Dignity of the person: theme of the modern period

… the dignity of the human person is written over this period as its objective theme, regardless of how many persons hold the right and valid notion of this dignity and its metaphysical basis. The present period is great, because the struggle that centers around the human person is ultimately a fight engaged under the banner of Christ.

Dietrich von Hildebrand

The New Tower of Babel

Katie van Schaijik

Fr. John Courtney Murray

Dec. 29, 2010, at 3:48pm

A good article over at the American Spectator today, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of John Courtney Murray’s book of essays, We Hold These Truths.

Murray had a keen intellect, steeped in the classical and Western traditions once common among Jesuits of his stature. He was comfortable arguing politics, theology, national defense policy and history. He challenged assumptions of both the Left and Right. He offered precise and subtle arguments that have been used and, sometimes, misused by both sides in debates over different issues over the years. But his faith in the inherent reasonableness of God and man is a welcome tonic to the corrosive anti-intellectualism, power politics and relativism of the present age.

Katie van Schaijik

Christmas meditation

Dec. 24, 2010, at 11:55am

Here is Christmas sermon of Newman’s framed to awaken and deepen our sense of the religious meaning of this feast and the way it tests our hearts and sensibilities. 

When He was born into the world, the world knew it not. He was laid in a rude manger, among the cattle, but “all {252} the Angels of God worshipped Him.” Now too He is present upon a table, homely perhaps in make, and dishonoured in its circumstances; and faith adores, but the world passes by.

Let us then pray Him ever to enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may belong to the Heavenly Host, not to this world. As the carnal-minded would not perceive Him even in Heaven, so the spiritual heart may approach Him, possess Him, see Him, even upon earth.

May Blessed John Henry Newman help us with his prayers to be properly present to the great mystery at hand.

Jules van Schaijik


Dec. 20, 2010, at 8:55pm

In an as yet unpublished essay on William James (the centenary of whose death is this year), John Crosby reminds us of the fact that James “was a man with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a believer.” This gives him special relevance for today’s world in which the harmony between faith and science is once again challenged by the so called “new atheists”.

These new atheists are convinced that an objective and scientific approach to the world inevitably reveals all religion to be mere superstition. But Crosby points out that the very opposite was true for James:

…the empiricism of science is one main source of James’ openness to religion. He absorbed in his early

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Katie van Schaijik

A feast of beauty brought to you by mind-blowing technology

Dec. 19, 2010, at 2:04pm

I have lately been feeling what a cursed temptation the internet is—how easily it ensnares me and lures me further into its endless titillating wastes, devouring all my time and energy.  Some days I feel as if it has become for me that nasty little reptile sitting on one of the torn souls in Lewis’ The Great Divorce—something I must kill in order to get free.  Other times I think rather it is something analogous to sexuality as such (as opposed to a particular perversion): a potent force that I must to learn to curb and master, so that it serves my true good aims.

Whatever it is, there’s no denying its uses and charms.

Consider this virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel—and don’t fail to have

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Katie van Schaijik

Advent souls

Dec. 18, 2010, at 12:54pm

Today we received in the mail a Christmas card from the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project. Its outside features a painting of the adoration of the magi by Hugo van der Goes:

The inside features a beautiful quotation from von Hildebrand’s Transformation in Christ.

Blessed are the Advent souls, unsatisfied in the world, awakened to the truth that God alone can give us true peace, witnesses to the worlds of St. Augustine, “Restless is our heart until it rests in Thee.”

“Advent souls” is a mystery worth pondering. The coming of Christ into our lives at one and the same time brings deep peace and renders us unsatisfied with the world. How is this? And what does it mean?

Katie van Schaijik

Should we say “no” to facebook?

Dec. 15, 2010, at 1:25pm

Good post with some great links by Michael Knox Beran today at the Corner.

