Friday, June 18, 2010

John H. Garvey and John Stuart Mill...A Way Forward?

John H. Garvey, as this article notes, has "heartily" endorsed John Stuart Mill's argument about liberty of thought and discussion as a way forward. This is most unfortunate since in Mill, utilitarianism reached its full development. Utilitarianism, a school of thought founded by Jeremy Bentham, a leader of political and legislative reform in England, holds that the goal of our aspirations is pleasure. This school of thought historically grew out of hedonism.

In Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II explains how utilitarianism ignores (and therefore betrays) the bonum honestum - the just good. His Holiness writes, "...European traditions, especially those of the Enlightenment period, have recognized the need for a criterion to regulate the use of freedom. Yet the criterion adopted has not been so much that of the just good (bonum honestum) as that of utility or pleasure. Here we are faced with a most important element in the tradition of European thought, one to which we must now devote a little more attention. In human action, the different spiritual faculties tend toward a synthesis in which the leading role is played by the will. The subject thus imprints his own rationality upon his actions. Human acts are free and, as such, they engage the responsibility of the subject. Man wants a particular good and he chooses it: he is consequently responsible for his choice.

Against the background of this vision of good, which is both metaphysical and anthropological, there arises a distinction of properly ethical character. It is the distinction between the just good (bonum honestum), the useful good (bonum utile), and the pleasurable good (bonum delectabile). These three types of good are intimately bound up with human action. When he acts, man chooses a certain good, which becomes the goal of his action. If the subject chooses a bonum honestum, his goal is conformed to the very essence of the object of his action and is therefore a just goal. When on the other hand the object of his choice is a bonum utile, the goal is the advantage to be gained from it for the subject. The question of the morality of the action remains open: only when the action bringing the advantage is just and the means used are just, can the subject's goal also be said to be just. It is precisely on this issue that a rift begins to emerge between the Aristotelian-Thomistic ethical tradition and modern utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism ignores the first and fundamental dimension of good, that of the bonum honestum. Utilitarian anthropology and the ethic derived from it set out from the conviction that man tends essentially toward his own interest or that of the group to which he belongs. Ultimately, the aim of human action is personal or corporate advantage. As for the bonum delectabile, it is of course taken into account in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. The great exponents of this current of thought, in their ethical reflection, are fully aware that the accomplishment of a just good is always accompanied by an interior joy - the joy of the good. In utilitarian thought, however, the dimension of good and the dimension of joy have been displaced by the search for advantage or pleasure. In this scheme, the bonum delectabile of Thomistic thought has been somehow emancipated, becoming both a good and an end in itself. In the utilitarian vision, man in acting seeks pleasure above all else, not the honestum.

Admittedly, utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill emphasize that the goal is not simply pleasure at sense level: spiritual pleasures also come into play. They say that these too must be considered in making the so-called 'calculation of pleasures.' It is this calculation which, to their way of thinking, constitutes the 'normative' expression of the utilitarian ethic: the greatest happiness of the greatest number. All human action, individually and jointly, has to conform to this principle." (Memory and Identity, pp. 34-36).

John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism, as Pope John Paul II explained so eloquently, is not a way forward. Mill was a tragic figure himself. An atheist who took great pains to hide his atheism and to keep it out of his philosophical works. In a letter to Auguste Comte dated December 18, 1841, Mill wrote, "Doubtless you are not unaware of the fact that here in England the writer who would openly profess anti-religious, nay more, anti-Christian opinions would compromise not only his social position, which I believe I could sacrifice for a sufficiently noble cause, but also and more seriously, his chances of being read. Already I am risking much by carefully putting aside, from the very outset of my work, any religious viewpoint, abstaining from declamatory praises of providential wisdom, usually employed by the philosophers of my country, even by the unbelievers. I rarely make allusions to this order of ideas, endeavoring, above all, not to arouse in the ordinary reader any religious antipathies. I believe I have written in such a manner that no thinker, Christian or unbeliever, can be mistaken about the genuine character of my opinions. I rely somewhat, I admit it, on a worldy prudence which here in England prevents religious writers in general from proclaiming unnecessarily the irreligion of the scientific spirit of any value."

