Friday, November 28, 2008

The Atheism of "God's Will"

Have you ever, in the face of tragedy or some sad circumstance, heard someone say, almost casually, perhaps even stoically, "we just have to accept that it's God's will"? Apparently there are atheists out there who have rejected God in part because they've had such an experience, an experience which instantly and with clarity caused them to deny any such notion as manifestly absurd. My sister just died of an agonizing bout of cancer, and for no apparent reason, and "this is God's will?" You can almost instinctually respond, along with our now-atheist, to hell with such a god. Indeed, but there's more than one way to put it, and more than one way to go from there.

First of all, we have to recognize that such a reaction, if indeed legitmate (not just a rationalization, or worse, a fabrication), stems from the conviction that human beings really are precious, and that suffering and death really are tragedies. But this all implies that, therefore, there is a real good as the source of our conviction; otherwise it's all in our head, the logic of which means the loved who just died of cancer really wasn't precious, and her death really wasn't a tragedy -- the universe could just as well have caused one to delight in such circumstances. In other words, to reject God is to reject any meaning (meaning is about something else), which led to the rejection of God in the first place.

But more to the point, I think that the person who utters the bit about "God's will" implicitly has in mind, or at least he should, some things which qualify his statement, and which are evidently lost on our now-atheist hearers. For example, can anyone really imagine that our unwitting offender does not have in mind something like Romans 8: "18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us...28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose"?

You see, it is only in the face of an atheistic assumption in the first place that tragedy and human worth cannot be taken up and viewed in a broader context, which includes the reward of eternal joy to which "the sufferings of this present time" cannot be compared. The now-atheist all along assumed what C.S. Lewis called "a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils." In short, the now-atheist is reacting to his own limited assumptions. But these assumptions, unfortunately, are found in certain Christian worldviews as well.

Protestant Christians are often incurable Cartesians. They'll appeal, for instance, to God as the clock maker of the universe; this appeal is in perfect keeping with a Cartesian denial of secondary causes, or substances, in the philosophical sense (see the blog entry before the present one). In such a view it logically follows that God directly acts on the world, and thus is the direct cause of pain and suffering. Let me contrast this to the Catholic worldview, which is, quite literally, the common sense worldview.

Whenever I perceive something with my senses, I then understand it with my intellect, or what we'll loosely call mind. For instance, my senses tell me there's something round, and red, but it's my mind that tells me what that something is; we cannot say, there's a red, or there's a round -- those are incomplete sentences. There must be a noun, thus our intellects furnish us with an abstract concept, so that we can say there is a red apple, there is a round apple; or, at it's most indefinte, there is a red thing, or a round thing. Our minds know that apple abstractly, but what they know abstractly is called substance.

Substance is that in which the qualities (accidents, like redness and roundness) we perceive inhere. In Catholic philosophy, God has created substances, or natures, to act on their own. He sustains them in existence, but they directly cause the effects, which we then perceive in the sense world. What this means, simply put, is that God doesn't cause pain and suffering, He allows it through secondary causes, which ultimately has it's origin in human wills. God's original will, His 'antecedent will', which did not depend on the existence of pain and suffering, became His permissive, or 'consequent will', once man chose to take things into his own hands, i.e., after the fall.

In sum, therefore, the sentiment which caused us to find contempt in ascribing God's will to real pain and suffering of real people we know, and then to utter, to hell with such a god, is really a sentiment not directed at the true, living God, the God of Jesus Christ, but at certain false understandings of God; understandings which would have us a) reject His existence in the first place, consequently rejecting real human dignity, and b) reject our common sense in favor of idealism, and, consequently, accept a God of pure will, that is, whim, not one of reason and will. To put it bluntly, the rational foundations of our sentiment, logically expressed, should cause the now-atheist to say, rather, to hell with my now-atheism and any form of Christianity which leads me to it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Descartes’ Mathematical Method

Most people think that reality consists of objects existing apart from our minds, which we manipulate, in part, by the application of mathematics: I quite agree. But not all philosophers would be so quiescent: at least their logic, if it could speak for itself, would certainly beg to differ. The ideas of the great philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes present a perfect case in point.