Electronic community has its virtues, but the morbid craving for it evident in the success of Facebook reveals the degree to which actual community has collapsed in much of the West. A multitude of causes have brought the civilization closer to Tocqueville’s prophecy of the last democratic man, shut up in “the solitude of his own heart,” but among these the war a number of our elites have waged against traditional town-square culture is surely not the least.

Personalism is in the air.

Katie van Schaijik

Persons and responsibility

Dec. 15, 2010, at 10:19am

An NRO interview with economist Dierdre McCloskey offers some food for personalist reflection.  Keep in mind a thought from the post below, viz. that pre-modern man did not conceive of himself as a person; “person” was reserved for trinitarian theology.

But, in fact, rhetoric and dignity are rather easily measured, and that is the task of the next book, The Bourgeois Revaluation: How Innovation Became Ethical, 1600–1848. Stay tuned. You can measure the shifting significance of bourgeois words: honesty, profit, responsibility, monopoly, etc., by looking in historical dictionaries and historical texts in all the languages of commerce, from 1600 to 1848. “Responsibility,” for example,

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Katie van Schaijik

The vision at the center of it all

Dec. 13, 2010, at 11:42am

I haven’t read this article about human nature and capitalism yet, but the opening lines provide a good articulation of the Personalist Project’s raison d’etre.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

I’ll say more. The modern period has seen a dramatic development in our understanding of human nature, viz. we have come to see ourselves as persons. We were with John Crosby this

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Katie van Schaijik

Benedict on condoms

Dec. 13, 2010, at 10:45am

At our reading circle last week, the topic of the Pope’s recent remarks about condom use came up. Our friend Bill thought the Pope had made a terrible mistake, creating some unnecessary moral confusion. Others (self included) disagreed, and suggested he read George Weigel’s NRO article on the subject.

Weigel didn’t convince Bill.

I remain much of the same opinion regarding the lack of tact or wisdom in the pope’s remarks answering the question about condom use. Both Weigel and [Janet] Smith rush to defend the pope and place all the blame for the misunderstanding squarely on the media. In my view, this reaction should have been easily predicted and I place little blame on the media for simply being what they are, a secular sound bite machine.

A thought in reply to that last line before I go on to the central question:
Regardless of its predictability, media malpractice deserves condemnation. News outlets have a grave responsibility to inform the public accurately. When they instead distort and sensationalize, they do a serious disservice to the body politic. They ought to be called on it; they ought to be blamed for it.

Bill’s main concern, though, is not with the misreporting, but with the unwisdom of the Pope’s actual words, which he quotes.

“Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Benedict XVI: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

This was a weak response in my view. More appropriate response would have been, “No, I’m not saying that! The church IS opposed.” To only say “does not regard” sounds like its just a matter of opinion and to say, “not a REAL or moral solution” implies that nonetheless if does have some merit or may be tolerated. Leaving the discussion this way with no further follow up emphasizing the negative on condom use leaves the media and the world with just the exact impression it got, that the church was taking a step towards accepting or at least tolerating condom use.

To me, the question of the wisdom and prudence of the Pope’s way of speaking can only be ascertained in light of what he intended to convey. What moral problem is he addressing? Bill seems to take it for granted that the Pope’s concern is (or should be) exclusively, or at least primarily, the problem of artificial contraception. I think he has much broader and deeper concerns.

For instance, to me it is plain that the Pope is addressing a legalistic habit in Catholic ethos. He wants to say, in part, something like: “The way you look at this issue is not the way the Church looks at this issue. Your ways are not God’s ways. We are much more interested in and concerned with souls and with the interior life than you imagine, and it is there that we would like to direct your attention.”

In other words, the Pope is correcting an excessive objectivism and externalism in the approach to the moral life. He is being a personalist. He is teaching the rest of us to be more personalist.

And I, for one, love him for it.

