The Straw Man of Theological Voluntarism

by Charlie Capps on May 21, 2010

Recently, the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics of Stanford (AHA) invited Greta Christina to campus to speak about atheism and sexuality.  Although I was not able to attend, I have heard Christina speak on that subject before, and unless she has drastically altered her talk, it will have been chockfull of mischaracterizations of religious approaches to sexual ethics.  With Exotic Erotic last weekend and Genderfuk the week before, I can’t think of a better opportunity to offer a few clarifications from a traditional Christian perspective.

First, I should emphasize that Christina’s straw-man arguments against religious ethics are by no means unique to her thinking.  On the contrary, I have found the same mischaracterizations—mostly out of ignorance rather than malice—to be rampant in the atheist community at Stanford, and elsewhere.  So although I will be drawing on the version of Christina’s talk that I heard, I hope my comments will be relevant even if her recent talk to AHA was significantly revised.

Most of these mischaracterizations spring from a conflation of a particular subset of religious ethics called theological voluntarism or Divine Command Theory with religious ethics in general.  In other words, many atheists seem to believe that all religious ethical systems, by virtue of being religious, are necessarily variants of theological voluntarism.

Theological voluntarism or Divine Command Theory holds that an act is rendered moral neither by its consequences (utilitarian or consequentialist ethics) nor by its nature (deontological ethics), but instead merely by virtue of its being commanded by God.  According to William of Ockham, probably the most famous proponent of Divine Command Theory, murder would have been moral had God commanded it; and moreover, it is hypothetically conceivable that God might “change His mind” and alter the moral order by deciding to start commanding murder.

By decoupling morality from rational analysis of the nature of acts and their consequences, then, Divine Command Theory implies that we cannot know moral truth except by divine revelation.

To many atheists, that is the sum of all religious ethics, especially religious sexual ethics: x is right and y is wrong simply because God says so.  Christina committed this error throughout her lecture, referring to various religious teachings on sexuality as random sets of taboos.  While atheists are free to ground moral judgment in human wellbeing, she explained, religious ethicists classify an act as right or wrong based on whether their sacred text tells them that “God likes it” or not.

That might not be such a mischaracterization of Divine Command Theory, and, in fairness, it is true that there have been prominent theologians who have embraced some version of theological voluntarism—the original Protestant Reformers, for instance, borrowed heavily from Ockham’s philosophy.

But to lump all religious ethics under the blanket of Divine Command Theory is simply ignorant—ignorant of theology, philosophy, and the history of religion.  Consider, for instance, Natural Law Theory, the ethical system that has long been the staple of Catholic philosophers from Thomas Aquinas to Pope John Paul II, is winning increasing support within Reformed Christianity, and has been taught by Islamic philosophers since Averroes, who predated and influenced Aquinas.  According to Natural Law Theory, God designed human beings such that certain ways of life lead to their flourishing, and His commands serve to remind or to reveal to us the truth about our nature.   When we act in accordance with that nature and the sort of life it demands, we act in a moral way.

For Christians, the deepest truth about human nature is the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).   This truth is the foundation of the sexual ethic of Christian natural law.  Pope John Paul II published extensive work on sex and how it is designed as a manifestation par excellence as it were of the divine image in humanity; that is, the self-giving love among the Persons of the Trinity that is mutually free, total, and fruitful.  Any attempt to deny any aspect of this image and yet still wring pleasure from the sexual act will therefore be misaligned with the truth about human nature and cannot be directed towards integral flourishing.

My intent here is not to launch a defense of the Theology of the Body; I only wish to highlight how the sexual mores of religious natural law are grounded in a concern for human wellbeing.  One does not have to agree with the Judeo-Christian analysis of human nature in order to acknowledge this much.

And although Christians draw their philosophical anthropology from revelation, it is not immune from the support or challenge of science insofar as the human person is a material as well as a spiritual being.  Christian thinkers must always purify their faith in the fires of reason.  From neuroscience we can learn the meaning of the characteristics of rationality and freedom that in the abstract we believe epitomize the divine image, while evolutionary biology can shed light on the design and natural teleology of the human sexuality.

All of this testifies to a religious sexual ethic that is so much deeper than a “random set of taboos.”  Atheists are only shortchanging themselves when they tear apart all religious ethics under the straw-man of radical theological voluntarism—if they were really seeking the key to human flourishing, one might suppose they would find, if not an ideology with which they can fully agree, at least something to learn from religious traditions that have won the minds and hearts of some of the wisest thinkers in human history.

