The source of our anxiety

Is it good that I exist? Is it good that anything at all exists? Is the world good? How many persons today would dare to affirm this question from the heart–to believe it is good that they exist? That is the source of the anxiety and despair that incessantly affect mankind.

Benedict XVI

Principles of Catholic Theology

Katie van Schaijik

The incipient personalism of romanticism?

Sep. 7, 2009, at 3:22pm

Arts and Letters Daily links today an interesting Newsweek article about Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein. I read it years ago; Jules read it this summer. (Dr. Healy’s quotation of passages from Dracula in his talk on damnation had put him in the mood for catching up on those classics.) What strikes me in particular is the number of personalist thoughts and themes in the article as well as the book. Take just this passage:

The Romantics did not reject science, as Richard Holmes demonstrates in his remarkable new book, The Age of Wonder. (Holmes is also the author of a brilliant biography of Percy Shelley). They were ambivalent. Romantic artists and scientists shared a commitment to the quest for truth, and they were both motivated by wonder. It’s no accident that Frankenstein shares certain features with Percy Shelley. Frankenstein is a kind of artist, as well as a composite of the era’s well-known scientists. But as Holmes shows in a chapter on Frankenstein, Mary also captured the fear surrounding scientific exploration: if man can manipulate nature like a machine, what becomes of the soul? Chemistry and biology must be only half the story—half the human, one might say. Frankenstein is an argument between reason and emotion, nature and civilization, the divided self. Frankenstein’s radical suggestion is that it doesn’t take God to heal the rift. It takes the loyalty and love of another person.

Makes me wish I could take a year to study the seeds of personalism in 19th century English ethos.  I’d like to look into questions like the relationship between science and persons, the problem of solitude, and the role others play in mediating us (or not) to ourselves.

Josef Seifert

The first three evidences for human freedom

Sep. 6, 2009, at 8:32pm

1. The Immediate Evidence of Freedom in the Cogito
A first answer to our question imposes itself on us: The god-like attribute of the free human person: „for if we will, it is; if we will not, it is not…,” as Augustine says, is given just as immediately as our own existence in the experience of consciously living our being and performing free acts. (After ending this series on freedom, I will send to the Personalist project my whole text that underlies these blogs, namely a more extensive article with all the quotes.)

We can reach the knowledge of the real existence of our freedom in actually experiencing it from within – as part of the indubitable evidence of the cogito; it can be known with the same immediacy as our own existence, or in a sense even more immediately; because, as Augustine says, even if we were mistaken, per impossibile (which is impossible), about our own existence, it would still be evident to us that we would not want to be deceived, and in this will not to be deceived we experience our freedom with evidence.

Thus we may say that nothing is more evident to us than our freedom: Our very existence and conscious life are not more indubitably given, though perhaps more easily understood, than our freedom. And indeed we know of our freedom with the same type of immediate and thereupon reflective evidence with which we know of our own existence.

[Investigating this matter more closely, we could distinguish between the evident givenness of freedom on different levels: a) in the immediate inner conscious living of our acts, b) in what Karol Wojtyìa calls „reflective consciousness” (which precedes the fully conscious self-knowledge), and c) in explicit reflection and self-knowledge properly speaking in which we make our personal freedom the explicit object of reflection, d) in the insight into the nature of freedom, an insight which grasps the necessary and intelligible essence of personhood, which is realized in each and every person, and e) in the clear and indubitable recognition of our personal individual freedom, an evident knowledge which depends, on the one hand, on the immediate and reflected experience of our being and freedom, and, on the other hand, on the essential insight into the eternal and evident truth of the connection between freedom and personhood.]

The awareness of our own free will – a knowledge which is so evident that it cannot be deception – is in fact part of the evidence of the famous Cogito in René Descartes and even more in its richer and more adequate Augustinian version.

And the existence of free will in us is so evident that its evidence in a certain sense is more primary and indubitable than that of all other evident truths given in the knowledge: I think, I experience, I am.
And the existence of free will in us is even so evident that its evidence in a certain sense is more primary and indubitable than that of all other evident truths given in this knowledge (the Cogito).
Of course, this priority is not to be understood absolutely: for without the evidence of our existence and thinking activity also our freedom and will could not be given. Nevertheless, Augustine’s remark is valid in the following sense: even if we assumed, per impossibile, that all other truths given to us would be doubtful, we could still be certain that we would freely want and wish to avoid error and to reach the truth. For even if we could be in error about all things, it would still remain true that we do not want to be in error and of this free will we can have certain knowledge, as Augustine states:

Likewise if someone were to say: ‘I do not will to err,’ will it not be true that whether he errs or does not err, yet he does not will to err? Would it not be the height of impudence of anyone to say to this man: ‘Perhaps you are deceived,’ since no matter in what he may be deceived, he is certainly not deceived in not willing to be deceived? And if he says that he knows this, he adds as many known things as he pleases, and perceives it to be an infinite number. For he who says, ‘I do not will to be deceived, and I know that I do not will this, and I know that I know this,’ can also continue from here towards an infinite number, however awkward this manner of expressing it may be.

