalism by joining Finnis against Long in the argument that for Aquinas the end-intention of the interior act of the will regards the means, understood as proximate ends,[4]  thus giving the Abelardians a way to reject actions involving immoral means.  In Jensen’s understanding, the middle course will not approach too closely to the physicalist shore.

Despite Jensen’s review of Rhonheimer’s 2012 book as “laid upon some not-so-Thomistic foundations, culminating in questionable, perhaps even dangerous, conclusions,”[5] in this work he ends up siding with Rhonheimer more often than not.  Of twenty substantive citations,[6] twelve are marks of wholehearted agreement,[7] two are ambiguous (regarding teleology)[8] and three of the disagreements are specific to the act of theft.[9]  Jensen does have substantive and important disagreements with Rhonheimer over the line between acts of a human and human acts,[10] whether appeals to intention in specifying acts are infinitely regressive,[11]and whether circumstances can ever give species,[12] all of which continue in his 2012 article.  With regard to Stephen Long, however, the physicalist to whom Jensen is most indebted, these ratios are nearly reversed:  eleven negative citations on core issues,[13] five more regarding the particular problem of self-defense,[14] and only eight positive citations.[15]  Either the dialectical middle course is closer to the Abelardian (“In place of physical actions, they provided mental intentions.  Rather than human goods depending upon our physical human nature, they presented human goods immediately grasped by a practical reason that could do without teleology.”[16]) than the physicalist shore, or Martin Rhonheimer’s stress of “a material element that enters into our actions and our moral judgments”[17] must be fairly substantial.   Jensen’s position remains largely what he called “moderate physicalism” in his earlier taxonomy, but that approach seems to have more in common with contemporary Abelardians than it does with contemporary physicalists.

[1] Steven John Jensen, “A Defense of Physicalism,” The Thomist 61, no. 3 (1997): 377.
[2] Ibid., 402.
[3] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 33.
[4] Ibid., 46–52.
[5] Steven J Jensen, “Thomistic Perspectives?,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 86, no. 1 (February 10, 2012): 135.
[6] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 323.
[7] Ibid., 38n39, 40n42, 41n46, 70, 84n11, 91, 123n90, 125, 126n96, 240–241, 255n24, 265n30.
[8] Ibid., 237–238, 246n20.
[9] Ibid., 184n7, 283n4, 285n6.
[10] Ibid., 88.
[11] Ibid., 80–82.
[12] Ibid., 117–121.
[13] Ibid., 32–33, 46, 48, 49n11, 51, 118n72, 158n32, 265n30, 266–267, 268n36, 272.
[14] Ibid., 56, 58n31, 64n45, 188n18, 218–221.
[15] Ibid., 29, 60n37, 99n41, 102, 152n26, 171n49, 215, 224n76.
[16] Ibid., 4.
[17] Ibid.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Religious Names

As the vocation director for our province explains:
Taking a religious name when a young man enters religious life is part of the tradition of the Order of Preachers that goes back to the time of St. Dominic. 
If you've been wondering about my own name of "Thomas-Martin" it is after my patrons Thomas Aquinas and Martin de Porres, both canonized Dominican Friars recently profiled on our foundation website, with images taken from our church of St. Dominic in Washington, DC:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Conference Audio

Since it's audio posting day and my page makes them hard to find, here are pointers to the lectures for which Lonergan Resource is kindly hosting the audio.  Sorry I haven't put the work in to sync the slides with the audio.

1.  The Diagram is More Important than is Ordinarily Believed (full paper) given at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for the West Coast Methods Institute 2011.

2.  The Aesthetic Pattern of Experience in Susan Sontag and Bernard Lonergan (full paper) given at Marquette University for Lonergan on the Edge 2011.

3.  From Practical Reason to Natural Law: A Lonergan-Rhonheimer Dialectic (coursepack) given at Marquette University for Lonergan on the Edge 2012.

St. Benedict Joseph Labre: Tramping with the Cross

As part of the Dominican student brothers' Lenten series The Cross and Consecrated Life, I gave a talk on St. Benedict Joseph Labre entitled Tramping with the Cross, and the audio is now up on Dominicana Audio's Soundcloud page, where you can also listen to the other talks in the series and/or snippets from our albums of Dominican chant.