Kolakowski On Natural Law

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Source: Mirror of Justice.

From Leszek Kolakowski‘s 2001 essay “On Natural Law” (included in the recently released collection of essays entitled Is
God Happy?
),:

“…Moral intuition is also a kind of experience, different from sense perception – and neither of them infallible.

Our belief in natural law is not impaired by the fact that the results of this intuition are not necessarily identical in everyone’s mind, always and everywhere, nor by the fact that centuries were needed before people recognized the good and evil of their various actions and institutions – before they admitted, for example, that torture is evil and equality before the law good.  This has also been the case with many discoveries in empirical science: it took centuries before people realized that their ordinary intuitions were wrong: that the sun does not revolve around the earth, or that a force is not necessary to cause movement, or that events are never absolutely simultaneous.  All these erroneous beliefs were natural and understandable.  So why should we not accept that the principles and norms of natural law reveal themselves to us
gradually: that we must go through a process of growth before we understand certain moral truths and laws and recognize them as such?  (Although it should be said that since antiquity there have been people who preached those principles and norms with full conviction – without, however, gaining universal approval.)

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There is no reason to accept the nihilistic doctrine that because various contradictory norms have been accepted and applied at various times and in various places, they are all, in terms of Reason, equally justified, which is to say equally groundless.  While belief in natural law does not – I repeat – require belief in the existence of God as a necessary premise, it does require the belief in something that one might call the moral (in addition to the physical) constitution of Being – a constitution that converges with the rule of Reason in the universe.

All the evils of the human world, its endless stupidity and suffering, cannot
impair our belief in natural law in this sense.  Two other realms of
intuition – perception and mathematics – also require suppositions that cannot be proved but are indispensable for the knowledge we acquire by these intuitions.  Our life as rational creatures occurs in a realm that is
constructed with the aid of various non-empirical but fundamental courts of
appeal, among them truth and goodness.  Nor need our belief in natural law
be impaired by the fact that it is not universally observed.  This fact
was well known to Seneca and Cicero, to Gratian and Suarez, to Grotius and
Kant, but it did not weaken their conviction that the rules of natural law are
valid, no matter how often they are violated.

 

 

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In Praise of Vengeance…

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St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym of Thomism. Picture by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[V]engeance is not essentially evil and unlawful….

Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned.  Accordingly, in the matter of vengeance, we must consider the mind of the avenger.  For if his intention is directed chiefly to the evil of the person on whom he takes vengeance and rests there, then his vengeance is altogether unlawful: because to take pleasure in another’s evil belongs to hatred, which is contrary to the charity whereby we are bound to love all men.  Nor is it an excuse that he intends the evil of one who has unjustly inflicted evil on him, as neither is a man excused for hating one that hates him: for a man may not sin against another just because the latter has already sinned against him, since this is to be overcome by evil, which was forbidden by the Apostle, who says (Romans 12:21): “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” 
If, however, the avenger’s intention be directed chiefly to some good, to be obtained by means of the punishment of the person who has sinned (for instance that the sinner may amend, or at least that he may be restrained and others be not disturbed, that justice may be upheld, and God honored), then vengeance may be lawful, provided other due circumstances be observed.
Read the rest here.
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Adrian van Kaam’s Personality Theory and the Western Intellectual Tradition

This is second of mt four part series on the personality theory of Adrian van Kaam.

Echoing Erik Erikson’s discussion of wisdom, the Catholic priest and psychologist Adrian van Kaam (1987) argues that human life is fundamentally “an intimate participation in an all pervasive mystery of formation and transformation, in commitment to and congeniality with our formation tradition, and where and when possible, in compatibility with the varied ways in which the same mystery may speak to adherents of other traditions in their genuine striving for intimacy with the mystery” (p. 114).  Some might question the appropriateness for psychology of a theological term like mystery.  And yet as K. Rahner (1978) argues “we can never philosophize as though man had not had that experience which is the experience of Christianity.”  Given this historical reality a “philosophy that is absolutely free of theology is not even possible.”  Like philosophy, contemporary psychology arose within the broadly Christian intellectual tradition.  As such, and again like philosophy, the autonomy of psychology “can only consist in the fact that it reflects upon its historical origins and asks whether it sees itself as still bound to these origins in history and in grace as something valid, and whether this self-experience of man can still be experienced today as something valid and binding” (p. 25).

To understand his work, we need to keep in mind that van Kaam is not simply a Christian thinker, but a Catholic thinker.  His use of the term mystery is an example of his dependence (though not in an exclusive fashion) on the Medieval Christian tradition.  He unapologetically identifies his theoretical and practical reliance not only on St. Thomas Aquinas but also others in the Thomistic and transcendental Thomistic schools such as St. John of the Cross, Karl Rahner and Hans Küng as well as phenomenologists such as Stephen Strasser (1983, p. xv).  The difference, as Byrne (1982) argues, is that where the medieval era focused on the (static) “mystery of Being,” van Kaam offers the more dynamic idea of “the mystery of Being-in-formation.” This overarching dynamism, that “the universe, world, history and humanity are always engaged in a process of formation” is the “fundamental perspective or intuition” that underlies van Kaam’s personality theory (p. 114). Continue reading

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