And again Augustine says:

On the other hand who would doubt that he … wills…? For even if he doubts, he … wants (wills) to be certain….

René Descartes gains the same insight as Augustine that we possess freedom of choice and know this from within our own experience of the free dominion over our acts, and expresses it in the following way:

[Descartes says that our freedom of choice] “is so evident that it must be counted among the first and most common notions that are innate in us.”

Thus, starting from the immediate self-experience of our conscious life, we gain the evidence that we possess the freedom to will not to err, and in a similar manner proceed to the more general evident knowledge of our freedom expressed by Saint Augustine thus:

for we do many things which, if we were not willing, we should certainly not do. This is primarily true of the act of willing itself - for if we will, it is; if we will not, it is not…

Augustine continues a little further down:

…Our wills, therefore, exist as wills, and do themselves whatever we do by willing, and which would not be done if we were unwilling.

The evidence of this knowledge cannot even be refuted by any and all possible forms of self-deception because these imply or presuppose already the evidence of free will, particularly the evidence that we can will “not to be deceived,” as Augustine says.

2. The Evidence of Our Own Freedom in the Light of the “Eternal Truths” or “Necessary and Supremely Intelligible Essences and Wesensgesetze”
An extremely important advantage of the Augustinian over the Cartesian Cogito lies in Augustine‘s clear grasp that the unique inner perception or grasp that we really exist through our intimate conscious contact with our being and life “from within” is connected with the light of eternal truths, an insight into necessary essences and states of affairs that are quite independent from our individual person but without knowledge of which we could also not understand the existence of anything: for example, we do not only immediately perceive from within that we live and are conscious but we understand at the same time the universal truth of the principle of contradiction “nothing can exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense” or: “Deception and error requires the real existence of the person who errs or is deceived; therefore, nobody who errs and is deceived can fail to exist”. And as we perceive the concrete fact of our own existence in the light of these eternal truths, so we can also perceive our own freedom in the light of the eternal truths about the essence of freedom we discussed above. Thus we could formulate: in understanding what freedom is, we at the same time perceive in ourselves the actually existing power to act freely. As it were the light of the insights into the universal facts we discussed above about the nature of freedom at the same time allows us to understand clearly the instantiation of freedom in our own being and conscious life.

3. The Knowledge of Freedom through the Mediation of the Experience of Moral Calls and Oughts
There is another way to know that we are free: we all experience that we ought to do and not to do certain things. But an ought would not only lose any sense without freedom but in its experience freedom is co-given with the same evidence as the ought itself. In a similar way, the call issued from all objective values to give them their due response, explained so well in Hildebrand’s Ethics, which is, as a matter of fact, the main rational reason for an ought, cannot be perceived without at the same time knowing our freedom, without which we could never respond to the call for a due value response. For while we can also give an affective response, that is not within our free power to engender and still is due to a great work of art or to a beloved person, this due response as well calls for a free sanction without which our response as it were does not enter fully in relation with due-ness. Therefore in the experience of any “ought” or call to give a due response we are given with the same evidence with which we know that we ought to do or to omit something, or to perform an inner act due to a beautiful or good object or person, also our freedom, which is the only conceivable addressee of an ought or call for a due response. No conceivable totally unfree reaction can ever properly respond to an ought or to a call from a value per se. We can say: nobody can know of an ought or call to give an adequate response to a good without knowing that he is free; hence as we do know of many such oughts and calls for a due response, we know that we are free.

Josef Seifert

Are we really free?  Can we know it?

Sep. 6, 2009, at 8:31pm

In our discussion of the essence of freedom we already presupposed all along, and as we shall see with good reason, that we as human persons are free. We spoke of us being able to take free stances, to command actions, to cooperate, etc. Nevertheless, we must distinguish sharply between knowing the essence of freedom and knowing the existence of human freedom. In principle, to gain an insight into all we saw about the essence of freedom does not yet imply that we actually are free, that freedom actually exists in the human being, either in actu or in potency, as fundamental faculty of the person. Especially when it comes to freedom, we can well understand the fundamental difference between grasping the essence of freedom and knowing the existence of human freedom. This is evident because the determinist who denies the existence of human freedom has as well to understand the essence of freedom whose existence in man he denies. He cannot deny freedom without some grasp of what the freedom is the existence of which he denies. Can we then know that human freedom exists and that we actually are free?

If human freedom did not exist, human beings would not be persons, as we have seen – but why should this be impossible? Maybe humans are not persons, as those countless philosophies imply that deny human freedom.

That it is one of innumerable „eternal truths” that “person and freedom are inseparable,” leaves the question unanswered: Does freedom exist in man? All the facts about the essence of freedom and personhood say nothing yet about human beings’ actually possessing this astonishing faculty.
Is it not a prerogative of God to be Lord over the being and the non-being of a thing by a simple inner word or fiat, without the person being determined to such a fiat by any cause other than his or her free center itself?

Is there then such a god-like quality in any finite person as to be the lord over the being and non-being of her acts? Answering this question affirmatively, as we implicitly did, obliges us to answer also how we can know that we are free? I will present in the following six ways in which we know that we are free or “six proofs of freedom.”

