Feser speaks up. Zmirak digs deeper.

Thomist Edward Feser defends the natural law prohibition on lying here, before going off on a tangent attacking the “new natural law” theorists.  I don’t see why this was necessary.  New natural law proponents may think they are attacking the idea of normative natural ends, as Feser says, but I’m hoping their writings will have a more constructive effect, that of helping people who have grown up in a Cartesian, personalist mental universe see how nature can be normative at all.

Meanwhile, John Zmirak has posted another defense of lying in extreme circumstances, and again he seems to be inadvertently doing everything in his power to convince me that this position is heretical.  He starts with some more belittling of sacred tradition.  He reminds us that the Church once didn’t recognize the wonderfulness of usury, a practice he thinks to be the key to modern prosperity.  The Church could always allow lying under extreme circumstances without throwing away the virtue of honesty altogether.  After all, “The Church’s embrace of religious liberty did not (as [traditionalists] feared) cause the Church to teach religious indifferentism.”  (I’d say the jury is still out on that one, actually.)  Then Zmirak introduces a new argument.  Given the evidence, he suggests that the Church hasn’t definitively settled her doctrine on this issue yet.  Faithful Catholics can disagree over whether Live Action did anything sinful.  I will agree with him there.  Therefore, people who think Live Action did do wrong shouldn’t present their arguments publicly, because that would be slandering people who haven’t violated a settled Church teaching.  So, the fact that we are allowed to disagree means that one side is not allowed to make its case!

6 Responses

  1. At

    The Thomist has a good essay.

    He also advances a claim that God cannot lie. But according to Aquinas, if God can make rocks so heavy he cannot lift them, and yet God can also lift them, because God doesn’t have to obey logic, then perhaps God can lie.

    Or perhaps God is just so very weird (see Book of Job, Eheieh Asher Eheieh and so on) that no matter how plainly he speaks, humans can’t understand him.

  2. zhai2nan2,

    Are you sure about the latter claim? I’m pretty sure I’ve read Thomas in a couple of places claim that God is limited by the laws of logic, and that this shouldn’t be thought of as a “real” limitation.

  3. I will have to dig through some secondary texts to re-familiarize myself with it.

    I’m going off spoken classroom interactions with Catholic religion teachers rather than a textual analysis of the catechism.

    So … it’s another heavy scholarly item on my todo list. This may take a while. But I’ll probably make it into an essay.

  4. Oh, yes, I’m probably stirring a bunch of Logical Positivism and C. S. Lewis into my hazy memories, so I had better get a precise quote from Aquinas to make sure I’m not confusing him with later thinkers.

  5. Okay, first link:

    It seems I may have confused Aquinas with Wittgenstein, which is embarrassing but not earth-shattering.

    Since the principles of certain sciences, such as logic, geometry and arithmetic are taken only from the formal principles of things, on which the essence of the thing depends, it follows that God could not make things contrary to these principles. For example, that a genus was not predicable of the species, or that lines drawn from the centre to the circumference were not equal, or that a triangle did not have three angles equal to two right angles.

    “Cum principia quarundam scientiarum, ut logicae, geometriae et arithmeticae, sumantur ex solis principiis formalibus rerum, ex quibus essentia rei dependet, sequitur quod contraria horum principiorum Deus facere non possit: sicut quod genus non sit praedicabile de specie; vel quod lineae ductae a centro ad circumferentiam non sint aequales; aut quod triangulus rectilineus non habeat tres angulos aequales duobus rectis”. Aquinas, T. Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 2, Section 25. trans. Edward Buckner

    Since I’m at it, I should check the catechism:

    Omnipotence is the power of God to effect whatever is not intrinsically impossible. These last words of the definition do not imply any imperfection, since a power that extends to every possibility must be perfect. The universality of the object of the Divine power is not merely relative but absolute, so that the true nature of omnipotence is not clearly expressed by saying that God can do all things that are possible to Him; it requires the further statement that all things are possible to God. The intrinsically impossible is the self-contradictory, and its mutually exclusive elements could result only in nothingness. “Hence,” says Thomas (Summa I, Q. xxv, a. 3), “it is more exact to say that the intrinsically impossible is incapable of production, than to say that God cannot produce it.” To include the contradictory within the range of omnipotence, as does the Calvinist Vorstius, is to acknowledge the absurd as an object of the Divine intellect, and nothingness as an object of the Divine will and power. “God can do all things the accomplishment of which is a manifestation of power,” says Hugh of St. Victor, “and He is almighty because He cannot be powerless” (De sacram., I, ii, 22).

    As intrinsically impossible must be classed:

    1. Any action on the part of God which would be out of harmony with His nature and attributes;
    2. Any action that would simultaneously connote mutually repellent elements, e.g. a square circle, an infinite creature, etc.

    I could have sworn that some authorized Catholic priest told me the wrong interpretation. But I certainly didn’t make notes, so at this point I just have to try to remember the actual catechism version.

  6. Thanks for resolving the issue.

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