The widely accepted philosophy up to Descartes’ time was primarily Aristotelian--polished up and expounded upon by Thomas Aquinas—which was diffused into the cultural atmosphere by the Catholic Church, and eventually acquired the name Realism. This philosophy considered physical realities to be composed of substance and accidents, or, “secret energies” and appearances (Gilson 163).

The substances, or “secret energies”, were considered the very hearts of things. For example, an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane has accidental appearances which make us aware of it through our senses—it’s shape, color, texture, smell, and relation to it’s environment. But, according to this philosophy the appearances must “inhere” in something (Rizzi 365). That in which they “inhere”, the primary nature of the olive tree, is quite obviously not open to sense perception but known abstractly, by the intellect. Thus the substance, or nature, of the olive tree is a cause of the appearances, itself not visible.

The appearances, or in technical terms, accidents, were grouped into two main categories: quantity, or extension, and qualities. Quantity was considered fundamental, for every quality is an extended quality: redness, smoothness, square-ness -- all of these qualities exist quantified, as extended – even sound can be measured by periods of time. Thinking about extension in the abstract is, according to Realism, the basis of mathematics.

Enter Descartes. Descartes was a philosopher deeply impressed by the clarity of mathematics. In mathematics he could find “the certainty of its demonstrations and the evidence of it’s reasoning”, as Etienne Gilson quotes him (106). Gilson also notes Descartes’ increasing dissatisfaction with other types of knowledge; his Jesuit teacher Clavius had once written, in Gilson’s words, “There are innumerable sects in philosophy, there are no sects in mathematics” (104). This sentiment was likely to have helped Descartes combat the “complete skepticism” he found in the heavy influence (as Gilson contends) of the philosopher Montaigne (Gilson 110). “[Montaigne] had not found the key to universal knowledge” (Gilson 110). Such a clash between total philosophical skepticism and mathematical certainty can be easily seen to have birthed the brain child of Descartes’ “Universal Mathematics”, which, says Gilson, he would endeavor to apply to all fields of knowledge (Gilson 113). This philosophy will use as it’s “first principle” the method of clear (definitive) and distinct ideas (Gilson 122):

“all that can be clearly and distinctly known as belonging to the idea of a thing can be said of the thing itself… But what is it, to know something distinctly? When a mathematician knows a circle, he knows not only what it is [it’s definition]`, but, at the same time, what it is not. Because a circle is a circle, it has all the properties of the circle, and none of those that make a triangle a triangle, or a square a square. Philosophers should therefore proceed on the same assumption” (Gilson 122).

Gilson says that this principle would be the basis of all subsequent idealistic philosophies, for the idea of a thing was to be taken for the thing itself (122).

Up to this point quantity dealt with an aspect of a substance, the abstract consideration of which was called mathematics. Now the abstract definition was, in effect, to be the substance, and it’s “extension in three dimensions” it’s only attribute—it’s only physical property (Gilson 159). This was a move, says Gilson in so many words, that went no longer from physical substances to ideas, but from substantial ideas to physical attributes. (121)

The immediate result of this method in the physical world is, says Gilson, the deflation of all qualities, “such as weight, hardness, colour, and so on” thought to exist in extended things; this in addition to emptying the various words we use for “things” (tree, dog, flower) of any real meaning (160). Realists affirm that, at the very least, the primary qualities (known by touch and, incidentally, in some cases by sight) are necessary to experience the extension of a substance, such qualities being mathematically measurable: shape, weight, size, feel, relation to other objects. One would be inclined to think Decartes, as a mathematician, would be content with this affirmation. However, reversing the order of knowledge and starting from ideas, he could not be. Using the method of clear and distinct ideas you must find these qualities in the idea of extension, not extension by the sensible existence of these qualities (as the Realists say). Further, you must find a reason to think that the idea of extension corresponds to actual extension outside of your mind—including that of your own body. Such an application led to the well known dichotomy still prevalent today in many discussions of mind and matter: the idea of the “ghost in the machine.”