Katie van Schaijik

What divides us?

Sep. 4, 2009, at 10:39am

A propos of our discussion on anger and holy wrath, I am both dismayed and challenged by this passage from Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s blog entry describing his attendance at Senator Kennedy’s funeral.

At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

Is it fair to suggest that the critics of the decision to allow President Obama to give a eulogy at a Catholic funeral for a pro-abortion public figure are motivated by “judgment, anger or vindictiveness”? Can he give them no credit for concern with true and justice and moral clarity? And what of the irreparable harm done to the communion of the faithful by Catholic public officials promoting abortion and living scandalous personal lives?

What do others think?

LifeSiteNews has an article expressing an opinion more like my own (hat tip American Papist), by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, Doctor of Dogmatic Theology and head of the Rome office of Human Life International

In the same way that publicly incoherent Catholics might be denied communion, these persons can also be denied ecclesiastical funeral rites. The Code of Canon Law establishes, Can. “1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals: 3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.”

It’s that “public scandal of the faithful” that I thought missing from Archbishop O’Malley’s blog item—that I think missing from much of Catholic ethos and practice today. Needless to say, this ties into our forgiveness discussion as well. Can there be meaningful forgiveness where there is no repentance?

Msgr. Carambula gets even stronger and more specific:

We are informed by the press that the person who received the recent funeral in Boston gave some signs of repentance; but those signs were not specific at all with regards to the many grave and public violations that he committed against the teachings of the Church. Even if the signs of repentance would have been judged sufficient by competent local ecclesiastical authority, the problem of the scandal remains because the ordinary of the place where the funeral was officiated could not have been ignorant that the funeral was going to be turned into a celebration of the life of that particular person.

Josef Seifert

Inner Freedom and Cooperative Freedom

Aug. 26, 2009, at 12:02pm

Inner Free Acts
Thus I can act in the outside world, realize states of affairs or prevent them, but I can also take inner stances, respond by speaking a free “yes” or “no” to something. Besides such actual free responses, which I experience here and now and direct to an object, there are also superactual free responses in a person. These continue to exist in us even when we do not actually experience them or think of them. As we know many things superactually even when we do not think of them, so we find also that concretely lived free acts and responses do not exhaust themselves in our actually experiencing them. Both our responses to individual beings (such as our love for our wife or child) and to general types and whole spheres of value, such as attitudes of reverence, the virtues of justice, of purity, etc. can last in the form of superactual acts. They manifest themselves in our emotions, feelings, concrete responses and actions, etc. All virtues and vices are superactual acts. They profoundly influence the concrete actual consciousness of a person and are as it were a basso continuo which accompanies the actual melodies of our daily life. Finally, there is the so-called fundamental moral option for or against all morally relevant goods, for or against God and the whole world of values. This response has the most universal scope of objects at which it is directed. If it gains sturdy roots in a person, it becomes more than an “option,” it becomes the most fundamental moral attitude; this attitude may also be called the general moral attitude.

Cooperative Freedom and the Gift of Self as Supreme Fulfillment of Persons
It is clear that we cannot directly realize superactual attitudes and virtues by a simple fiat. We can engender freely general moral intentions, yes, but they neither immediately take root in the person nor acquire instantaneously the personal depth proper to superactual virtues. Similarly, we cannot, by a simple fiat of our will, bring about affective responses such as grief or love, joy, compassion, or repentance, however appropriate also these spiritual affections are to their objects, as Dietrich von Hildebrand has shown in his books The Heart and The Nature of Love. Yet this does not imply that we have no freedom or responsibility with respect to our superactual attitudes or to our spiritual affective responses such as love, repentance or grief. We come to recognize here two further important manifestations of freedom: (1) the indirect role of our free acts, and (2) cooperative freedom.

(1) A single free action of helping someone lies within the power of our immediate freedom (in spite of the difficulties and limitations we may experience with respect to its actualization), and has an immediate and direct effect in the world and on our conscious life. Yet each action has also indirect effects on ourselves; it will influence and gradually change our superactual attitudes and the kind of emotional responses (love or hatred, warmth or envy and bitterness) we give to others. This applies to good as well as to bad actions. We cannot directly bring about with our free fiat attitudes towards persons or values which result indirectly from many free actions nor can we immediately evoke affective responses of repentance, compassion, or love, which often arise in our nature without participation of our freedom and which nevertheless can be morally and humanly speaking adequate or inadequate to their human or divine object. Now the fact that all of these acts and feelings do not obey our immediate free command does not impede that they are in many ways influenced indirectly by our free acts. Thus the free acts of repeated adultery will give rise to an impure and unfaithful attitude and to kinds of feelings towards his wife and other women which the faithful husband will not experience. Thus we come to understand that our freedom has an enormous indirect influence distinct from direct freedom by which we bring about free acts.

