I’m doing a mopping up operation on Bryan Cross.
“Authority and interpretation are not the same thing.”
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.
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.
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.