Pope approves restricted use of condoms in battle against AIDS?

Saturday, November 20, 2010 \PM\.\Sat\.

That’s the early report based on Peter Seewald’s forthcoming book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World. Given that these are early reports, one should be cautious until one can read the book for oneself. I’ll save my own thoughts on the matter itself for after I read the book, which is due out next week. However, given that the Pope seems to be talking about “intention,” it would be good to go back to Aquinas’ distinction between electio, intentio, and imperium for a basis for understanding how the Church uses the term “intention.”

From the Telegraph:

[Pope Benedict XVI] will say that it is acceptable to use a prophylactic when the sole intention is to “reduce the risk of infection” from Aids.

While he will restate the Catholic Church’s staunch objections to contraception because it believes it interferes with the creation of life, he will argue that using a condom to preserve life and avoid death can be a responsible act – even outside marriage.

Asked whether “the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms,” he replies: “It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

He will stress that abstinence is the best policy in fighting the disease, but accept that in some circumstances it is better for a condom to be used if it protects human life.

“There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to redevelop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes.

“But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection.”

In the meantime, be sure to read this book excerpt from Catholic World Report. For an early take on this book excerpt (but not the full context of the Pope’s statements), see Janet Smith’s piece, “Pope Benedict on Condoms in ‘Light of the World‘.

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MacIntyre on Money

Friday, November 12, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Alasdair MacIntyre, one of the greatest living Catholic thinkers, was featured last month in Prospect Magazine. The piece, entitled “MacIntyre on Money,” is well worth the read. Here’s a snippet:

MacIntyre has often given the impression of a robe-ripping Savonarola. He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle. Leo XIII (pope from 1878 to 1903), who revived Thomism while condemning communism and unfettered capitalism, is also an influence.

MacIntyre begins his Cambridge talk by asserting that the 2008 economic crisis was not due to a failure of business ethics. The opener is not a red herring. Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life. After Virtue, which is in essence an attack on the failings of the Enlightenment, has in its sights a catalogue of modern assumptions of beneficence: liberalism, humanism, individualism, capitalism. MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well.

This rift between economics and ethics, says MacIntyre, stems from the failure of our culture “to think coherently about money.” Instead, we should think like Aristotle and Aquinas, who saw the value of money “to be no more, no less than the value of the goods which can be exchanged, so there’s no reason for anyone to want money other than for the goods they buy.” Money affords more choices and choice is good. But when they are imposed by others whose interest is in getting us to spend, then money becomes the sole measure of human flourishing. “Goods are to be made and supplied, insofar as they can be turned into money… ultimately, money becomes the measure of all things, including itself.” Money can now be made “from the exchange of money for money… and trading in derivatives and in derivatives of derivatives.” And so those who work in the financial sector have become dislocated from the uses of money in everyday life. One symptom of this, MacIntyre contends, is gross inequality. In 2009, for instance, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned on average 81 times more than the average pay of a full-time worker.

MacIntyre’s After Virtue was a pivotal text for me, as I suspect it is for most. Its trenchant critiques of conservative and liberal liberalism, as well as of libertarianism, are as forceful now as they were 30 years ago. If you haven’t read any MacIntyre, get off the blogs, put away the computer, and do yourself the service of remedying that deficiency.




John Finnis on the Moral Status of the Fetus

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

Last Friday, John Finnis, whom I and many others consider to be one of the foremost living Catholic intellectuals, debated philosophers Peter Singer and Maggie Little at the Princeton conference Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words (Mirror of Justice‘s own Rick Garnett discussed the constitutionality of legalized abortion on Saturday). My friend, Ryan Anderson, over at Public Discourse has published a revised version of Prof. Finnis’ opening remarks, which are well worth the read. Here are two snippets from the piece (be sure to read the whole thing at Public Discourse):

The thing about moral status is, if you believe in morality at all, that it is not a matter of choice or grant or convention, but of recognition. If you hear anyone talk about conferring or granting moral status, you know they are deeply confused about what morality and moral status are. The very idea of human rights and status is of someone who matters whether we like it or not, and even when no one is thinking about them; and matters, whether we like it or not, as at bottom an equal, because like us in nature as a substantial kind of being.

About the moral status of the fetus, it’s clear, I suggest, beyond doubt, after forty years of intense philosophical discussion, that there’s no credible halfway house between, on the one hand, acknowledging that whether we like it or not the fetus—indeed the embryonic baby from the outset—has the same radical equality of nature that we all have despite myriad differences, and on the other hand joining Peter and Jeffrey in denying two things: (1) denying that the primary question is one of fact—shared nature as beings all having or capable of developing (given only food and protection) rational characteristics and activities, and (2) denying equality or ethical or moral entitlement to rights such as life until some time after birth (and here I think Reiman’s position will prove more stably defensible than Peter’s in making that years after birth; but of course neither of them can limit their denial of human equality to conditions of infancy; the denial extends to various sorts of disablement and decay). And each of them goes wrong from the outset in making “moral status” the fundamental predicate in the discussion, instead of predicates of the form “person,” “rational nature,” “kind of being.”

Notre Dame Law School is very blessed to have both John Finnis and Rick Garnett on board.


O’Donnell and Disingenuous Politics

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

Some of us here at TAC enjoy having a little fun at the expense of politicians who make outrageous gaffes. I, myself, certainly enjoy indulging occasionally in a YouTube compilation of a particular politician’s vocal miscues. With the likes of Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin headlining the political laughfest, the GOP seems particularly apt at keeping the gaffes flowing. Of course, we cannot forget the Democrats’ own gaffe-machine, Joe Biden, who, unlike the aforementioned three, only seems to make the news because of a gaffe. Sometimes these gaffes are the result of “gotcha” journalism. Sometimes they are the result of blanking under pressure. Sometimes they are jokes gone wrong. Other times, they really point to a politician’s ignorance on an issue or topic. I don’t think a politician’s proclivity to make gaffes itself necessarily indicates that a politician is unqualified for or unworthy of a given office, though such a proclivity accompanied by other possibly worrisome characteristics in a politician (e.g., having a robust rap sheet, being a fan of light beer) may be sufficient to render him or her unsuitable for certain offices.

I want to focus on that subset of gaffes that showcase a politician’s or political candidate’s ignorance on an issue or topic. And let me demarcate a subset of that subset: the gaffes that are more than just gaffes–the gaffes that call into question the genuineness of the one who utters them. Such gaffes were on full display during a debate this morning between two of Delaware’s senatorial candidates, Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons. At Widener Law School in front of an audience partly composed of university students and law professors, O’Donnell’s made multiple gaffes when discussing the contents of the Constitution. These gaffes were not of the Quayle/Palin varietal, however, for they raise serious questions about her honesty and intentions in running for the U.S. Senate, as well as about her understanding of her own platform.

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