Charlie Capps is an officer in Stanford Students for Life and a member of the undergraduate leadership board of the Catholic Community at Stanford.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nick May 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Interesting article. I’m actually a member of AHA who dislikes straw men as well, but my impression is that theological voluntarism (thanks for introducing me to this term) is quite prevalent throughout the world. I also think it’s great if religious people follow a moral code that is supposed to enable human flourishing, but aren’t there many times when god’s commands conflict with your own opinions of what will best enable human flourishing? What do you do then? How do you decide whether to follow god’s commands or your own moral compass? If you follow your own moral compass, then what is the use of god’s commands? If you follow god, how is that different from theological voluntarism?

2 Charlie May 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the delay in replying—it’s a busy time.

//Interesting article. I’m actually a member of AHA who dislikes straw men as well, but my impression is that theological voluntarism (thanks for introducing me to this term) is quite prevalent throughout the world.//

No question that’s true. My point was simply that, common enough though it may be, theological voluntarism is not universal across religious traditions. Hence, although I do think a lot of criticism that folks like Cristina and Sam Harris levy against divine command theory is justified, I take issue with what seems to me to be the common atheist conflation of DCT and religious ethics in general. The truth is that the natural law theory of orthodox Catholicism—to take the example with which I am most familiar—has historically been, and continues to be, enormously influential as a non-voluntarist code of ethics.

// I also think it’s great if religious people follow a moral code that is supposed to enable human flourishing, but aren’t there many times when god’s commands conflict with your own opinions of what will best enable human flourishing? What do you do then? How do you decide whether to follow god’s commands or your own moral compass?//

Great question. The answer is yes, there have been elements of Catholic moral teaching that at some point didn’t make sense to me; in other words, at select times there has seemed to have been dissonance between God’s commands (mediated through the Church) and my own opinions about what best enables human flourishing.

But it should be obvious that this fact alone does not mean that Church teaching does not actually lead to integral flourishing. We are wrong about what we believe is best for us and for others all the time. I don’t need to provide any examples; simple introspection will suffice to confirm this point.

The real question is whether or not I have good reason to trust the teaching of the Church—or, more specifically, whether it is more rational to trust teaching of the Church over my own opinions or vice versa.

The answer to this question depends on the particular teaching under consideration and the strength of my trust in my own opinion about it. For instance, if the Catholic Church declared as doctrine that Jesus Christ is a giant chicken, my trust in my contrary opinion would certainly outweigh whatever credence I might have placed in the Church. But most dilemmas aren’t quite this simple, and so serious consideration must be given to how trustworthy is the authority of the Church.

I will give you three reasons why I believe it is rational to place a high level of trust in the Catholic Church.

The first is one with which I hope you will agree: the teachings of the Church are the partially product of two millennia of brilliant minds contemplating the human condition. Admittedly, other factors might be at work here: the teachings of the Church might be influenced by political motivations, a potentially irrational trust in an old book, etc. But no one except a fool would dismiss the moral philosophy of Pope John Paul II, who stood on the shoulders of thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Molina, von Balthasar, etc., as trite or without worth.

The second, somewhat stronger reason is one from my personal experience. Every time I have encountered an element of Catholic moral teaching that did not seem to me to be in accordance with what leads to flourishing, I have discovered after further study and life experience that the Church was right and I was wrong. Empirically, this phenomenon adds greater credence to the testimony of the Church over and above my own opinions.

The third reason is one with which you will certainly disagree, but at least I hope it will help you understand my own thinking. I believe there are good reasons to believe (1) God exists, (2) He knows what will lead to our flourishing, (3) He (antecedently) wills us to flourish, and (4) He has promised to protect the Catholic Church from teaching error (including moral error) as doctrine. I do not claim to be able to prove all these things which means I am open to seeing the falsified—e.g., if the Church were to declare Jesus Christ to be a giant chicken, I would no longer find it rational to believe (4). But I do believe it is at least as rational to have faith that these propositions are true as it is to have faith that they are not true.

//If you follow your own moral compass, then what is the use of god’s commands?//

Not much. :-)

//If you follow god, how is that different from theological voluntarism?//

It is different because, according to NLT, God’s commands are aligned with what is truly best for us; i.e., what will lead to our integral flourishing as human beings. In contrast DCT supposes no connection between human nature and moral law.

