11 February 2018

Grisez ... the obituaries

Germain Grisez was one of the great 'traditional' Catholic moral thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. His valiant battles in defence of Humanae vitae will undoubtedly be brought to our attention by other 'traditional' obituarists; and rightly. This 50th anniversary of that monumental encyclical must, as I said only a few days ago, be our occasion to revisit that document, to know it, to realise its importance in the current crisis facing the whole state of Christ's Church Militant here in Earth. Grisez, together with John Finnis (see below) have, of course, been forthright in their treatment of Amoris laetitia. Christian Moral Philosophy is a coherent interlocking system.

Call me a dreadful old cynic, but just possibly some of those other obituarists may slightly forget another ethical battle which Grisez fought, together with Boyle and Finnis. In their masterly Nuclear deterrence of 1988, Oxford University Press, they examined the fundamental building blocks of the 'Deterrence' doctrine which lay and lie at the basis of the policies of both America and her satellites, and, of course, also of the Russian Federation. In the light of the Church's teaching about the Just War, they concluded that these policies cannot be anything other than totally immoral.

This conclusion, of course, was the same as that of a great warrior for Christian Tradition and Ethics in the dark days of the 'Council', Cardinal Ottaviani.

(I sha'n't enable comments which disagree with this conclusion unless it is abundantly clear to me that a writer has carefully read and understood the book Nuclear Deterrence. It hardly seems respectful to the memory of someone as truly great as Grisez to write uninformed criticism of his work when he has just died. In any case, at most times I rather dislike attacks on traditional Christian ethics.)

12 comments:

mark wauck said...

"Germain Grisez was one of the great 'traditional' Catholic moral thinkers and writers of the twentieth century."

From his Wikipedia page: "Grisez attacked the neo-scholastic interpretation of Aquinas as holding that moral norms are derived from methodologically antecedent knowledge of human nature. Grisez defended the idea of metaphysical free choice, and proposed a natural law theory of practical reasoning and moral judgement which, although broadly Thomistic, departs from Aquinas on significant points."

"Metaphysical free choice" is associated with some varieties of Libertarianism. Call me an old fogey if you wish, or even a 'nutter,' but I don't associate any of this with "traditional catholic moral thinking." I guess I'm one of those "nutter" traditionalists who still thinks it matters HOW you get to a conclusion, not just the conclusion you come to.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Mr Wauck

I would not call you anything like that; I welcome and respect your comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for raising the issue of nuclear deterrence. I have always thought it to be a strategy which cannot be reconciled with the moral principles upon which war may sometimes be justified in our fallen world. Such weapons are inherently indiscriminate and grossly disproportionate to any 'peace' achievable in their aftermath. It is no argument to say that the threat of mutually assured destruction is designed to prevent such a war, because as certain politicians have reminded us recently, the threat only works if there is a clear and credible intention to use these weapons when it is deemed necessary. But unfortunately, I often find that traditionally minded Catholics assume that being orthodox in the modern world has to mean identifying with any and all 'right wing' political (and economic) views and causes.

mark wauck said...

Here's the thing. I highly recommend For the Avoidance of Doubt by gkirkuk (fresh out this morning!) for an example of where flirtations with neo-Kantian style thinking (yes, that includes Thomas Kuhn and his "paradigm change" theory of science) leads. For every Grisez or Finnis with a nostalgia for "traditional" standards who flirts with neo-Kantian thinking you'll get many more Cupiches, who were empowered by the attacks of Grisez and others on the straw man of "neo-scholasticism." Once you start down the neo-Kantian slide you inevitably wind up at the bottom, no matter how you argue against the slide on the way down. It's all fine and good to argue that the current theological fashion of "paradigm change" is an illegitimate application to moral philosophy of a theory meant to apply to the physical sciences, but once you start thinking in a neo-Kantian vein you will never get back to "traditional Catholic moral thinking."

John Nolan said...

On nuclear deterrence, I would expect my comments to be disabled, since I have not read the book in question (although I will do so as soon as I can).

I do, however, have a Master's degree in War Studies from King's College London (1983) and have more than a passing acquaintance with deterrence theory. A British Prime Minister may have made the decision, on moral grounds, that he will never 'press the button', even if his country faced total annihilation. Yet a potential adversary cannot be sure of this, and is therefore deterred.

Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented and so strategies have evolved to take this into account. Moral theologians are not necessarily wrong, but I would hesitate to put them in charge of the Ministry of Defence.



Fr John Hunwicke said...

I agree, Thomas. Exactly.

Another person with strong views on this subject, despite having an extreme Right Wing reputation, was Enoch Powell. His speeches against Nuclear Weapons were in such beautifully lucid English that I used to give them to my students for Latin Prose Composition!

But Powell (although an Anglo-Catholic) was not a Catholic Moralist.

PM said...

Grisez was a thinker of such stature that he commands respect even if one does not agree with everything he said. May he rest in peace.

The silence in 'conservative' circles about his inconvenient views on nuclear deterrence reminds me of the fate of the validity of moral absolutes (and thus the conclusion that there can be intrinsically evil acts)by that Oxford institution and fine exponent of St Thomas, Herbert McCabe OP. McCabe marshalled St Thomas and the insights of analytical philosophy of language to go head-to-head with the founder of the situation ethics school, Joseph Fletcher. Naturally, theological liberals dislike his arguments. But one doesn't find him cited much by moral 'conservatives' either, because the cases he adduced of intrinsically evil acts that could not be made good by a good end included the use of napalm against civilian populations in Vietnam. And he agreed with Finnis, Grisez and Boyle on nuclear weapons, though he didn't share their Kantian leanings.

