Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kant & Catholicism

I’m doing a mopping up operation on Bryan Cross.

“Authority and interpretation are not the same thing.”

http://principiumunitatis.blogspot.com/2007/10/individualism-and-interpretation.html

I agree, which is why it’s fallacious for Bryan to cast all interpretive issues in authoritarian terms.

“The person who submits his interpretation to the judgment of the magisterium of the Church must, of course, interpret the words in the magisterium's judgment, but being under the authority of the magisterium means that if necessary, he submits even his interpretation of the magisterium's judgment to the magisterium.”

i) But that’s regressive. If he submits his interpretation of the magisterium to the magisterium, and the magisterium comments on his interpretation of the magisterium, then he must interpret the magisterial commentary on his interpretation of the magisterium. So Bryan has merely pushed the original conundrum back a step. He has failed to solve the problem he posed for himself.

ii) In addition, his hypothetical is a paper theory since, as a matter of fact, the magisterium doesn’t begin to comment on every Catholic’s interpretation of magisterial teaching. Hence, as a practical matter, almost every Catholic is thrown back on his own, “individualistic” resources.

What fraction of a fraction of a billion Catholics submits its interpretation to the Magisterium? And is the Magisterium in a position to respond? Obviously not. Only a handful of high-profile Catholics ever receives magisterial scrutiny.

So Bryan’s argument is falls flat, both in principle and practice.

Here's the dilemma. If each individual has equal interpretive authority, then the very notion that one's own interpretation of Scripture is authoritative for all other persons violates Kant's categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.’ The maxim, ‘All others should submit to my interpretation of Scripture’, if universalized [i.e. made a maxim that each person could live by], would make hash of the notions of authority and submission. Each person's interpretation would be authoritative for all others, thus entailing that no person's interpretation would be authoritative for others.

http://principiumunitatis.blogspot.com/2007/09/on-authority-of-creeds-and-confessions.html

Several problems:

i) The right of private judgment doesn’t imply that “each individual has equal interpretative authority.”

ii) Why cast interpretive issues in authoritarian terms to begin with?

iii) Why should we agree with Kant’s categorical imperative? Here’s the problem:

One of the first major challenges to Kant's reasoning came from the Swiss philosopher Benjamin Constant, who asserted that since truth telling must be universal, according to Kant's theories, one must (if asked) tell a known murderer the location of his prey. This challenge occurred while Kant was still alive, and his response was the essay On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives (sometimes translated On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns). In this reply, Kant agreed with Constant's inference, that from Kant's premises one must infer a moral duty to be truthful to a murderer.

Kant denied that such an inference indicates any weakness in his premises: telling the truth to the murderer is required because moral actions do not derive their worth from the expected consequences. He claimed that because lying to the murderer would treat him as a mere means to another end, the lie denies the rationality of another person, and therefore denies the possibility of there being free rational action at all. This lie results in a contradiction in conceivability and therefore the lie is in conflict with duty.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative

Now, as you can see, Kant stuck to his guns. Yet the problem with Kant’s contention is that his ethical system appeals to our moral intuitions. But as Constant pointed out, it’s easy to come up with a counterintuitive example. At that point, Kant’s intuitive appeal loses all plausibility.

If Bryan is a Kantian deontologist, then he has his work cut out for him. He can’t merely assume the truth of Kant’s categorical imperative. He will have to argue the point.

“But if some people have more interpretive authority than others, then on what grounds do they have more ecclesial/interpretive authority? If the answer is that their interpretation of Scripture agrees with one's own interpretation of Scripture, then again the illusion of authority is exposed.”

Questions like this should answer themselves. Dropping his tendentious authoritarian shtick, the interpretation of some people commands more respect than others because some people are right and others are wrong. Likewise, some people offer more reasonable interpretations than others.

And if Bryan objects to that explanation, then I will reinterpret his objection to agree with my explanation. And he can’t take issue with my reinterpretation of his objection since he has no magisterial interpretation to correct my interpretation of his objection. He’s just a lowly layman like me. He’s not a one-man ecumenical council, or the pope speaking ex cathedra.

9 comments:

  1. I’m doing a mopping up operation on Bryan Cross.

    Be gentle Steve. Bryan might become cross with you.

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  2. Using Bryan's authoritative/interpretive grid, how is it valid for Roman Catholics to resort to personal theological opinions of early church fathers' to establish doctrine?

    Mark

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  3. "Using Bryan's authoritative/interpretive grid, how is it valid for Roman Catholics to resort to personal theological opinions of early church fathers' to establish doctrine?"