Charlie

3 comment May 28, 2010 at 2:43 am

“It is different because, according to NLT, God’s commands are aligned with what is truly best for us; i.e., what will lead to our integral flourishing as human beings. In contrast DCT supposes no connection between human nature and moral law.”

My problem is that if religious dogma agrees with NLT, why do you need God when NLT provides an independent moral argument based on what is naturally good for us?

4 Charlie May 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

comment,

Thanks for the post. You write:

//My problem is that if religious dogma agrees with NLT, why do you need God when NLT provides an independent moral argument based on what is naturally good for us?//

The idea is that revelation augments what we know from natural reason about human nature, and hence what it is that will fulfill us by nature.

For instance, we might figure out from natural reason that practicing justice and compassion are in accordance with a complete, fulfilled human life. We might arrive at this conclusion by examining the neural basis and evolutionary teleology of empathy, or even by simple introspection and/or reflection on experience.

But natural reason alone might not give us grounds for practicing such virtues with respect to human beings universally–as opposed to, for example, exclusively members of our family, our race, or our nation.

According to Judeo-Christian revelation, however, as I mentioned in the article, the deepest truth about the human person is that he/she is made in the image and likeness of a God Who is Love. As persons bearing the divine image, we are designed by nature to love other persons without conditions of race, gender, nationality, etc.

Natural reason, I think, supports this notion–but it doesn’t go all the way. Revelation fills in the entire picture and gives meaning to the bits and corners of it that we already saw through reason.

I hope that makes sense. I should add that it is possible to have an atheistic theory of natural law (e.g., Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics, which starts from a radically different conception of human nature than the one proffered by Judeo-Christian philosophy but shares a common natural law framework nonetheless).

Charlie

5 comment May 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

I see your point, but I have other problems with Natural Law Theory, whether religious or secular, I don’t really want to go into. I think Rand’s “argument” is a complete failure.

Although I disagree with how Catholicism can solve the problem, I do have a big problem with humanists who don’t bother to think carefully about what justifies norms. Even if science can tell us what is best for human physical wellfare, it does not provide a normative proof of why such a thing ought to matter to us (Hume’s is-ought problem). I believe that any ethical claim cannot be derived from facts, and thus has a kind of revelatory component to it, not that we ought to believe it comes from God in a traditional sense, but at least recognize that it isn’t a physical/experimental fact. Humanists ignore the problems that became evident in the late 18th century in writers such as Jacobi, Hume, Kant, Hegel, etc.

6 Charlie May 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm

comment,

Agreed that Hume’s is-ought problem highlights the glaring inadequacy of certain humanist moral systems (especially some of the pop atheist material out there, e.g. Harris or Dawkins).

Also agreed that Rand’s argument is a complete failure, in case that wasn’t clear.

Charlie

7 Dan May 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Lines like this:

“According to Natural Law Theory, God designed human beings such that certain ways of life lead to their flourishing, and His commands serve to remind or to reveal to us the truth about our nature. When we act in accordance with that nature and the sort of life it demands, we act in a moral way.”

and this:

“Christian thinkers must always purify their faith in the fires of reason. From neuroscience we can learn the meaning of the characteristics of rationality and freedom that in the abstract we believe epitomize the divine image, while evolutionary biology can shed light on the design and natural teleology of the human sexuality.”

… are enough to make anyone who has studied post-Kantian philosophy (or even most contemporary theology) cringe.

This is 2010. The metaphysics underlying the ideas posited in this post are laughable. You would be well-served by reading some Rorty (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity or Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature would be worth your while), or John McDowell, or really any prominent figure in post-Nietzschean philosophy.

8 Charlie May 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Dan,

Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to engage you in a constructive dialogue. Calling my ideas laughable without further explanation doesn’t give me much to work with.

Charlie

9 comment May 31, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I said before that I had problems with natural law theory but didn’t want to go into it, but from Dan’s post (which I agree with in content but not in tone…) now I’m kind of curious to see how this goes.

To bring up Hume again: The cause or author of nature (God) greatly exceeds anything that actually occurs in nature. If morality was really based on acting in accordance with one’s nature, then that nature must be capable of being determined by simply observing nature. If there is something that religion tells us about our nature that we cannot notice without religion, then it seems to simply be false.