(2) Even more amazing is what we might term „cooperative freedom.“ Besides indirect freedom exerting great influence on such data of the moral life as virtues and vices and our affections, we also have another important capacity: namely that of cooperative freedom, of relating freely and in a particularly intimate way to those realities in us that arise without freedom. We can conspire freely with the tears of repentance that arise in us, or suppress them; we can freely disavow feelings of hatred or identify ourselves with them. We can cooperate with emotions of love and form them freely from within by sanctioning them. We touch here upon what constitutes the very heart of human freedom.

Recognition of cooperative freedom even modifies what we have said about freedom at the beginning of this series, describing freedom in terms of being „the lords over the being and the non-being of our acts.“ This characterization of freedom in terms of autonomy does not describe adequately many aspects of freedom such as the freedom in the grateful receiving of gifts, in gratitude as such, and in cooperative freedom. In many cases, of which the highest involve divine grace, we find in our soul gifts and experiences of joy or love which arise in us without depending on our freedom. Yet inasmuch as such movements of our soul are adequate or inadequate to their object, good or bad, we must not let them arise in us without involvement of our freedom. When they are bad, we ought to disavow them, thereby not immediately eradicating them but „decapitating“ them, as it were. We can freely speak a ‘no’ to our feeling of intense envy, when we realize its evilness and inappropriateness. This is not an act of repression but, on the contrary, an act of conscious confrontation with ourselves. By disavowing feelings of envy, the person disassociates herself from them. Thus they become movements of the soul for which we are no longer responsible in the way in which we are responsible when we let envy grow in us without taking such a free stance. Much more profound is the interpenetration of freedom and affective responses – or other non-free experiences and gifts in us – in the positive case. When a deep love or feeling of repentance is granted to us – a feeling or movement of our soul which we never could have given to ourselves – our freedom is not fated to remain outside such gifts. It can join in with the gift. We can freely sanction our affective response or an attitude of our will of which we recognize that it gives a due response to an object or a person and that it has gift-character and does not stand simply within our power. By such a free sanctioning of these acts, we integrate them into our free life. Analogously, we can appropriate and accept into our freedom all intentional and good acts which arise in our soul, including our acceptance and conviction of the truth. Also in the sphere of the intellect we can integrate by a free sanction, and affirm from within, convictions which arise organically and without being free acts from our cognition. Given the rationality of the conviction and its character as a theoretical and adequate response to reality (states of affairs), we can also sanction it or add to convictions resulting simply from knowledge (being convinced by the object known) convictions which have the character of free real assent. We can speak a free yes to truth, a response which takes on a new role when it is not merely based on evident knowledge but on probable knowledge or on faith. We can turn that which is given to us as a gift into a free act, by freely sanctioning such gifts. Gift and freedom interpenetrate each other here. We might speak of a spiritual wedding of our will with our affections and with other noble movements or acts in us, including the assent to truth. By affections which well up in us as gifts, such as deep emotions of love, our will is enriched and allowed to partake as it were in the wealth of those affections and of other movements of the soul which possess gift character. Thus the deepest dimensions of freedom do not actualize themselves simply by the free center of the person alone. They are not even only formed by, as well as dependent on, the value of the object which gives purpose and meaning to our freedom. Rather, the deepest dimension of human freedom requires a gift which precedes it and in cooperation with which alone freedom can attain its supreme dignity. This is true in a special way of the deepest act of freedom realized only in love and in the gift of Self, in which we give to the other not only a response or something in ourselves, do not only perform acts, but give our very self to the other. This self-donation in love requires, in its fullness, on the human level, also the gift of the affective response to the beloved person which we cannot produce but sanction by our free will. In this ultimate sense, then, „to be free“ means to cooperate with gifts on the natural (and, as the Christian believes, also the supernatural) order. Without using our freedom in cooperation with such gifts we can never attain the highest perfection to which the person is called nor fulfill what it means „to be a person.“

Three Levels of Freedom that Belong Essentially to the Person
We said that already on purely philosophical grounds freedom inseparably belongs to personhood. Now we have to make some fundamental distinctions within what we call freedom, namely between: 1) freedom as a faculty (power) inseparable from personhood; 2) freedom as ability here and now to perform free acts; and 3) freedom as activation of this ability in actually performing free acts. Only the latter two imply the conscious life, self-determination and other traits of freedom spoken of above. The faculty of freedom or the free will (sense 1) belongs substantially to the person qua person and exists in every person even prior to awaken to consciousness. This is not true of freedom in the senses (2) and (3). Certainly, also the faculty of freedom is ordained to be exercised in conscious actualizations of it in which alone we encounter and experience freedom, and from whence alone we gain the metaphysical insight into its bearer, the person, and into the existence of the free power and of free potentialities which must exist prior to their actualizations in free acts. On the other hand, and equally certainly, neither the actual ability to perform free acts nor the actual use of it in these acts themselves is inseparable from personhood. They are not found in embryos and new-born babies, unconscious or comatose patients and in persons afflicted by certain types of grave mental retardation or psychic compulsion, and are absent in all human beings during sleep. But it is a most wrong consequences many bioethicists draw from this by holding that embryos and infants or mentally impaired persons are not persons. While they cannot exercise their freedom, they still are free: to be a person entails the fundamental metaphysical faculty, a capacity in principle to perform free acts. As faculty, freedom resides on the level of the substantial being of the person or, more precisely, is inseparable from the substantial spiritual being of the person.