Jules van Schaijik

Paternalism in the Hippocratic Oath

Nov. 15, 2010, at 2:48pm

I tend to be leery of attempts to tinker with and improve upon the Hippocratic Oath. The suspicion is that such efforts might be framed to loosen the medical profession’s commitment to protecting life from conception to natural death. A moment’s reflection, however, reminds me that certain adjustments to ancient practical codes simply can’t be avoided. There is need for both translation and development. With translation I mean that the underlying normative principles of the Hippocratic ethic must be reformulated in order to make sense in a different age. We no longer “swear by Apollo the Physician” or think of our teacher as “equal to my parents.” So much is obvious. But the idea of development goes beyond mere translation. It includes the incorporation of new values that were not (or not sufficiently) recognized by Hippocrates and his followers.

Something I am reading right now, by Edmund D. Pellegrino, provides a good example.* The Hippocratic ethic, Pellegrino thinks, is paternalistic to a degree that is simply no longer acceptable. It views the physician as “an authoritative and competent practicioner, devoted to his patients well-being. He is a benevolent and sole arbiter who knows what is best for the patient and makes all decisions for him.” He cites a Hippocratic source in which the doctor is adviced to “Perform all things calmly and adroitly, concealing most things from the patient while you are attending to him.” A little later the doctor is told to treat the patient with solicitude, “revealing nothing of the patient’s present and future condition.”

This the-doctor-knows-best view of the relationship between the physician and his patient, while “still too often the modus operandi of physicians dreaming of a simpler world in which authority and paternalistic benevolence were the order of the day,” is no longer valid. The modern principle of “patient autonomy” must be allowed to qualify and interpret the older principle of beneficence.

Incorporating this modern value into the Hippocratic ethic represents, it seems to me, a genuine and positive development of the latter, not a corruption. Even if beneficence was traditionally understood and practiced in a paternalistic way, we should be able to see that beneficence and paternalism are two different things. In fact, as Pellegrino shows, the latter detracts from the former.

Medical paternalism and parentalism, however, are not to be equated with beneficence, conceptually or in practice. Paternalism does not account for the patient’s preferences or values that are part and parcel of her good or best interests. Paternalism makes the medical good of the patient the only good and subverts other goods to that good. Paternalism violates the patient’s autonomy in the name of the patient’s best interests while ignoring or overriding some of the most vital of those interests. This cannot be a beneficent act because the patient’s own choices are so much an expression of his or her own life story or personhood. To violate or ignore the patient’s choices is, by definition, a maleficent act, an injury to the patient’s humanity. Only when the patient’s human capacity to act autonomously is impaired (i.e., when the patient is incompetent) may we resort to paternalism as a beneficent act to override objections to treatment.

But patient autonomy should not only be understood negatively, as something with which the doctor may not interfere, but also positively, as something he should try to encourage and make possible to the best of his abilities.

It is the physician’s obligation to enhance, empower, and enrich the patient’s capacity to be autonomous. An autonomous choice requires that we fill in, to the extent possible, the action or choice that maximizes realization of the patient’s values. Thus, autonomy has a positive as well as a negative aspect. To become a reality, patient autonomy requires cooperation and assistance from the physician. In short, it requires the physician’s beneficent attention to make the patient’s autonomy an authentic, as well as an independent, reality.

I don’t want to end without saying that the idea of patient autonomy can also be misinterpreted. For instance, we should avoid thinking of it in terms of independence only. The last point makes this very clear. The patient really needs the doctor. She is dependent on him. And that not only for her physical well-being, but even for the ability to exercise her own autonomy. Also, the emphasis on the autonomy of the patient should not lead us to overlook the equally important autonomy of the doctor. It is not true, for instance, that the doctor, after giving his best advice, has to simply execute the wishes of the patient, no matter what they are. The doctor is also an autonomous person. He may never be viewed, either by himself or by his patient, as a mere means to the patient’s health (or other goals). Pellegrino has a lot to say on this as well, but that would be for another post.