Decartes found justification for positing the idea that extension exists by appealing to the idea of God. These three ideas: “thought, extension, and God” -- no longer inferred from a given, substantial physical reality known first through the senses but, instead, existing as “distinct ideas”-- can be seen (if I may take some liberty with Gilson’s conclusions, 139, 148) winding off as three distinct philosophical paths (Gilson 115). Why? Here’s one major reason Gilson gives: Hume would say “if we have no adequate (clear and distinct) idea of ‘causality’ that can apply to matter, where could we get one to apply to God?” thereby detaching the idea of God from the idea of a reality outside the mind and from the mind itself (Gilson 174). Depending on which way, which idea you’re predisposed to assume, you could find yourself either an Idealist (“thought”—ideas are all that exist), an Empiricist (“extension”-- bodily sensations are all that exist), or an Ontologist (“God”—relying on the idea of God to secure the belief in a physical world). Either way you’re left trapped within your mind, and mathematics becomes confined--not to things, not to external reality, but to the relationships between ideas in our minds.
Works Cited

Gilson, Etienne. The Unity of Philosophical Experience. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.

Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Salvation Through The Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Ways

The Purgative way encompasses an initial conversion to Christ -- a turn from serious sin, a profession of faith (see below), and devotion and obedience to Christ through baptism, prayer, Scripture reading, attending church, confession of sins, practicing forgiveness, volunteering to help others, etc --; this conversion is often accompanied by various emotions and delights called “consolations.” This first stage, the Purgative Way, is often what Evangelical Christians call a “personal relationship with Christ.” Yet, quite often a person will meet with what is called a “dark night” (of the senses or the soul) where the good feelings leave for a while, and God may feel distant. It is at this point the soul is being called to more, but, unfortunately, many churches lack a depth of spiritual teaching about the ongoing path to God. Consequently, many people may fail to advance, or relapse into pre-conversion habits. It is here the works and lives of the Saints, in light of the ancient understanding of the three-stage path to God, can serve to enliven our faith and expand our hope.

In the Illuminative and Unitive ways, through which the Saints have advanced, persons can experience “dark nights” heroically, remaining faithful. Persons can also experience imaginative and intellectual visions of Christ, illuminations of some mystery of God, experiences of rapture, flights of ecstasy, spiritual consolations, and other such phenomena -- but most important is the conformity of the persons will and character to the perfection of God’s will, and the steady contentment it brings. Some persons who’ve attained a high degree of union with God, as reported by those who knew them best, have, as a result, also experienced things like the stigmata, bi-location, and incorruptibility (meaning their body does not decay after death, at least, not at the normal rate). The mere fact of these remarkable experiences can certainly awe us, but they also can be profoundly edifying as we grow increasingly unsettled in a world that is not meant to satisfy where only God can.

Initiation In The Purgative Way

The Purgative way, of course, begins with an initial conversion. Scripture is clear that following Christ involves being united to him and other believers through baptism; a baptism which requires faith that, as the Son of God, Christ lived, died, and was restored to a new, immortal life; it is this new life he then offers us to take part in through baptismal waters, continued repentance, obedience, and devotion.

*The first step I’d therefore suggest to begin in the Purgative way is to make a profession of faith, which Christianity has best summed up in what she calls the Nicene Creed (I’ve replaced the “we” with “I”).

I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us (men) and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, And his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father (and the Son) With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*The next thing to do is to get into contact with a priest or pastor about being baptized, perhaps with the help of someone – a friend or family member -- who is familiar with the process. In Catholicism, if you’ve already been baptized then the next step is to be confirmed. If you’ve already been confirmed then the next step, if you’ve been away from practicing your faith for a while, is to go to confession so you can be, as they say, restored to full communion.

*Finally (this last step is actually involved in all the steps, and continues on until we reach the Beatific Vision) begin to develop a prayer life, grow in virtue and devotion – such things as adoration, reading Sacred Scripture, learning more about your faith, going to church regularly.