Katie van Schaijik

More on Christopher West

Aug. 24, 2009, at 10:27am

For those interested in the Christopher West/TOB/prudishness discussion, don’t miss this comment box, which has seen some substantive new contributions from Fr. Geiger, Josef Seifert and others in the last few days.

Josef Seifert

What Is Freedom? Can We choose Radically Different Lives?

Aug. 16, 2009, at 4:24am

Freedom is one of those arch-data that cannot be defined in terms of something else or reduced to anything besides itself. It includes, however, many dimensions and traits which can be unfolded and analyzed (as this has recently been done in deep works of Karol Wojtyla and Dietrich von Hildebrand): It is not only a freedom from determining causes, an „I can but I do not need to,“ but also the power of self-determination that makes free acts utterly different from chance-events, with which Heisenberg and many physicists and philosophers of science confused it. Freedom also involves a special form of possession of one’s being, which is only possible in and through the free agent’s rational consciousness and capacity of self-governance and self-determination. To a person’s free determining and governing herself corresponds also the person’s being governed and determined by herself.

None of this can be understood if we do not recognize that free acts necessarily presuppose and entail consciousness, not only immanent conscious states such as fatigue but an intentional conscious directedness to something over against freedom, to some object of which we are conscious, to which we can refer in free acts only because we also are related to them through some rational knowledge and thought: “nothing is willed if it is not known before”; or: “nothing is willed that is not first conceived in thought”, one could formulate roughly the immensely differentiated relation between freedom and objects of consciousness. But consciousness of some objects is not only presupposed by freedom, it characterizes free acts themselves: they relate consciously to their object.

Free acts, however, not only presuppose some objects, perhaps neutral objects such as the number of little pebbles on the street which can be objects of our perception or knowledge. Rather, free acts presuppose an object of some weight or importance, some good we aspire to or some evil we seek to avoid; otherwise freedom would sink down to the level of a totally sense-less exercise of changing neutral facts. We cannot meaningfully speak of a free act in an axiological void; in a meaning- and valueless universe free acts would not have any sensible motivation and freedom would sink down to the level of pure empty arbitrariness, like: “I am free to move pebble # 2,000.019 from its position at the right of the adjacent pebble to its left.”

The object of a meaningful free act must therefore possess some importance that lifts it out of neutrality. The importance of the object of a free act can be positive or negative. It also can take fundamentally different forms, which explains the drama of human freedom: it can move just on the level of the merely subjectively satisfying or dissatisfying; pleasure is very often a desirable good but it can continue to motivate us even when such a satisfaction is neither objectively good for us but destructive nor good in itself; thus we can consume drugs even if we know that they destroy our health, life, and happiness, or turn us into thiefs. The Good can also be an objective good for us, lie in our true interest, which can happen even when we feel subjective dissatisfaction, as when we get freed from a drug-addiction. A being can thirdly also possess value in itself, an intrinsic preciousness calling upon our adequate response, such as when we say that the human person deserves respect in view of her dignity.

Freedom is thus not only a freedom from and self-determination, lordship over our own acts, but also a freedom for, the ability to speak a free yes or no to some object. The close connection between freedom and an object of which we are conscious and which possesses positive or negative importance, is good or bad, entails the all-important power to engender from oneself acts of freely responding and taking stances towards objects and other persons, to fulfill oughts and obligations issuing from them, to give them their due response, as well as the capacity of serving goods and other persons, and of self-donation. But we are also free to ignore the call of objective values and for example use or rape a girl without any concern for her intrinsic dignity and for what truly is best for her and for us. All these are aspects of the “freedom for” or the “freedom to”.

Freedom is also intimately connected with the life of the intellect and involves the capacity to open one’s mind in knowledge in order to receive information, to love the truth, to cooperate freely with the process of knowledge, and to consent to some extent freely to that which is known to us.

Two Dimensions of Human Freedom and Morality
In order to understand the relation of freedom and the different kinds of acts which it renders possible, we must first distinguish two quite different dimensions or perfections of freedom. The first one unfolds in relation to the important object; it involves a free ‘yes’ or a free ‘no’ spoken to it. It is the freedom to respond, to take a stance, affirming or rejecting an object or state of affairs.
The second dimension of freedom consists in the will being able to engender free outward-directed actions, and to initiate new causal chains, thereby also becoming the lord over our external actions and being able to initiate activities which then might lead to the realization of states of affairs which we realize in the outside world, after „affirming“(willing) them freely in an inner response. The second dimension of freedom may also lead to the making or creating of objects, works of art, etc., which are not reducible to states of affairs.

The first perfection of free will is deeper and has a much wider scope than the second. It encompasses also all purely inner responses, including those directed to objects which the free agent can in no way change, such as God or our neighbor, perhaps a more gifted person than we are, whom we can freely respect, affirm in love, or reject in hate and envy, or a cross or illness, which we cannot alter but can freely and humbly accept or rebel against.