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* The two articles I cite in this post are not freely available online (1. “Toward an Expanded Medical Ethics: The Hippocratic Ethic Revisited”; 2. “Patient and Physician Autonomy: Conflicting Rights and Obligations in the Physician-Patent Relationship”). But there is another article on similar themes that is: “Toward a Reconstruction of Medical Morality

Katie van Schaijik

Mildred Jefferson, heroine for life

Nov. 11, 2010, at 3:54pm

To my regret and dismay, I only learned about this wonderful person after her death in October. I would have liked to sit at her feet and be her disciple.

The first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and a founder of the National Right to Life Committee, she deserves the gratitude and admiration of everyone who cherishes human life.

An article in today’s American Spectator online describes her fearless and articulate opposition to abortion:

Dr. Jefferson, a surgeon, was appalled by the 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy, up to the moment of birth. This decision, along with its evil twin, Doe v. Bolton, struck down all state restrictions on the practice, effectively allowing abortions in almost any circumstances including mere convenience.
Jefferson testified before Congress that these decisions “gave my profession almost unlimited license to kill.”
“With the obstetrician and mother becoming the worst enemy of the child and the pediatrician becoming the assassin for the family, the state must be enabled to protect the life of the child, born and unborn,” said the good doctor.

Note the passionate implicit personalism of her stance:

I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.

So accomplished and remarkable was she, that even The New York Times had to pay her some homage with an obituary.

See also this article at Christianity Today’s blog for women.

It’s good to think of her in heaven, being honored by God.

Jules van Schaijik

If the body is still there, so is the person

Nov. 11, 2010, at 3:03pm

In a recent post I mentioned that I am always on the lookout for good and persuasive arguments against utilitarianism, particularly the depersonalizing aspect of it.

Since then, I’ve come upon two pieces that are very good from this point of view. Rather than constructing a formal philosophical argument, they paint a vivid picture of the essential and precious personhood of even severely handicapped individuals. The first one, The Human Face of Alzheimer’s, by Colleen Carroll Campbell, was published a few years ago. It reflects on former president Reagan’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and shows how, in spite of the language we often use when we refer to victims of Alzheimer’s—“the body is still there, but the person is long gone”—we have a deeper intuition that belies such phrases. Deep down we know, or we would know if we only opened our eyes, that the person we once knew is still there.

The other article, A Life Beyond Reason, was just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is the story of a father’s love for his severely handicapped son. This particular father, Chris Gabbard, had been persuaded by “Peter Singer’s advocacy of expanding reproductive choice to include infanticide.”

But there was my son, asleep or unconscious, on a ventilator, motionless under a heat lamp, tubes and wires everywhere, monitors alongside his steel and transparent-plastic crib. What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this, the shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant…

So from the start, I had to wrestle with the reality of his condition. Martin Luther held the opinion that, because a child such as August was a “changeling”—merely a mass of flesh, a massa carnis, with no soul—he should be drowned. And Singer reasonably would maintain that my son would not qualify as a “person,” because he would have no consciousness of himself in time and space.

Interestingly enough it was the Terri Schiavo case which took place a few years later that resolved Gabbard’s perplexities and cut through his doubts.

That a Florida court would order the deliberate starvation and dehydration of a woman whose mental disability differed not that much from my son’s struck me as what Gayatri Spivak terms “an enabling violation.” Schiavo’s death served as a turning point for me, and new interests, beliefs, and curiosities began to coalesce.

Both of these articles, then, show that the being of the person is not exhausted by consciousness, i.e. that there is a lot more to personhood than rational activities such as thinking and communicating thoughts, remembering the past, planning for the future, etc.

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In case the reader was as surprised by the above reference to Martin Luther as I was, I add a longer quote which I found here using google:

Eight years ago [in the year 1532] at Dessau, I, Dr. Martin Luther, saw and touched a changeling. It was twelve years old, and from its eyes and the fact that it had all of its senses, one could have thought that it was a real child. It did nothing but eat; in fact, it ate enough for any four peasants or threshers. It ate, shit, and pissed, and whenever someone touched it, it cried. When bad things happened in the house, it laughed and was happy; but when things went well, it cried. It had these two virtues. I said to the Princes of Anhalt: “If I were the prince or the ruler here, I would throw this child into the water—into the Molda that flows by Dessau. I would dare commit homicidium on him!” But the Elector of Saxony, who was with me at Dessau, and the Princes of Anhalt did not want to follow my advice. Therefore, I said: “Then you should have all Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer in church that God may exorcise the devil.” They did this daily at Dessau, and the changeling child died in the following year…. Such a changeling child is only a piece of flesh, a massa carnis, because it has no soul.