These steps, then, begin the Purgative stage, which involves, as the name implies, purging our selves from those things that are not of God. It entails a conversion of faith, what some people refer to as a born-again experience, which is often accompanied by emotions of gratitude, zeal, the feeling of newness, hope and the like. This experience flows over into the will, and naturally leads one to leave behind serious sin – what Catholics call mortal sin.

Psalm 103

15As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him…

A Short Credo

The two great self-evident propositions - the descriptive principle of non-contradiction, and the prescriptive imperative: we ought to seek the good - compel our rationality, in their respective arenas, to the initial acceptance of a basic Monotheism. Not, I say, with the force of self-evidence; yet, most certainly, with a compulsion beyond a reasonable doubt. In the descriptive arena, Pure Existence (God) is posited in order to "adequately explain observed phenomena." In the Prescriptive arena, God represents the object of our "human desire for something more than nature-which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it." In the history of philosophy, no non-self-refuting philosophy has legitimately questioned either the perennial reasoning of a basic philosophical Deism, or the practical spontaneity of religious Mysticism.

Between the dry rationalism of Deism, working on the hypothesis of clear and distinct ideas -- despite it's acknowledgement of God's unfathomable attributes - and the wild speculation and untamed compassion of Mysticism, lies the beautiful structure which finds "grace built upon nature," finds the speculative and practical virtues in tact: lies the Christian Church. And this is a great comfort to the intellectually honest who know the "two facts (which) are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in": We "know the Law of Nature; (we) break it." The intellectually honest know that the bridge to the object of our deepest desire cannot be crossed by our own mortal effort, and it is to these that the words of John the Baptist are directed, pointing the way to a Savior.

The fullness of time sees this Savior come forth, out of Nazareth. Jesus the Christ, comes forth, telling us to follow him, to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. This he does in word and deed, enduring rejection, agonizing suffering and eventual death - at the hands of the very neighbors he loved till the end -- and loves even now.

In light of His life, suffering and death; his death, resurrection and ascension, the human purpose has been illuminated: "We were made to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." --Paraphrase from the Baltimore Cathechism.

From the particulars of Scripture, interpreted by the Church and Tradition, are fashioned the Creeds -- namely the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds -- which serve as the most general, revealed principles which enable us to actually "know, love and serve." Instead of being content with mere subjective "sincerity," we can truly live to objectively "advanc(e)…(others)…to the Vision of God." For these generalities breath life into our concrete world of experience through "religion itself -- prayer and sacrament and repentance and adoration" - all done with the aim to trust Christ and obey his command to love our neighbor, having in mind "a concept of neighbor that knows no bounds…even extend(ing) to enemies," in the words of Pope John Paul II.

The Christian apologetic is thus beautifully expressed by Etienne Gilson, summarizing the approach of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, "[He] posited an infinite God at the beginning and end of…theology; (to) …act both as a general qualification applying to all theological statements, and as an invitation to transcend theology…by entering the depths of mystical life," where "reason gives way to love."

Love is the means to man's final end: union with God. "In this life," that union can be sought through the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. To be sure, meaning in life must be concrete -- a point well noted by the existential psychotherapy of Victor Frankl. Moreover, the answer to that need begins in the Catholic call to a vocation, a call which starts to reconcile the paradoxes and supra-rational implications our intellects find in God, man, and immortality -- letting us find, concretely, that "conceptually irreconcilable propositions, in being lived, are one."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thank You Mr. Powell

Listening to Colin Powell a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking, at first, how reasonable it actually sounds to vote for Barack Obama, especially in light of certain ideas I already agreed with -- like stopping tax breaks to companies shipping their jobs over seas; indeed, Mr. Powell seemed to be knocking every objection I had to voting for a Democrat out of the park -- conincingly; that was, until a very definite point in his interview where he started talking about the importance of Supreme Court nominations, and (I believe in reference to that subject) the feared "narrowing" of the party.

