So, it’s Sunday, and because it’s Sunday, I’m spending my morning trying very hard not to think of anything serious, and failing.
I’ve got The Well-Tempered Clavier, performed by Gustav Leonhardt, playing in the background, and Thomas Aquinas talking about Aristotle waiting on the loveseat, and I just–I don’t know.
Let me start by saying that this is going to get back to something contemporary, but first I want to highlight something I noticed in the Aquinas a couple of days ago.
If you go off today and buy a few modern books by modern philosophers talking about ethics and morality, you’ll find volume after volume that concerns itself with WHAT we should consider moral.
If by killing one person we can save five, what is the moral thing to do? If we know that a child we are about to give birth to will be born with severe illness or disability, are we morally obliged to give birth to him and care for him, or to abort him and save him a short life of pain?
These are the kinds of things modern moral philosophers spend their time thinking and writing and teaching about, and this is the kind of thing we think of moral philosophy being about.
This is not, however, what either Aristotle or Aquinas thought moral philosophy was about.
It would not be entirely true to say that Aquinas and Aristotle agreed on all the particulars of what a moral action was. There are a couple of places in Aquinas’s commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics that are almost funny. For instance–Aquinas’s attempt to prove that virginity and celibacy are a mean between two vice and not vices in themselves by being an extreme, the “too little” sex as opposed to the “too much,” each less worthy than “the right amount.”
In spite of that, however, neither Aquinas nor Aristotle feels any need to discuss IF some actions are moral and under what circumstances.
The general moral landscape is simply assumed to be everywhere evident to everybody. One of the reasons it was possible for Aquinas to “baptize” Aristotle is that, with the exception of a few squiffy places on the edges, everybody pretty much “knew” the difference between right and wrong.
And even the squiffy areas around the edges were fairly easily taken care of–if Aristotle and the agents didn’t realize that when they sacrificed to “secondary divine” powers they were worshipping demons, that was because the demonic nature of those entities was one of those things that could not be discovered by reason alone and needed revelation to point out.
Therefore, the ancients, not having access to a revelation that hadn’t yet occurred, could not be faulted for their worship, because they didn’t intend to worship evil but to give glory to God, and acted as best they were able to know.
Yes, I know. We don’t worry much about this stuff anymore.
My point here, though, is that there is a continuity in Western moral thought, one that lasted certainly well into the 20th century, at least among the vast majority of the people living in every Western culture.
I’m not talking here about specifics like, say, whether we should consider homsexual sex to be morally right or wrong, but about big ticket items like justice and truth, guilt and innocence.
Not only are there virtually no points of contention between Aquinas and Aristotle about these things, there are virtually no points of contention between anybody about these things. The same standards of justice and truth, guilt and innocence were used to excoriate Nazi behavior as had been used by Aristotle to excoriate the tyrants of his own time.
And even the people who wanted to be allowed to cheat–say, the fellow travelers and other Communists sympathizers of the years after 1917–assumed that the first necessity in their cheating was to hide what the Bolsheviks were actually doing, because everybody (including themselves) knew it was morally wrong. The fellow travelers had just decided that they needed to do wrong to get what they thought was a greater good.
At the same time, they experienced that cheat as shameful, and did their best to hide the reality of it from the rest of the world.
What is going on now, though, is something very different, and I find it difficult to figure out either how we got here or how anybody can think this way without having their head explode.
In one of the articles I’ve posted over the last few days on the Rolling Stone rape story and the Lena Dunham mess, a student at Oberlin College refused to allow a Breitbart reporter access to the files he needed to corroborate a portion of Dunham’s story by saying that at Oberlin they weren’t “so much into justice” as “supporting the victim.”
I mean, look at that for a minute, and tell me if it even qualifies as linear thought.
If the allegations are not true, there is no victim to support.
How do you “support the victim” unless you know who the victim is, or if there even is one?
This goes well beyond the common modern abomination of simply insisting on believing that all allegations must be true unless they are somehow proved not to be.
This is a declaration that the speaker inhabits an alternative universe where the real has become irrelevant.
I am fairly sure that the young woman who said these things does not actually believe what she seems to be saying she believes.
My guess is that she’s latched on to the less esoteric doctrine–the idea that all rape allegations must be true.
That is hardly something to celebrate, but at least its in the realm of the sane.
To declare that somebody is a victim even though they have not in fact been victimized is the sort of thing that makes doctors prescribe heavy duty meds.
Granted that bad thinking drives out good, and that this young woman had not only not be taught “critical thinking” or any other kind–how, exactly, did we get here?
The train of thought is almost instinctually wrongheaded.
It is not only wrong in a way that I don’t think any other culture has ever been wrong, it’s practically gibberish.
The problem is not that not enough people take rape seriously and so people who do have to insist on ideas and procedures that make it more possible for victims to prevail when they make accusations.
That’s a debatable issue, although the standards these people want are not the ones that anybody with half a brain could support.
The issue is a “moral” construct in which the most virtuous thing to do is to punish people who not only haven’t done anything wrong, but who haven’t done anything.
It’s like a morality made from quantum mechanics–things appear and disappear at random, without rhyme or reason.
It’s obvious from the text that this young woman thinks she is behaving morally.
In truth, she isn’t even behaving immorally.
It’s like you asked her how far it is to her house and she said,
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