Michael Leahy said...

I don't disagree with Grisez's conclusions that nuclear deterrence cannot be morally justified. This provides us with little practical help in escaping from the 'Mexican standoff' we find ourselves in. This dilemma implies, in my opinion, that it is not entirely fair to condemn those Catholics who reluctantly support 'MAD', because it might well be suicidal to engage in unilateral disarmament. Man has exceeded his limits, as in so many other things, only to find himself incapable of a solution. The first lesson from the mistake made in the Garden of Eden remains unlearned.

As for Grisez's philosophy, despite his commendable record of defending the teaching of the Church, I'd be full-square behind Mr Wauck.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Michael

My problem with what you say is ... you seem to be opening the door ("it is not entirely fair to condemn those Catholics who" etc.) to arguing that the end (avoiding the suicidal results of unilateral nuclear disarmament)justifies the means (keep the bombs). I don't see how we can possibly criticise the heretics for arguing as they do if, when it happens to suit us, we do the same!

Michael Leahy said...

Father, then we must be polite. It is incumbent upon us to tell the Russians and Chinese: "After you".

Joseph Wood said...

The Finnis/Grisez book is excellent and worth study. The policy of deterrence seeks to avoid the loss of innocent life by preventing war, i.e., the intent of the policy itself is not to kill innocents, rather the opposite. The means employed would kill innocents if nuclear war broke out. But Finnis and Grisez, in calling for an end to nuclear deterrence in order that we might suffer injustice rather than commit it, would have had the same result of innocent deaths had the West come under Soviet dominance, as they seem to admit (they were brave enough to face the real likely consequences of their position). So it seems that in choosing nuclear disarmament, which is their own means to their end of justice, they (like deterrence advocates) knowingly risk killing innocents by their choice. Neither they nor deterrence advocates seek the death of innocents, but both policies -- and both policies are means, not ends in themselves -- carry that possibility (and neither, according to Finnis and Grisez, can be justified by consequentialist reasoning, obviously). Can you reduce my confusion here?

James Quan-Thomas said...

Mr Wood, surely your line of argument already imports consequentialist ideas?

Consequentialism makes four typical claims:

a)concede your responsibility for or complicity in all evils in the world which transpire within the field of your awareness, especially those that develop as predictable but contingent (even unwanted) results of your own acts.

b) grant that any goal, however remote, that you may intend when undertaking an act may be considered to be the "end" of that act, and that anything anterior to that "end" can therefore be properly referred to as a "means"

c) Allow that all suffering is homogeneous in its quality and reducible to quantity, such that any instance of suffering can be weighed against, or found to be commensurate with, other instances of suffering.

d) Therefore: You are already complicit in the world's evils. To insist that you are only properly responsible for the foreseen or culpably unforeseen evils ensuing directly from your own actions or culpable omissions is a self-indulgence. Therefore, if you cause fresh and further suffering directly and personally through your acting, but in so doing hope to reduce the total (quantifiable) suffering of the world, you have in fact acted well, and reduced your (total) culpability.

So: you say "the intent of the policy itself is not to kill innocents" - well, an intent isn't an end. An end is determined immediately and concretely by the nature of an act, not by one's ultimate aspirations for the effect of that act. The intent of my reproducing thousands of copies of textbooks for free may be 'to diffuse knowledge to schools in developing countries', but the end of the act is 'to defraud the copyright holder of his due wages as determined by law'; to say otherwise is to grant assertion (b). No. Copying is the 'means', defrauding is the 'end', 'diffusing' is at best an 'intent'. Likewise, whatever the 'intent', the end of developing and maintaining nuclear weapons suited to targeting civilian populations is to target civilian populations.

If I were to raise a stick above the head of an unruly child, that would be a 'means'. Your claim is that the 'end' is to cause the child to behave; but that isn't the case: that doesn't describe the nature of the act. The END of the act is evidently to strike the child. Now, this is complicated because you are dissimulating: you aim to achieve the intent through publicly willing the means without privately willing the end. But the elision isn't complete: the achievement of your intent causally depends upon your apparently willing the end. Nuclear weapons are analogous, save that with the maintenance of nuclear weapons, you do not threaten the malevolent that they might refrain from evil. You threaten the innocent that the malevolent might refrain from evil.

When you say: "So it seems that in choosing nuclear disarmament, [...] they [...] risk killing innocents by their choice."
The means is the pressure exerted in the public forum to disarm. The end is disarmament. "Risking the lives of innocents" is neither a means nor an end of the act. It is perfectly contingent in relation to the act. It may be a likely consequence. But to insist that consequences contingent on the acts of others are morally significant constraints is to grant proposition (a) in some form.

If you are the judge presiding over the case of a man that the law finds innocent, and the penalty is death, and there is a clamouring mob outside who threaten to riot and kill many if the penalty is not enacted, finding the man guilty is not the 'means' to the 'end' of civil peace. Rather, your 'intention' may be peace. The means is 'to pervert justice' to the end 'that an innocent man might die'. Again, to claim that you are 'responsible' for the deaths that will result if you find the man innocent IS consequentialism. It is to grant proposition (a).