To be sure, Mr. Powell, speaking largely in code, was saying it's primarily because John McCain has embraced people like faithful Catholics, who wish to see Roe overturned, and the prevention of the application of the Comity Clause to the homosexual marriage issue, that he is fleeing the party by way of his support for Mr. Obama. Now, it may be that McCain will ultimately betray people like me when it comes to choosing Supreme Court Justices -- I can only take his word that he won't. However, and regardless of "what ifs," we should all keep in mind that Powell HAS taken McCain's word as one major reason to support Obama -- thus, for people like me who find Colin Powell to be insightful, straight forward, and credible, just as large of a reason not to.

From Natural Law To Liberty For All

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A free people claim their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” Note, Jefferson did not say a free people claim their rights as derived from a Constitution, for the rights enumerated in the Constitution must be a reflection of the rights found in natural law. When you ask people about equality, they often reply, “we’re equal before the law,” and they’re right, we are equal before the law according to the Constitution. However, the real question is, are we equal in reality, as a law of nature, which the Constitution then reflects and secures as law?

A negative answer to the latter question lands morality in subjectivity. Subjectivity is the basis for might makes right, which runs counter to a rationally based ethic; an ethic which all persons are rationally obligated to uphold, and which forms the basis for freedom and true happiness. The logic of subjectivity goes like this, If value and morality are purely subjective, that is, exist only in your head and not as a reflection of reality, then when you say that such and such is wrong you are really saying you feel or imagine such and such is wrong *even though it's really not*. The 'really not' logically accompanies every expression of your subjective moral view *if value and morality are purely subjective.* Now, when I say 'really' I mean 'in truth', and I accept the classic definition of truth: 'the conformity of the mind to reality.' Therefore, to take the subjectivist line looks like this, in real terms: Think of an atrocity -- take the holocaust for example; most likely, you believe it's appalling and just plain wrong. However, if you take the line [subjectivist x] takes, you will be saying, "I feel the holocaust was wrong, but it really wasn't." Or, "I think dragging homosexuals behind my car is wrong, but it's really not." This is monstrous thinking, and it’s patently false.

Natural law
Invariably, discussions about the natural law produce some form of this common response, “but desire x IS natural because people are born with the inclination; plus, such desires exist in the animal kingdom”. However, if natural law is to mean anything, then clearly we cannot say that just because a person is born with a certain tendency that therefore it is natural; likewise, we cannot point to animals and say that what is natural for them is natural for us – clearly, we cannot do this. No, the meaning of natural law -- what Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Aquinas, and other great proponents of natural law knew it to mean -- starts from the premise that man is a rational animal, that it is part of our nature to rationally govern our mere animal desires according to an outline, an over-all goal. The rational part, if you’ll notice, allows us a certain insight into the skin, so to speak, of other rational animals – we can speak for other people, for our rationality is in some way common. For instance, according to the self-evident principles of rational thought, we can say that any given person is in error if they state that a finite part is greater than the whole of which it is a part; likewise, if another person affirms that two and two equal six we can speak for them and say that they are wrong.

However, many people want to treat morality as if it somehow escapes our ability to speak from within each other’s skin; but this is simply nonsense. There are certain things we can say with certainty about other human beings concerning moral choices. We can say, for instance, that acting on the anorexic aversion (not acting to eat normally) is bad for human beings, but we can also say it is wrong. It is wrong for you to starve yourself, because it is wrong for me to do so; since we share the same essential nature I cannot say that something, which adversely affects what is essential to my being, is ok for you, since it effects what is conceptually indistinguishable from my own nature (your essence). We’ll return to this a bit later.