Katie van Schaijik

Love and permanence

Nov. 4, 2010, at 4:23pm

In May, Jules and I had a chance to visit Italy and walk the Cinque Terre—a beautiful, rugged pathway connecting five coastal villages in the north.

We started at a part of it called the Via dell Amore—the Way of Love. And here and there along that way of love, we came upon collections of locks, like this one.

And this one:

Some were rusted with age, some brand new. At first we were bewildered. But then we understood. Countless lovers had walked that way and left a lock as a sign of the permanence of their love for one another.

I found it a touching, simple and beautiful expression of a deep and universal truth. Love longs for eternity. Nothing else satisfies.

I wish the world understood it better. Marriage—the covenanted, indissoluble union of a man and a woman, professed before God and the world—is the only possible earthly realization of an essential aspiration of love.

Katie van Schaijik

Newman’s influence

Oct. 28, 2010, at 2:41pm

Reading a great Crosby article on Newman and personal influence (I wish there were a link!)—on his deep conviction that a person’s living by a given value or principle, embodying it in his own way of being, is the most effective way to advance in the world—much more effective than argument. The point is not unlike St. Francis’ famous saying: “Preach the gospel always; when necessary, use words.”

Newman himself exercised powerfully the personal influence of which he speaks. At his death in 1890 the Times of London said, speaking in the vein in which so many Protestants spoke as they took leave of Newman, ‘Of one thing we may be sure, that the memory of his pure and noble life, untouched by worldliness, unsoured by any trace of fanaticism, will endure, and that whether Rome canonizes him or not he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England.” The writer of these lines is remembering not Newman’s arguments, not his accomplishments, not the institutions he founded, but rather the purity of his personality…

Jules van Schaijik

In Defense of Negativity

Oct. 27, 2010, at 1:55pm

John G. Geer, has written a book defending the use of negative campaign ads. His main point seems to be that such ads are much more likely to focus on the important political issues than positive ones. He is probably right about that. The so called positive ads tend to be rather empty.

I am glad the book is out there, even if only to counteract the widespread and thoughtless repudiation of what is often called “the politics of personal destruction.” That there is such a thing, and that it is reprehensible, I don’t want to deny. But the term is bandied about way too freely and often applied to instances of political criticism that are both legitimate and important for the democratic process.

But, of course, negativity as such isn’t any more desirable than positivity as such. It all depends. I suspect that the book sheds more light on the issue than the title.

P.S. John Geer’s Attack Ad Hall of Fame collects some fun examples of the sort of ads he discusses in the book. My personal favorite is the 2004 windsurfer ad against John Kerry.

Jules van Schaijik

The number 223

Oct. 26, 2010, at 10:29pm

I was just helping my son Nick with his math homework. The answer to one question we worked on was 223. (At least that is what we think, what we hope, what we really, really, really hope it was, because some much needed extra credit depends on it.)

223. Did you know there was a Wikipedia entry about this number? I didn’t either until I googled it (I thought it was a prime number, and wanted to be sure). It turns out that 223 is not an ordinary number (in the ordinary sense of the term) at all. Besides being “the natural number between 222 and 224” and the “atomic mass of francium,” it is also “a long prime, a lucky prime and [get this] a sexy prime”.

What does this have to do with personalism? Well, it seems to me that these are the sorts of things any well-rounded personalist ought to know.