Reflect very carefully on these words: "I believe I have written in such a manner that no thinker, Christian or unbeliever, can be mistaken about the genuine character of my opinions." Surely this includes one who has served as dean of Boston College Law School. And yet, Mr. Garvey holds the thought of John Stuart Mill as "a way forward."

God save Catholic University of America. God save the Catholic Church in the United States.


Betty said...

Gravely disturbing. I didn't know that Mill was an atheist either. Powerful post. Thank you Mr. Melanson for making us aware ofthe problems with Mills thought. CUA is in crisis. This is surely evidence of that.

Michael Cole said...

Someone at Free Republic wrote, "I would not confuse Mill's teaching on liberty with Consequentialism. They are two separate issues."

This is incorrect. As the Stanford website explains, "A moral theory is a form of consequentialism if and only if it assesses acts and/or character traits, practices, and institutions solely in terms of the goodness of the consequences. Historically, utilitarianism has been the best-known form of consequentialism. Utilitarianism assesses acts and/or character traits, practices, and institutions solely in terms of overall net benefit, which is often referred to as well-being or welfare. Overall welfare is calculated by counting a benefit or harm to any one individual the same as the same size benefit or harm to any other individual, and then adding all the benefits and harms together to reach an aggregate sum. There is considerable dispute among consequentialists about what the best account of welfare is."

Ron said...

Pray for Catholic University. Offer many Masses in reparation for what is going on there.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Michael, in his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II explains that consequentialism " to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice." (No. 74).

And in No. 75 the Holy Father, after defining both consequentialism and proportionalism, explains that these teleological ethical theories, "while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behavior which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values." (No. 75).

In other words, these teleological ethical theories deny that some acts are intrinsically evil. This is not consistent with the Magisterial teaching of the Church.

In the same Encyclical Letter, Pope John Paul II explains that, "Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature 'incapable of being ordered' to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed 'intrinsically evil' (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that 'there exists acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." (No. 80).

Certain acts, such as homosexual acts for example, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.

John Ansley said...

From Catholic World Report website:

When he introduced John Garvey as the new president of Catholic University, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the chairman of the board of trustees, told the Washington Post that he expected Garvey to continue the work begun by his predecessor “to reclaim a Catholic identity” for the school. That sounds good.

But what does it mean, in concrete terms? A school named the Catholic University of America has a degree of “Catholic identity” by default; everyone knows that the university is affiliated with the Catholic Church. That’s obviously not what the archbishop has in mind. He is thinking, one assumes, of a school whose faculty members are proud to hold and teach the Catholic faith, and unafraid to bring the principles of Catholic teaching into the public square.

Just last fall, one bold faculty member at a Catholic institution of higher learning did just that. Scott Fitzgibbon, a professor at Boston College Law School, went to Maine to record a television commercial making the argument against legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Regrettably, Fitzgibbon drew very little support from his faculty colleagues at the Jesuit-run school. While the most strident extremists charged that Fitzgibbon was a “homophobe,” a group of 76 professors from at BC law school signed a statement affirming their “commitment to making our institution a welcome and safe place for all students, including LGBT students.” The dean of the law school—who was one of the 76 signatories on that statement—made a point of telling reporters that Fitzgibbon was only speaking for himself, and BC Law was happy to have faculty members who would argue strenuously in support of homosexual marriage. In short, the professor who stood up for Catholic moral teaching found himself isolated. Not much “Catholic identity” at that school.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: At the time that incident occurred on the BC Law campus, the dean was John Garvey.

Now let me raise the question again. How do Archbishop Vigneron and his colleagues on the board of Catholic University expect the new president to promote a Catholic identity?

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