When the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, this is a statement -- concerning equality (not creation) -- of Natural Law: objective fact. But what does it mean? How is each individual who differs in appearance, talent, ability, contribution, sex, etc.; how are we all *equal? Simple, we're equal in essence*, in WHAT we are: "rational animals." Again we turn to Jefferson, "We believe that man (is) a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of justice." The "rational" part of "rational animal" places us above mere animal instincts, and allows us to govern our actions and form habits according to an outline, or plan, based on what we know is good and basic to our human nature. This "governance" of our desires and actions, forming firm dispositions, or habits, is called virtue. It’s interesting, and probably no strange coincidence, that Jefferson mentions “justice” in his quote; indeed, for the entire grand edifice of objective morality rests squarely upon the question of the nature of justice -- a problem which was formulated by Plato some two-thousand-plus years ago, and to which there is only one solution.

Justice – A Problem
“If I can get away with anything – even by the help of a magic ring which can make me invisible – , why should I be just towards other people?” That is Plato’s Ring of Gyges dilemma, and Mortimer Adler says it is one of the “most difficult questions about justice that have ever been raised” ( ). Mr. Adler also goes on, in the aforementioned link, to present an answer, one I’m going to paraphrase, a bit later, in light of what preceded in this essay, and with the addition of an important concept, which flows from equality and natural law: the common good. But first:

Defining Liberty
I think most people have at least a vague understanding of the difference between liberty and license. I think most people tend to think of “liberty” and equality at least implicitly in these terms:

“Liberty to act on one’s behalf must be fenced off by the equal liberty of others, so that freedom for one individual doesn’t become oppression for a second.” – M. Stanton Evans

I left off earlier speaking about our rationality -- our intellect and our will; that herein lies the basis for discovering the difference between what’s natural for man and what’s natural for animals. The difference is that man not only has instincts and inclinations, he knows about them, and can arrange them according to an outline, according to a “pursuit.” But this “pursuit” is not spontaneous, we have warring tendencies within us, tendencies which have to be disciplined, which take a tremendous effort to tame. Here’s an illustration:

Let’s imagine millions of people suddenly transported to an undiscovered country -- the result would be chaos; this raw state would need a governing body to establish and maintain peace, or harmony. In order for this government to be a fair government, it would have to “fence off liberty to act with the equal liberty of others.” It would have to tame, so to speak, those “tendencies” which would oppress others, in order to have peace.

Likewise, this taming is precisely what man has to do at an individual level with the inner disharmony of his soul: we have to fence off the liberty of warring tendencies within ourselves, which would otherwise oppress us, would keep us from attaining what is truly good for us. In a word, we have to practice Prudence, Moderation and Courage, and do so to the extent that there is harmony within the soul, that there is contentment regardless of external circumstances. Such harmony, or inner liberty, naturally results in the recognition of another human being as an end in himself, and of humanity as, in Kant’s words, a “Kingdom of Ends.” Good will is the logical consequence of the recognition of all human beings as “ends in themselves”, and is what we call Justice. Our solution to the problem of Justice is almost at hand, we need only consider one more objection.

Moral Imperatives -- Categorical Vs. Hypothetical
In our earlier discussion under Natural Law, we touched on a fascinating characteristic of rationality; it allows us a perspective that all rational beings ought to share, otherwise their minds are in error. This perspective is, in fact, an absolute perspective, that is, it is universally true. We used the example of a self-evident principle -- that a finite whole is greater than the parts of which it is composed -- and said we could do the same with morality. To a subjectivist, however, we’ve entirely begged the question.

A subjectivist will say that all “oughts” are dependent on ifs, and will add that you cannot make any outside observations that will produce a (rationally) imperative “ought.” In other words, they’ll say that no matter how often you observe people relating to other people in a way we consider good, you can never say that therefore people ought to act in such a way; to do so, they say, is merely expressing your own preference. Let me put this another way.

The philosopher Hume pointed out that you cannot say the sun ought to rise tomorrow because there’s no contradiction in saying the opposite, thus no rational imperative not to. For Hume, and most philosopher’s after him, it followed that if you could not find an ought in the descriptive world – the world you could observe, thus describe – you certainly could not find one in the prescriptive world, which involves a person’s will, and how he ought to act. The most you can say is that if you want this or that outcome, then you ought to act this or that way; the “if”, however, is, according to them, entirely hypothetical -- as opposed to necessary (imperative). This being the case, you cannot speak for anyone else and say that what he or she is doing is right or wrong.