Katie van Schaijik

Fatiguing us into compliance

Oct. 23, 2010, at 11:39am

I must have sent some money somewhere along the line to Senator Jim DeMint, because the other day I received in the mail a “Freedom Fighter” T-shirt, some bumper stickers, and a book of his called, Saving Freedom: We can stop America’s slide into socialism.

I picked it up in a desultory mode this afternoon and found that it opens with the full text of The Declaration of Independence.

I read it as if for the first time. (Quite possibly it was the first time.)

One item in the “long train of abuses and usurpations” committed by the King and detailed by the signers particularly caught my attention:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

When we are tired and out of sorts, we are apt to comply with our own diminishment as persons. Like Esau selling his birthright for some stew. Weariness weakens the will. So does being displaced.

Is it not ironic that the same time and culture that places such a high premium on individual rights and personal liberty seems by its chronic rootlessness, instability and alienation to set us up for serfdom?

Katie van Schaijik

Imagining communism

Oct. 22, 2010, at 4:02pm

Saturday evening Jules and I hosted a reading circle gathering centered on Vaclav Havel’s great and influential essay, The Power of the Powerless. The essay deals with the web of lies that had engulfed eastern European society under the domination of communist ideology and Soviet military power—the suffering it caused, and the struggle for truth and freedom that could bring it down.

Havel points out in the essay that the then-state of the east should serve as a warning to the west, which contains within its own alienated, de-spiritualized, consumerist culture the seeds of the same human catastrophe.

One way to arm ourselves for the resistance is to feel our way imaginatively into the nightmare. A great way to do that is to watch movies that bring it vividly to life. Here is a list of my favorites.

The Lives of Others
The Inner Circle
Eminent Domain
White Nights
Dr. Zhivago

The first three are especially great; alll show the horror of Soviet communism and the triumph of the human spirit in spite of it.

NB: Some of these—the first especially—have some rather raw scenes. Eminent Domain and White Nights both make for great family-film night viewing for families with kids old enough to cope with some serious thinking about the nature of evil.

Jules van Schaijik

Are we all equal, i.e. equally worthless?

Oct. 22, 2010, at 1:49pm

Utilitarianism, in one form or another, has a serious grip on the contemporary mind. No matter how logically compelling the arguments against it may be, or how often they are repeated, the habit of utilitarian thinking seems to prevail unchecked. I even notice the problem in my own mind. In spite of my rejection of the theory, both morally and intellectually, I find it all too easy to sympathize with the likes of Jack Bauer who are willing to break any and every moral principle as long as the results seem to justify it.

I also see the problem in my students. Some of them are unabashed utilitarians. They agree that euthasia, torture, cannibalism, etc., are undesirable in themselves, but they also think that such acts are sometimes justified by their consequences. Others are more like me. They reject the theory in principle, but can’t help sometimes falling into utiliarian ways of viewing and thinking about the world.

I am always on the lookout, therefore, for persuasive arguments against utilitarianism—especially for arguments that show how inhumane and depersonalizing the doctrine really is. The latter is important because utilitarianists often seem to be more personalist than their critics since they pay more attention to the interests of persons than to abstract, universal moral rules. Such rules are fine, they argue, as long as they serve the general interest. But in case of a conflict, we should never sacrifice the interests of persons to an abstract rule.

So I appreciated an argument I came accross recently in an article by Tom Regan (an animal rights advocate with whom I otherwise mostly and strongly disagree). Whereas many advocates of animal rights make their arguments on utilitarianist grounds—Peter Singer among them, who famously holds that “all animals [human or not] are equal”—Regan thinks that the utilitarian conception of equality is badly flawed: it basically says that all individuals are equal only in the sense that none of them have any intrinsic value at all. As Regan puts it: “Utilitarianism has no room for the equal moral rights of different individuals because it has no room for their equal inherent value or worth. What has value for the utilitarian is the satisfaction of an individual’s interests, not the individual whose interests they are.” Here is an analogy he uses to clarify his meaning:

a cup contains different liquids, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, sometimes a mix of the two. What has value are the liquids: the sweeter the better, the bitterer the worse. The cup, the container, has no value. It is what goes into it, not what they go into, that has value. For the utilitarian you and I are like the cup; we have no value as individuals and thus no equal value. What has value is what goes into us, what we serve as receptacles for; our feelings of satisfaction have positive value, our feelings of frustration negative value.