How can can we claim that it is human nature to love when the majority of the evidence shows that humans are not by nature loving? Left to their own devices, many humans are quite cruel. If “human nature” is not the way in which humans by nature act, what is it? It is metaphysically problematic to suggest that human beings are by nature loving but tend to not act according to their nature, and then say “They would really flourish better if they loved people from whom they will receive no benefit.” What grounds are there for saying it is human nature to love rather than that it is human nature to be vicious and therefore humans ought to be cruel? How do you say a serial murderer’s nature is to be loving and not to be sadistic?

The whole nature argument leads nowhere, anyway, if it doesn’t become speculative. You must determine an object’s nature by observing how it naturally acts, and then conclude it is moral for it to act according to its nature… or to simply act how it acts…

10 comment May 31, 2010 at 6:53 pm

And, furthermore, I’m not sure how your argument is supposed to get around the Is-Ought problem, which you said dismantles humanism. Catholicism might operate with a different notion of “human nature” (image of God rather than pure materiality), but there’s still the problem that the argument:

1. Man’s nature is to love his neighbor.
2. Therefore, man ought to love his neighbor.

presupposes the claim “Man ought to according to his nature.”

But, that it precisely what natural law theory is supposed to prove. The same problem in the secular version is that:

1. A man or woman’s physical health will be physically harmed by certain cultural practices.
2. Therefore, those cultural practices are immoral.

presupposes the claim “One ought to not physically harm others.” (or some version of that).

11 Charlie June 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

comment,

Sorry for the delay. I’ve been swamped with end-of-term exams and papers.

//I said before that I had problems with natural law theory but didn’t want to go into it, but from Dan’s post (which I agree with in content but not in tone…) now I’m kind of curious to see how this goes.//

Sure, glad you posted again. Your comments contain some thoughtful and difficult challenges to my position.

//To bring up Hume again: The cause or author of nature (God) greatly exceeds anything that actually occurs in nature. If morality was really based on acting in accordance with one’s nature, then that nature must be capable of being determined by simply observing nature. If there is something that religion tells us about our nature that we cannot notice without religion, then it seems to simply be false.//

A reasonable line of argumentation (wouldn’t expect anything less from Hume). Moreover, I partially agree insofar as I believe much of Christian philosophical anthropology can be confirmed by if not obviously derived from natural reason. (Here I should add that we need to be careful with our terms—you talk about “religion” telling us things, but it’s not clear that you’re distinguishing between religious philosophy and revelation. The former falls in the category of “simply observing nature” and only the latter does not.)

However, I would maintain that revelation is necessary for a complete anthropology. The reason Hume’s argument fails is twofold: (1) he forgets that, according to Christianity, an essential component of human flourishing lies in life beyond death and therefore outside the scope of empirical investigation of human nature, and (2) he forgets, or else doesn’t understand, the Christian notion of original sin.

Acceptance of life beyond death opens the possibility that what may not seem to lead to flourishing in this life alone might indeed lead to flourishing when the person’s whole existence is considered. Acceptance of original sin makes this possibility a certainty: original sin (and, to an extent, personal sin) is what accounts for the injustice inherent in our nature and the misalignment of our desires with what is truly best for us. The distortion of our passions means we can only view our own nature through a dirty lens or a distorted mirror. Neither can experience completely correct our vision, because of the injustice inherent in nature: the moral life—the life that leads to flourishing—may involve more suffering in this life than the immoral life. This idea pervades the Psalms, which lament what seems like the perpetual victory in this life of the cruel and the oppressive, but nonetheless look forward with hope to justice being restored in the next life.

Of course if you attempt an atheistic/secular natural law theory—like that of Rand, for instance—it is a contradiction to say that on this side of death the moral life can involve more suffering than the immoral life. For Rand, those we call the “oppressive” and the “cruel” are really the moral ones—they’re getting what they want.

My point is that NLT in a religious context needn’t degenerate into this sort of conclusion, but it requires that essential data on human nature be accessible to us through revelation alone. The condition is satisfied if you accept the doctrines of life beyond death and original sin.

Then, additionally (and separately), there is the value of revelation as a “short cut”—giving us data about human nature that is in principle but perhaps not in practice accessible to natural reason.