The second dimension of human freedom chiefly refers to free actions in the strict sense, i.e., to acts which aim at the realization of things that are not yet real but can be realized through me. Within the things that can brought into being by free acts we distinguish the object-sphere of acting in the narrower sense of this term, through which we bring about states of affairs, such as saving a person’s life who fell into deep water and cannot swim, from the object-sphere of making, through which we can make or produce things such as handiwork or works of art. In such actions or creative acts which are geared to the real world outside of ourselves, we initiate those activities which bring about the intended states of affairs or objects of making.

Both dimensions of freedom involve the mysterious inner power to engender acts without any preceding cause or our nature forcing us to act. This essence of freedom is common to all free acts and actions and entails an absolutely astonishing feature: due to our freedom we are „the lords over the being and the non-being of our act[ion]s.”

The first perfection of the will, the responding one, can not only freely affirm a good without choosing properly speaking, but it also includes the freedom of choice. Free choice, at least in finite persons, is not restricted to the choice of the proper means to achieve the good as final end, as Aristotle thought: a free person does not want with necessity as final end the intrinsic good or the happy life or the realization of moral values and the adequate response to the truth and especially to morally relevant goods. Alas, he can fail to will the first and most important objective goal of freedom – to conform his life to the truth and to true goods. He can instead choose a life of subjective satisfaction in indifference towards intrinsic values and morally relevant goods, and even in indifference towards his own objective good, or even in hatred of these objective values and of God. Thus a free finite person can choose between ultimate ends, between good and evil, between the love of God up to the abandon of self (amor Dei usque ad contemptum sui), and the self-love and lust for pleasure up to the contempt of God (amor sui usque ad contemptum Dei), as Saint Augustine expresses it. This choice between the ultimate ends is the chief drama of human freedom.

Katie van Schaijik

A child psychologist’s insights on anger

Aug. 14, 2009, at 1:23pm

I’m reading a book I wish I’d read 20 years ago, before my children were born. It’s called Between Parent and Child, by Dr. Haim G. Ginott. It includes some insights relevant to our discussion of anger, and not, I think, unrelated to the prudishness problem.

In our own childhood, we were not taught how to deal with anger as a fact of life. We were made to feel guilty for experiencing anger and sinful for expressing it. We were led to believe that to be angry is to be bad…With our own children, we try to be patient; in fact, so patient that sooner or later we must explode. We are afraid that our anger may be harmful to our children, so we hold it in, as a skin diver hold his breath…
Emotionally healthy parents are not saints. They’re aware of their anger and respect it. They use their anger as a source of information, an indication of their caring. Their words are congruent with their feelings. [His emphasis.]
There is a place for parental anger in child education. In fact, failure to get angry at certain moments would only convey to the child indifference, not goodness. Those who care cannot altogether shun anger. This does not mean that children can withstand floods of fury and violence; it means only that they can stand and understand anger that says, “There are limits to my tolerance.”

I would be very interested in hearing what Personalist Project adviser, Danish psychologist Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen would say to this. He has done a lot of important work on the problem of anger and I suspect would have a different take.

Jules van Schaijik

Stevenson’s wrath

Aug. 13, 2009, at 4:24pm

I just read an open letter, wonderfully written by Robert Lewis Stevenson (the author of books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island), in defense of Blessed Damien of Molokai against the pharisaical slander of a certain Reverend Hyde. The letter strikes me as a great example of just the sort of holy wrath so sorely missing in today’s (Church) culture (see Katie’s previous post).

Stevenson apparently knew Reverend Hyde personally, and even had some cause to be grateful to him. But he considered that no reason to remain silent:

…there are duties which come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide friends… Your letter [in which Hyde calls Fr. Damien “a coarse, dirty man, head-strong and bigoted” and accuses him of not being “a pure man in his relations with women”] is a document which, in my sight, if you had filled me with bread while I was starving, if you had sat up to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me from the bonds of gratitude.

Stevenson’s defense of Fr. Damien is noble and convincing, but also vehement. It is clearly a fruit of his outrage, wrath and indignation. It simply could not have come about without these. Mere sadness would probably have kept silent. For, as Aquinas explains, “sorrow by its very nature gives way to the thing that hurts” while anger “strikes at the cause of sorrow” and “cooperates with fortitude in attacking.” (I-II 123,10 ad. 3)

Stevenson’s letter is itself a concrete illustration of the place for “holy wrath” in society. It also contains a good example of it. Towards the end, Stevenson writes that he had heard rumors of Fr. Damien’s alleged impurity before, and he relates how this rumor was received by one of the bystanders:

A man sprang to his feet…‘You miserable little -’ (here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears). ‘You miserable little -,’ he cried, ‘if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower - for daring to repeat it?’

Would that the Reverend Hyde had reacted similarly:

I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness.

Katie van Schaijik

Anniversary of the death of Newman

Aug. 11, 2009, at 10:34am

On August 11, 1890, John Henry Cardinal Newman died in Birmingham, England, where he will be beatified next May. The words on his tombstone: “Out of the shadows and into Reality.”

