Is submission to (the Pope’s) authority a virtue?

September 26, 2007

Virtues are those habits of characters which enable a human being to live well. This claim means that a just person’s justice is a habit by virtue of which he or she is a good person. Something is fulfilled in the just person that is lacking or deformed in the unjust one. The difficult task then is specifying a list of the virtues–which habits of character are those which enable us someone to live well? The most common way to set about elaborating this list of virtues, or investigating whether a particular concept deserves to be called a virtue, is to specify a moral psychology.

The question I’m asking is whether submission to authority as such is a virtue. I’m raising this question to investigate a common claim from catholic apologists that a catholic espouses a virtue of submission by not questioning the authority of the pope while the protestant is guilty of a vice of hubris, or somesuch, for failing to do the same.

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Elizabeth Anscombe on Protestantism and Divine Command Ethics

September 23, 2007

[I am skeptical about the claim she makes here, but I thought it was interesting. This is from Anscombe’s famous paper “Modern Moral Philosophy”.]

To have a law conception of ethics is to hold that what is needed for conformity with the virtues failure in which is the mark of being bad qua man (and not merely, say, qua craftsman or logician)—that what is needed for this is required by divine law. Naturally it is not possible to have such a conception unless you believe in God as a law-giver; like Jews, Stoics, and Christians. But if such a conception is dominant for many centuries, and then given up, it is a natural result that the concepts of ‘obligation,’ of being bound or required as by a law, should remain though they had lost their root; and if the word ‘ought’ has become invested in certain contexts with with the sense of ‘obligation’, it too will remain to be spoken with a special emphasis and a special feeling in these contexts.

It is as if the notion ‘criminal’ were to remain when criminial law and criminal courts had been abolished and forgotten. A Hume discovering this situation might conclude that there was a special sentiment, expressed by ‘criminal’, which alone gave the word its sense. So Hume discovered the situation in which the notion ‘obligation’ survived, and the word ‘ought’ was invested with that peculiar force having which it is said to be used in a ‘moral’ sense, but in which the belief in divine law had long since been abandoned: for it was substantially given up among Protestants at the time of the Reformation.* The situation, if I am right, was the interesting one of the survival of a concept outside the framework of thought that made it a really intelligible one.

*They did not deny the existence of divine law; but their most characteristic doctrine was that it was given, not to be obeyed, but to show man’s incapacity to obey it, even by grace; and this applied not merely to the ramified presecriptions of the Torah, but to the requirements of ‘natural divine law’. Cf. in this connection the decree of the council of Trent against the teaching that Christ was only to be trusted in as mediator, not obeyed as legislator.


MacIntyre on the Vice of ‘Blandly Generalized Benevolence’

September 21, 2007

[I’ve been reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals for a Virtue Ethics class. I like this book a lot and there are many many juicy quotes I could adduce. However, I want to point out only one: a quote which, by the way, summarizes my disappointment with the politics of trendy academic leftism, even though I am no conservative.]

“The limitations and blindnesses of self-interested desire have been catalogued often enough. Those of a blandly generalized benevolence have received too little attention. What such benevolence presents us with is a generalized Other–one whose only relationship to us is to provide an occasion for the exercise of our benevolence, so that we can reassure ourselves about our own good will–in place of those particular others with whom we must learn to share common goods, and participate in ongoing relationships” (119).


Bernard Williams on Humanism and Philosophy

September 17, 2007

I enjoy Bernard Williams’ work very much. Here is a piece of his I hadn’t seen before and would like to commend for your reading pleasure entitled, “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline”.


Richard Swinburne on God as a Source of Moral Obligation

Julius 2, 2007

One of the problems that specially interests me is the relationship between theology and ethics or moral philosophy. The question of how, if at all, God can be source for moral obligation is one of the key aspects of this question.  According to many people today the dilemma Plato presents Euthyphro in the dialogue of that name presents a fatal problem for ‘divine command’ theories of ethics. Norm Kretzmann’s fabulous essay, Abraham, Isaac and Euthyphro is one my favorite responses to that line of thought.  However, I also found the following text by Richard Swinburne very intriguing. (I’ll simply post a longish quote from his 1994 book The Christian God, pp.136-137)

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