//How can can we claim that it is human nature to love when the majority of the evidence shows that humans are not by nature loving? Left to their own devices, many humans are quite cruel. If “human nature” is not the way in which humans by nature act, what is it?//

Great question. This is the final nail in the coffin of Rousseau’s project, in my opinion. But it’s not a problem for Catholic philosophy because for us the “state of nature” is not the ideal insofar as it has been corrupted by original sin. Original sin is what accounts for the partial misalignment of our desires and our experience from the natural law.

So in response to your first question: yes, humans ARE by nature loving in the sense that it is in accordance with the deepest truth about human nature to give of oneself. However, in response to your second question: no, “human nature” is NOT the way in which humans by nature act, where “by nature” is understood as “by default” or “automatically”. There is a divorce within us between what we think we want and what is right for us by virtue of who we are. This divorce is caused by original sin and deepened by personal vice.

// It is metaphysically problematic to suggest that human beings are by nature loving but tend to not act according to their nature, and then say “They would really flourish better if they loved people from whom they will receive no benefit.” What grounds are there for saying it is human nature to love rather than that it is human nature to be vicious and therefore humans ought to be cruel?//

This is precisely why the input of revelation is so important: it helps us separate out the strands true to human nature from those untrue to it. Catholics would maintain (although I should note that the Protestant Reformers would not) that the core of our humanity remains even after original sin such that the phenomenological loyalty towards altruism is a genuine reflection of the natural law. Nonetheless, as you point out, it is hard to lay out firm grounds for a Catholic natural law without the guiding light of revelation. I’ve tried to show why it’s perfectly consistent for Catholics to appeal to revelation in clarifying the natural law.

//How do you say a serial murderer’s nature is to be loving and not to be sadistic?//

Well, I certainly would not say that it’s the serial murderer’s nature to be loving in the sense that I don’t think being loving comes “naturally” to him, at least not while he is a serial murderer. But I still affirm that, made in the image and likeness of God, he possesses an intrinsic dignity that is inseparable from his being a person, someone who by nature can find fulfillment only in the sincere gift of himself. It’s just that unfortunately he has instilled vice in himself that directs his actions away from what will by nature fulfill him.

//The whole nature argument leads nowhere, anyway, if it doesn’t become speculative. You must determine an object’s nature by observing how it naturally acts, and then conclude it is moral for it to act according to its nature… or to simply act how it acts…//

I understand your difficulty. The problem is in the premise, “You must determine an object’s nature by observing how it naturally acts.” The meaning of human freedom is that we have the ability to act in accordance with the dictates of our nature—and to act not in accordance with the dictates of our nature.

I’ll get to your post on Hume’s is/ought problem later today.

Charlie

12 comment June 7, 2010 at 10:34 pm

No problem about the delay, I’ve been quite busy as well (and really ought to be doing work now… oh well…)

So in what sense is the “natural” of NLT actually “natural” and not something simply willed by God? The argument you gave seems to work:

1. I act altruistically, which might hurt me in this life.
2. When I die, God rewards me for acting altruistically, so it was actually better for me to.

So it is better for me to act altruistically because of God’s decision to reward my altruism. NLT implies that there is some deep sense in which we are made in the “image of God,” which makes altruism part of our nature and therefore good for us, but it’s only good for us because God decides to reward us! This seems to fall back on volunteerism…

You refer to revelation to uncover the deepest truths about human nature, but revelation does not show why God’s reward for altruism is anything but arbitrary. How would Catholicism respond to the argument: “It is in our nature to spend every Sunday digging holes in the ground and filling them back up, and we will gain eternal life after death for doing this, so it’s actually in our best interest to act according to our nature and dig holes.” I presume the response would involve the knowledge that revelation brings, which tells us that being compassionate is part of our nature while digging holes is not, but I think most people find claims like that unfalsifiable and groundless.

I do not mean to be harsh on religion. I agree with religion about compassion and altruism, but rationally the arguments don’t convince me.

13 comment June 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Basically it seems weird that human nature and therefore what is moral depends on whether or not there is an afterlife. God could have created humans in His image and wanted them to be loving without granting them an afterlife, which, strangely, under your argument, would seem to imply that it wouldn’t matter whether or not we were compassionate or not basically there’s no afterlife on the line.