The problem with Hume -- as with the new atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, etc., and, I might add, with the economists and business owners of our day -- is that he takes up a purely hypothetical perspective to begin with. Hume doesn’t exist in a purely third person point of view; neither, obviously, do we. If we’re going to take up a purely hypothetical position to begin with then obviously, any firm basis we look for within it can be no less hypothetical. But even when we attempt to speak “from the perspective of nowhere”, it is we who are taking up that perspective, it is we who are bringing our faculties of knowledge to the equation, so it quite reasonably follows that we must include this fact, and all it entails, in our equation.

The Common Good
By now, if I’ve succeeded, there should be a basic image materializing in your mind -- a sort of alignment or focus, which is come to by the whittling away of non-essentials. So far, I’ve attempted to communicate this image in three different ways.

1.) From the fact that we are rational animals we see that an essential equality exists between all such members of our class, which excludes non-essentials (For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend we can create perfect triangles in reality, triangles of all manner of sizes and colors at either right angles or various degrees of acute or obtuse angles. They would all be different yet each would share the same essential nature with every other -- the same essential nature would define each as a triangle. Therefore if I said all such triangles are created equal when clearly some are larger and/or more to our liking in shape and color, then in what way could I possibly assert that all triangles are created equal? Well, if I went on to define their essential nature and said "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all triangles are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inherent properties, that among these is the property that the sum of angles is always 180 degrees"; if I put it that way it would make perfect sense to talk about equality. We’ve whittled away “non-essentials”).

2.) We saw that, both in society and in our own conflicting desires, true liberty comes by fencing off (whittling away) unbridled liberties (licenses) in conformity with a purpose.

3.) We’ve also intimated that there’s a fixed perspective, which, when you strip away all non-essential colorings, all preferential, purely subjective shadings, is, for every rational being, inescapably furnished with its own facts and laws.

Picking up where I left off in my criticism of Hume, and with the point of #3 in mind, it’s important to understand that there’s an essential and unchanging degree of first person perspective in any objective truth claim or observation – this holds for everyone, regardless of their field. This means that, in addition to facts we arrive at by observing them from the outside, there are also facts that are just as real, which, in fact, are conditions for the former, which we arrive at by experiencing them from the inside. Seeing logical connections, having universal ideas; these we know are identical in other minds, which have truth. A mind, which does not see that a finite whole is greater than its parts, does not have truth; this I can say absolutely, for its’ opposite is unthinkable.

So, is there another principle, whose opposite is unthinkable, and which we can find from the inside of experience in regard to the question of morality? We’ve already established that justice unites us in good will to every other rational being by virtue of our equality, the only thing that remains is to remove the hypothetical if, so that we say not “if we wish to have good will towards ourselves then we ought to have good will towards others,” but “since we are rationally obligated to have good will towards ourselves, therefore we ought to have good will towards others.” This we can do by, as you’ve guessed, finding a principle, a fact, from the inside of experience, whose opposite is unthinkable; namely, the fact that our will desires one thing for the sake of itself and nothing else: happiness (defined as "that state of human well-being which leaves nothing more to be desired”). As Mortimer Adler put it, "try finishing the question, I want happiness because...": it cannot be done. Our will necessarily desires happiness, but is free to choose the means; yet only the means, which are true properties of happiness (the good), ought to be chosen -- to deny this is to deny that our will desires happiness for the sake of itself alone.

From the fact of our common first person perspective that we desire happiness for the sake of itself alone, it follows that the true properties of happiness are, in essence, the same for everyone – that there is a common good; that I cannot claim a non-essential, which violates the common good, as part of my obligation to myself and to others.

Liberty For All
In conclusion, I hope to have shown that it is only from this progression -- Natural law, to equality, to justice, to the common good, that we can finally end at liberty for all, and that we can rationally oppose that philosophy, which runs counter to true liberty: might makes right.