    They don't. When a Protestant quotes a church father who contradicts Roman Catholic teaching, sometimes the Catholic will say that the Protestant has no right to privately interpret even the church fathers.

    This is frequently the response (famously given by Sungenis to Dr. White) when the Protestant quotes an earlier ecumenical council to show that it contradicts Vatican II. The response is, "Only the Church has the right to interpret Church documents."

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  4. JohnMark and Saint&Sinner,

    Uhhh...., thanks for pointing out these logic gaps.

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  5. S&S,

    Yes, I am slightly familiar with this convenient approach. Great, isn't it? ;)

    Mark

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  6. "i) But that’s regressive. If he submits his interpretation of the magisterium to the magisterium, and the magisterium comments on his interpretation of the magisterium, then he must interpret the magisterial commentary on his interpretation of the magisterium."

    If I'm the boss and I have an employee, I reserve the right to correct my employee's interpretation, and even his interpretation of my clarification as long as necessary. I don't immediately fire him because to clarify my interpretation would be "regressive".

    In fact if this were the whole story, we'd probably still have 5 books in the bible.

    "In addition, his hypothetical is a paper theory since, as a matter of fact, the magisterium doesn’t begin to comment on every Catholic’s interpretation of magisterial teaching."

    If I read the first ecumenical council, and I think it means something. But then I read the second ecumenical council which corrects my understanding of the first council, then I have been corrected in my understanding of the magisterium by the magisterium. I don't need a personal audience with the pope to do this. Protestants do this all the time when they compare scripture with scripture.

    "i) The right of private judgment doesn’t imply that “each individual has equal interpretative authority.”"

    We aren't told what is the difference between a private interpretation and an individual interpretation. Sounds the same to me.

    "ii) Why cast interpretive issues in authoritarian terms to begin with?"

    Because of this little thing called THE CHURCH. If I interpret the church should function one way, and you another, without an authority the church ceases to function.

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  7. If I'm the boss and I have an employee, I reserve the right to correct my employee's interpretation, and even his interpretation of my clarification as long as necessary. I don't immediately fire him because to clarify my interpretation would be "regressive".

    So what you do is string him along, constantly correcting his understanding. How long do you believe the Magisterium should do this for you if you keep getting it wrong? Where can we find that standard?

    In fact if this were the whole story, we'd probably still have 5 books in the bible.

    Tell us, did the Jews have an infallible Magisterium? How did they muddle along without an infallible Magisterium to determine what was canonical to the OT and what isn't?

    If I read the first ecumenical council, and I think it means something. But then I read the second ecumenical council which corrects my understanding of the first council, then I have been corrected in my understanding of the magisterium by the magisterium.

    Except for one problem...your reading of the second council may be wrong, since you are fallible, if we follow your own logic. Without actually asking the Magisterium (if you can locate its address0 how can you be sure you got it correct? All the "Magisterium" really amounts to is a bunch of private opinions. How can one ever infallibly know if his interpretation is correct? How can one verify the Magisterium is infallible? To say, "Because it says so," begs the question.

    I don't need a personal audience with the pope to do this.

    So, you rely on your individual mind.

    Protestants do this all the time when they compare scripture with scripture.

    Yes, they do...yet Catholicism claims its rule of faith is superior to ours. Our claim is that it's on epistemic par. Thank you for this tacit admission.

    We aren't told what is the difference between a private interpretation and an individual interpretation. Sounds the same to me.

    How does this respond to what you quoted? Steve went on to say:

    Questions like this should answer themselves. Dropping his tendentious authoritarian shtick, the interpretation of some people commands more respect than others because some people are right and others are wrong. Likewise, some people offer more reasonable interpretations than others.

    So, you should be asking how we can determine who is right and wrong? Put another way: Why is an (infallible) Magisterium superior to well studied and argued exegesis of Scripture? Why are councils more clear than the Bible?

    Global skepticism is one way to go, but that cuts both ways.

    So, how can we know the Magisterium's interpretation is superior to that of properly exegeted Scripture? How much of Scripture, for that matter, has the Magisterium actually exegeted infallibly? If you appeal to dogmatic definitions, decrees, etc. that merely begs the question for Catholicism.

    Because of this little thing called THE CHURCH. If I interpret the church should function one way, and you another, without an authority the church ceases to function.

    1. Protestants don't deny the utility of teaching authority, rather we deny the infallibility of such an authority. It is directly subject to the authority of Scripture.