14 Charlie June 9, 2010 at 9:32 pm

comment,

//So in what sense is the “natural” of NLT actually “natural” and not something simply willed by God? The argument you gave seems to work:
1. I act altruistically, which might hurt me in this life.
2. When I die, God rewards me for acting altruistically, so it was actually better for me to.
So it is better for me to act altruistically because of God’s decision to reward my altruism. NLT implies that there is some deep sense in which we are made in the “image of God,” which makes altruism part of our nature and therefore good for us, but it’s only good for us because God decides to reward us! This seems to fall back on volunteerism… //

No, that’s not quite what I’m saying. I would claim that immortality is part of our nature—the human soul is an immortal soul. The way we shape our selves in this life determines the state in which we enter the next. A posture of openness towards God—the Christian God Who is Love (1John 4:8)—enables flourishing in the next life because we are made by nature for union with God and other persons in love.

So it’s not as if an eternal reward is something God tacks onto our lives after we complete a scorecard of various arbitrary commandments. Christians believe we are designed for heaven; heaven is our true home; and the relation between a moral life and eternal reward is endogenous, not exogenous, to our nature.

//You refer to revelation to uncover the deepest truths about human nature, but revelation does not show why God’s reward for altruism is anything but arbitrary.//

On the contrary, one of the main points of my article was how revelation shows why God’s reward for altruism is not arbitrary: because we are made in God’s image, we are made to love and for love. The only “freedom” God has in rewarding or punishing behavior, in a sense, was in His creation of our nature. What distinguishes NLT from DCT is that under the former the relation between morality and flourishing is endogenous to human nature; under the latter that relation is exogenous.

// How would Catholicism respond to the argument: “It is in our nature to spend every Sunday digging holes in the ground and filling them back up, and we will gain eternal life after death for doing this, so it’s actually in our best interest to act according to our nature and dig holes.” I presume the response would involve the knowledge that revelation brings, which tells us that being compassionate is part of our nature while digging holes is not, but I think most people find claims like that unfalsifiable and groundless.//

Yes, the answer is that digging holes is not what leads to human flourishing. And yes, we Catholics do ground our philosophical anthropology in revelation. However, while I sympathize with your charge of unfalsifiability and groundlessness, I don’t think you’re quite right. As I wrote in the article, although we derive our anthropology from revelation, we are nonetheless speaking about an embodied human nature here—one that is at least partially accessible to the empirical sciences. We Christians must continually purify our understanding of revelation in the fires of science and reason. And when it comes to digging holes vs. being compassionate, evolutionary biology will suffice to show that the former has no intrinsic relation to human flourishing while the latter is built into our nature. Evolutionary biology might not tell us that altruism is the key to flourishing, but it can tell us whether it’s a reasonable possibility.

//I do not mean to be harsh on religion. I agree with religion about compassion and altruism, but rationally the arguments don’t convince me.//

Sure, which is why we’re having this discussion—don’t worry, I don’t find you unduly harsh on religion at all.

//Basically it seems weird that human nature and therefore what is moral depends on whether or not there is an afterlife. God could have created humans in His image and wanted them to be loving without granting them an afterlife, which, strangely, under your argument, would seem to imply that it wouldn’t matter whether or not we were compassionate or not basically there’s no afterlife on the line.//

A few points. First of all, your hypothetical is flawed from the outset because, as I said earlier in this post, an immortal soul is an essential component of human nature. You say “God could have created humans…without grant them an afterlife,” but don’t think He could—we wouldn’t be humans then; we’d be something else. God can’t do the logically incoherent.

Second, you are probably right that I overemphasized the importance of an eternal reward for charitable conduct. The temporal and eternal modes of human existence might be different but they aren’t disjoint; they form a more or less seamless whole. So I DO think that living a moral life will lead to flourishing on this side of death as well as on the next, even if it’s not always apparent. I believe those who live a life of compassion, even when it brings them suffering, are happier in a deep sense than those who are wealthy but immoral.

But at the same time the scales of justice simply aren’t perfectly balanced—“deeper sense of happiness” or not—in this life. One must consider both this life and the next when contemplating the fullness of integral human flourishing.

Charlie

15 Charlie June 9, 2010 at 9:40 pm

RE: Hume’s is/ought problem. I have never found this to be much of a problem for a NLT that incorporates freedom. Normativity in NLT derives from two premises: the fairly innocuous assumption that human flourishing is good and the assumption that we have the freedom to do or not do what makes us flourish. For NLT there are certain virtues whose practice by nature leads to flourishing, and for Catholic NLT these virtues are all in the service of the overarching virtue of love or charity.

Charlie

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