Let me also quote the long example he gives to further illustrate the way in which the utilitarian calculus works, and how it completely disregards the value and rights of the individual:

That utilitarianism is an aggregative theory — different individuals’ satisfactions or frustrations are added, or summed, or totalled - is the key objection to this theory. My Aunt Bea is old, inactive, a cranky, sour person, though not physically ill. She prefers to go on living. She is also rather rich. I could make a fortune if I could get my hands on her money, money she intends to give me in any event, after she dies, but which she refuses to give me now. In order to avoid a huge tax bite, I plan to donate a handsome sum of my profits to a local children’s hospital. Many, many children will benefit from my generosity, and much joy will be brought to their parents, relatives and friends. If I don’t get the money rather soon, all these ambitions will come to naught. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real killing will be gone. Why, then, not kill my Aunt Bea? Oh, of course I might get caught. But I’m no fool and, besides, her doctor can be counted on to co-operate (he has an eye for the same investment and I happen to know a good deal about his shady past). The deed can be done . . . professionally, shall we say. There is very little chance of getting caught. And as for my conscience being guilt-ridden, I am a resourceful sort of fellow and will take more than sufficient comfort - as I lie on the beach at Acapulco - in contemplating the joy and health I have brought to so many others. Suppose Aunt Bea is killed and the rest of the story comes out as told. Would I have done anything wrong? Anything immoral? One would have thought that I had. Not according to utilitarianism. Since what I have done has brought about the best balance between totalled satisfaction and frustration for all those affected by the outcome, my action is not wrong. Indeed, in killing Aunt Bea the physician and I did what duty required.

What do you think? I think this argument is basically sound (even though it would have to be shored up against all sorts of utilitarian counters). But is it convincing? Will it leave an impression? Or do you, my kind reader, have a better argument I can use?

Jules van Schaijik

Cleansed but not saved

Oct. 17, 2010, at 12:01am

“Cleansed, but not saved” was the theme of a homily I heard last Sunday. The homilist took his cue from the Gospel reading (Lk 17:11-19) in which Jesus cleanses ten lepers, but only one—a Samaritan—returns to give thanks. “Ten were cleansed, were they not?” Jesus asks. “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then He turns to the one who came back and says “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Ten persons were cleansed by Jesus. They were relieved of terrible objective suffering and restored to health. But only one was saved. What made the difference? Gratitude, said the priest.

This got me reflecting. Why would gratitude make such an ultimate difference? What was that difference? Perhaps the ten were at first only cleansed in a physical or bodily sense, and only the one who came back was cleansed a second time, and now in a spiritual sense?

Yes, surely. But my thoughts went in different, more personalist direction. I was thinking about the way in which God’s saving work among persons requires our free cooperation, even participation. Laundry gets thrown into the machine and comes out clean. It passively undergoes the cleansing. With persons it is different. It is not just that persons have souls, and that souls require a different kind of washing. It is rather that persons are so constituted that they cannot be washed (as persons) without freely willing it. Persons cannot be cleansed by passively undergoing some procedure. They must want it and go along with it. In other words, they must subjectively appropriate the washing.

This, I think, is why the gratitude of the one leper is so important. It shows that he saw the cleansing action not simply as a fantastic bit of good luck that happened to him, but rather as a great gift coming from a loving and compassionate Giver.  As such it called for a proper and personal response; for “active receptivity” and deep gratitude. By giving this response, the leper allowed the cleansing to do its deeper and saving work—not just in his flesh, but in his very self.

Gratitude is the means by which a subject, a self, appropriates a gift, and makes the giving and receiving a genuinely inter-personal act.

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