Among my favorite of his sermons is On the Greatness and Littleness of Human Life.

Read at least these two paragraphs, if you haven’t got time for the whole beautiful thing. They give us a taste of the absolute joy he must have experienced on that day 119 years ago, and of how he had yearned for it his whole long life. They also give a feel for his profound personalism.

This is from the early part, leading the congregation toward a more vivid sense of the fleetingness and relative insubstantiality of our earthly existence.

And this sense of the nothingness of life, impressed on us by the very fact that it comes to an end, is much deepened, when we contrast it with the capabilities of us who live it. Had Jacob lived Methuselah’s age, he would have called it short. This is what we all feel, though at first sight it seems a contradiction, that even though the days as they go be slow, and be laden with many events, or with sorrows or dreariness, lengthening them out and making them tedious, yet the year passes quick though the hours tarry, and time bygone is as a dream, though we thought it would never go while it was going. And the reason seems to be this; that, when we contemplate human life in itself, in however small a portion of it, we see implied in it the presence of a soul, {216} the energy of a spiritual existence, of an accountable being; consciousness tells us this concerning it every moment. But when we look back on it in memory, we view it but externally, as a mere lapse of time, as a mere earthly history. And the longest duration of this external world is as dust and weighs nothing, against one moment’s life of the world within. Thus we are ever expecting great things from life, from our internal consciousness every moment of our having souls; and we are ever being disappointed, on considering what we have gained from time past, and can hope from time to come. And life is ever promising and never fulfilling; and hence, however long it be, our days are few and evil. This is the particular view of the subject on which I shall now dwell.

And this from the penultimate paragraph:

To those who live by faith, every thing they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers {224} what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of Him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on His wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, as His perishable type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by Saints and Angels circling His throne. Above and below, the clouds of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the servants of God which do His pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul’s harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifestation the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season.

Katie van Schaijik

Tocqueville’s definition of individualism

Aug. 10, 2009, at 1:13pm

An ISI-sponsored lecture by Berry College professor Peter Augustine Lawler has Alexis de Tocqueville defining individualism as a disease of the heart, involving “the mistaken judgment that love is more trouble than it’s worth.”
That’s very well put, is it not?
Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s free online audio library is a treasure trove.

Katie van Schaijik

Ronda Chervin on Anger

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:50am

These remarks in a comment thread below by Dr. Ronda Chervin deserve an entry all their own:

I am a disciple of Dietrich Von Hildebrand,a professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of many books including one on anger entitled Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace.
I would like to share a few key points about anger that might be helpful:

First we need to distinguish hot anger, expressed in screaming, throwing things,etc,and cold anger characterized by inner resentment, withdrawal, etc.
Then there is just and unjust anger. Just anger is directed to real injustices directed against us or others. Unjust anger comes when we are furious without cause, for example when rightly upbraided for bad behavior (the pouting child in the corner for example).
Self-righteous anger can be just or unjust. In any case, according to Thomas Aquinas, even if anger is just, it should never be disproportionate, out of control, unforgiving, or vengeful!
Dietrich Von Hildebrand analyzes Pharisaic anger as involving enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations at others. Even if we are justly angry we should be deeply grieved by the sins of others vs. enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations.

I have been involved in a great self-help group called Recovery, International (not 12 step). The founder, a psychiatrist Abraham Low, coined an expression that is greatly helpful to me.

It is symbolic victory. We like to feel strong. In many things in life we are weak or inferior to others in talents or virtues or just in ability to overcome adversaries. To compensate for our feelings of weakness we indulge in hot or cold anger because anger makes us feel, to use Biblical imagery, like lions instead of weak lambs.

Examples I give to illustrate this: a driver is speeding dangerously. We are weak. Even if we called 911 it could be too late for avoid an accident killing us or our loved ones. Some compensate for this unbearable feeling of weakness by screaming at the driver through his or her CLOSED window. This is a symbolic victory. The curses don’t actually hurt the dangerous driver who can’t even hear them, but they give the lawful driver a feeling of being a raging lion instead of a lamb ready for the slaughter.

Take any example of anger if your own life or in controversies you read about such as handing of pedophilia by the Bishops and check to see - even if my wrath is justified, is it disproportionate, unjustifiably sarcastic, unforgiving, vengeful in the sense of indulging in symbolic victory in my head as I wish the bishops disaster and maybe gloat over the millions that are being paid out in law suits.

How should I deal with it instead? It is right to be angry at cover-ups. I should pray much more for the victims, the pedophiles and the bishops than I do. I don’t think that I am okay if I say a one line prayer for each of these groups after 2 hours of vitriolic sarcastic hurling of denundiations from the throne of truth.

Katie van Schaijik

Suggested weekend reading

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:40am

Robert P. George on Marriage and the Courts.
Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest critique of Christopher West.
The 1982 National Review article by Allan Bloom that grew into his classic, The Closing of the American Mind.
Russell Hittenger on Christopher Dawson’s view of technology (not secularism) as the true enemy of classical liberalism.