    2. The Bible does not support the idea of an infallible teaching authority in the New Covenant era or the Old Covenant era.

    3. And you've just placed yourself in the position of justifying your statement. For the Roman Catholic, this means appealing to the (traditional) view of the usual passages on such authority to support its own argument for authority. (A) That's question-begging. (B) It invites a vicious regress. (C) It amounts to "the Church" (defined as the Magisterium) being its own interpreter. How convenient.

    4. Your conclusion is a nonsequitur. The local churches individually and in aggregate can function quite well when differing within themselves and between themselves. Like a good Romanist, you don't bother to look at what the Bible actually says about the value of division. According to Paul, it is a means by which the truth rises to prominence and it also provides for a disciplinary process within the local churches.
    This alleged difficulty is only a pseudoproblem generated by your Romanism. Has the Catholic Church ceased to function because of divisions within it? If not, then your own argument is disproven by an examination of your own communion.

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  8. Here I respond to Steve's comments. My comments are interspersed.

    >I agree, which is why it’s >fallacious for Bryan to cast all >interpretive issues in >authoritarian terms.

    Not if there is an authoritative Church, and not if the issue of interpretation is important in trying to figure out what the Bible is saying.

    >i) But that’s regressive. If he >submits his interpretation of the >magisterium to the magisterium, >and the magisterium comments on >his interpretation of the >magisterium, then he must >interpret the magisterial >commentary on his interpretation >of the magisterium. So Bryan has >merely pushed the original >conundrum back a step. He has >failed to solve the problem he >posed for himself.

    The need for personal interpretation and judgment never ceases, even with a living interpreter helping, but the range of possibilities is narrowed, whereas if there is not an interpretative authority, the range is not authoritatively decreased. Think of all the different ways the Bible can be interpreted. One author found over 250 ways one passage could be interpreted. The Bible does not narrow the field much. But within a systematic theology given by an authoritative Church, the field is narrowed further. We do not have to erase the need for personal judgment for this to be effective. We do not have to obtain zero percent personal interpretation status.

    >ii) In addition, his hypothetical >is a paper theory since, as a >matter of fact, the magisterium >doesn’t begin to comment on every >Catholic’s interpretation of >magisterial teaching. Hence, as a >practical matter, almost every >Catholic is thrown back on his >own, “individualistic” resources.

    But having to rely on personal judgment within a narrowed range is not the same as having to rely on it to determine what Scripture is, how it should be interpreted, what theology should follow from it, etc., with a full range of logical possibilities.

    >What fraction of a fraction of a >billion Catholics submits its >interpretation to the >Magisterium? And is the >Magisterium in a position to >respond? Obviously not. Only a >handful of high-profile Catholics >ever receives magisterial >scrutiny.

    But the importance of an authoritative Church in building a theology within which to work and within which to interpret Scripture is not reduced by this. One can read the systematic theology offered by the Church.

    >So Bryan’s argument is falls >flat, both in principle and >practice.

    Not at all. That does not follow.

    >Several problems:

    >i) The right of private judgment >doesn’t imply that “each >individual has equal >interpretative authority.”

    The right of private judgment combined with the notion that there is no authority would.

    >ii) Why cast interpretive issues >in authoritarian terms to begin >with?

    Because the Bible has to be interpreted and we have to consider how to relate to different people who are interpreting the Bible. Further, we have to consider the consequences if there is no truly authoritative Church.

    >iii) Why should we agree with >Kant’s categorical imperative? >Here’s the problem:

    We may not have to, but if we do, Bryan Cross makes a good point. His point does not stand or fall on Kant's imperative though. But he can use Kant's imperative to help make the point, especially for those who accept the imperative. And he does not have to be a Kantian deontologist to make the point this way.

    >Questions like this should answer >themselves. Dropping his >tendentious authoritarian shtick, >the interpretation of some people >commands more respect than others >because some people are right and >others are wrong. Likewise, some >people offer more reasonable >interpretations than others.

    Sure, but Protestants can generally not decide which are which on a great many issues and have no authority to do so.

    >And if Bryan objects to that >explanation, then I will >reinterpret his objection to >agree with my explanation. And he >can’t take issue with my >reinterpretation of his objection >since he has no magisterial >interpretation to correct my >interpretation of his objection. >He’s just a lowly layman like me. >He’s not a one-man ecumenical >council, or the pope speaking ex >cathedra.

    But we are talking about the relation of the person to the authoritative Church, not the relation of the person to you. And we are not trapped in emptiness or pure subjectivity just because personal judgment is still a factor.

    Eric

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