Katie van Schaijik

Anger, passivity, bureaucracy

Aug. 4, 2009, at 7:37pm

Mona Charen’s column today jives nicely with the discussion about wrath.

Here’s one line:  “Some of this is the bureaucratization of America — the deliberate attempt to drain individual judgment and initiative from life.”

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (3)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 6:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (2)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 5:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath?

Aug. 2, 2009, at 4:03pm

A Zenit item about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ $660 million settlement with over 500 victims of sexual abuse is titled, “Spokesman: Church Saddened by Pedophelia”.

Father Lombardi spoke of the attitude the Church takes regarding the crime of sexual abuse.
He said: “Cardinal Mahony explained—as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said many times—that the Church is evidently and above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, for the harm caused by the grave and inexcusable behavior of some of its members, and is firm in its resolve to avoid future vile acts of this kind.
“The agreement, and the sacrifice it involves, are also a sign of this resolve, of the decision to close a sorrowful chapter in history and to look forward in terms of prevention and the establishment of a secure environment for children and young people in all areas of the Church’s pastoral work.” [my emphasis]

I raise this question for discussion:  Is sadness the right response to wrongs of this kind?  What about wrath?

In a review of Leon Podles’ disturbing book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Adventist pastor, Bill Cork, argues that lack of due anger is part of the problem.

For Thomas Aquinas, anger is a necessary element of the virtue of fortitude—fortitude isn’t a matter of just putting up with evil, or of enduring sorrow, but includes actively resisting evil, bravery in the struggle, and anger at the evil which has led to sorrow. Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. 123, Art. 10.

Leon Podles is angry, and wants us to be angry, too. He wants us to be angry at the sin of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. But more than that, he also wants us to be angry at the bishops and pope for not being angry at that same sin. That’s what irks him about this crisis more than anything else—never have the bishops or popes expressed any anger that priests molested kids or that other bishops covered it up and transferred the predators to new hunting grounds.

I tend to agree with him.  But I would love to know what others think.

Katie van Schaijik

Persons and power

Aug. 1, 2009, at 1:41pm

In the course of an insightful analysis of this revealing photo
at the American Thinker blog, Thomas Lifson hits on a central theme of personalist ethics:

In my own dealings with the wealthy and powerful, I have always found that the way to quickly capture the moral essence of a person is to watch how they treat those who are less powerful. Do they understand that the others are also human beings with feelings? Especially when they think nobody is looking.

The tendency of the human condition since the fall is to succumb to a master/slave dynamic of interpersonal relations, with the strong vying for power and the weak cringing in fear and begging for favors.  Meanwhile, at the heart of our true nature as persons is a call to give ourselves in love, to put ourselves at the service of others.  Those who tend to be slavish have to learn to be self-standing.  Those who tend to “Lord it over others” have to learn to be self-giving.  This is why the answer to the question: “How does he treat the weak and powerless?” tells us so much moral essence of a given individual.

Like Thomas Lifson, I have often observed in strong and successful people a habit of contempt for weak people.  They seem to imagine that their strength and power and riches make them admirable as persons.  What a disastrous mistake!

Katie van Schaijik


Jul. 23, 2009, at 1:45pm

I am reading Catholic poet and mystic Caryll Houselander’s book Reed of God. It begins with a rich mediation on emptiness—contrasting the meaningful kind, the kind that is shaped for a purpose, like the warm round nest prepared to house a little bird, and the modern kind, of which our world is full.

Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.
Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears, and these sometimes further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always a futile attempt, to forget how pointless such people’s lives are. Those who complain in these circumstances of the emptiness of their lives are usually afraid to allow space or silence or pause in their lives. They dread space, for they want material things crowded together so that there wil always be something to lean on for support. They dread silence, because they do not want to hear their own pulses beating out the seconds of their life, and to know that each beat is another knock on the door of death. Death seems to them to be only the final void, the darkest, loneliest emptiness.
They have no sense of being related to any abiding beauty, to any indestructible life; they are afraid to be alone with their unrelated hearts.
Such emptiness is very different from that still, shadowless ring of light round which our being is circled, making a shape which in itself is an absolute promise of fulfillment.

Katie van Schaijik

Who really inspires the political left?

Jul. 22, 2009, at 11:39pm

Over at the American Thinker, Kelcy Allen provides an eye-opening (let us hope and pray!) comparison of the rhetoric and principles of liberal sentimental favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Saul Alinsky, whose political philosophy and program shapes so much of the American left. He uses quotations from both to imagine a verbal boxing match between them.
Here is just a taste:

Round One: Saul Alinsky opens with, “To hell with charity…morality is but rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.”

Martin Luther says, “Now is the time to make real the promises of Democracy.”

Round Two: Alinksy fires, “Ours is a world not of Angels but of ‘angles’. Reconciliation is when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation”.

MLK parries, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children”.

Round Three: Alinsky jabs, “Radicals…have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt…they are right.”

King fades right, “...Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

MLK, Jr. was a moral hero, deeply influenced—even in a sense “saved” from the temptation to violence, radicalism and revenge—by the encounter with Christian personalism, which shaped his theory of non-violent resistance.

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