Monday, February 8, 2016

Social Moral Values

       Certain moral values guide the principles. In fact these values require expression and realization in the principles. The Compendium gives us a list of these values: truth, liberty or freedom, justice and charity or love. The Compendium sounds optimist. Seriously valuing truth, liberty, justice and charity will surely make us reach a good social life. In fact our public authorities can do a  lot of good in improving social life if they themselves have these values (see #197). Let us look at these values as presented by the Compendium.


1.     Live according to the truth. What is truth? The Compendium shows what it is by opposing it to the arbitrary. The arbitrary is what I want; it is what I prefer; it is what I like. But is what I want really what really is?
2.     In old philosophical discourse there is the difference made between “knowledge” and “opinion”. There are technical terms for these, but we need not go into that. “Knowledge”, according to old philosophy, is about accessing what is “really there”. Think of the image of water into a cup. The water takes the shape of the cup when poured into it. The water does not say, “I do not like this shape”; it does not then shape itself according to its preference. “Knowledge” then is this accepting—consenting to—“being” like water “consenting” to the shape of the cup. “Opinion” is an estimation of what we experience. We are not sure of what is “really there” so we form a judgement and an “opinion”. For the ancient philosophers it is wise to be closer to “knowledge” than to “opinion”.
3.     Let us see how the Compendium treats this distinction. Human dignity with human rights is true. It is what it is—it is what is constitutive of true humanity. Our effort then is to see how we can orient social life in respect of this dignity. However, it can happen that instead of living according to this truth, we start living according to what we prefer. We then replace human dignity with wealth and prestige and power, for example. We treat each other according to our distinction of wealth, prestige and power. Dignity does not matter; what matters is what we want.
4.     The Compendium says that today we really need an “intensive educational effort” (#198). The Compendium sees this education as an avenue for searching for the truth; this will affect the success of all other efforts. This is a very pleasant view of the Compendium regarding education. The Compendium suggests education through mass media and economics; but we can emphasize too the formation of the youth; making them value truth.
5.     Truth also means transparency and honesty in social action; we show what is really there—what is really happening; we do not hide it; we do not manipulate information.


6.     The fact that we are free is evidence of our being God’s image. The other animals function according to the forces of their genetic constitutions; they move by instinct, more than less. We have the capacity to turn around and look at what condition us and we say yes or no, more or less. We are not completely devoid of the capacity to reflect, to think well, discern, accept and refuse. Let us put it in simple terms. When female street dogs are “on heat” the male dogs come and “do it”. For us, humans, we “do it” independent of “heat” and we “do it” by asking permission from one another. We know we are “getting hot” but we can also say “no”. No beast has the vow of chastity for example.
7.     God is beyond the created order. God is free from the conditionings of creation. We, humans, we are in nature and we are creatures. But unlike the beasts we have the feature of freedom too; we can somehow distance ourselves from our conditionings. We have a “gap” of liberty. This makes us clearly image of God.
8.     The capacity for freedom needs to be well exercised. We lose human dignity if this human freedom is violated. We lose human dignity if we cannot navigate skillfully the conditions of life; freedom needs to be protected (#199).
9.     To fulfill our transcendent vocation and to “bloom” we need to exercise our freedom. If we seek for the truth we need to have that liberty to do it. If we need to express our thoughts and feelings we need to have that liberty to do it. If we want to decide on our social lives we need to have that liberty to do it. (See #200). If we have to reject the conditions that harm us and that violate our dignity we need to have that liberty to do it. If we need to detach from hindrances to real development we need to have that liberty to do it. (See #200).


10.            Justice is the will to give others what is due them. Note it is “will”. The Compendium calls it “the constant and firm will” (#201). For the Compendium justice is a matter of deciding and acting out that “will”. To will giving what is due to others requires also the will to recognize that others are truly human persons. Justice, says the Compendium, is “based on the will to recognize the other as a person” (#201). Together with this will of recognition is the objective fact that this is a moral will. To will giving others their due and to will recognizing them as human persons is a moral fact. Put simply, it is moral to choose respecting you and consenting to you what is due to you.
11.            But what is “due to”? St. Thomas Aquinas states (see that “justice is concerned about external things…by using them in our dealings with other men”. So it is about “things”—like salary due to workers, use of a beach due to all and not just for whites, etc. But at one point St. Thomas Aquinas sees justice as a capacity—a virtue. What does this virtue do? “…it directs all the virtues to the common good”. This is a very striking view of justice. When we do justice we direct all our other capacities for the common good. To put it in modern terms, justice is “service”. We use all what we can do to serve. It is in the service of making sure that others also function for the common good. In other words, the highest point of justice is not in giving “external things” but in making sure that others are also just. Justice works in the service of justice.
12.            The Compendium mentions different forms of justice but it focuses on “social justice” (#201). Social justice is associated with the “law”. In ordinary language we say that we all should be “equal under the law”. We assume that there are no “more privileged than others” Under the law we are equal. Fine. But it is not that simple. There is a problem inherent in justice.
13.            Justice can “self-destruct”! Why? Well, in a social group we might treat each other as “useful”. We “possess” each other. In classical philosophical terms we are “means” and not “ends” to each other. Justice then becomes “contractual”. We respect each other and we are equal under the law because we are useful to each other. We belong to the same clan, village, town, class, ethnicity, etc. We support each other; we own each other; we resemble each other. Within this “ghetto” we exercise justice.
14.            What about those outside? The “outsider” is, in Biblical terms, “foreigner” or even “enemy”. To that person justice is not applied. This is what “contractual justice” means. Remember that in the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, the Law is for the Hebrews. Somehow adjustments have to be made for the foreigner and enemy. Does the Law apply to them? Suddenly we see Jesus saying, “Love your enemies” (see Matt.5/44 and Lk.6/27). Jesus is extending the application of justice. Justice should apply even to those who do not resemble us; even to those who have deeply harmed and hurt us.
15.            The will to extend justice is love or charity. Justice needs charity because justice alone tends to be “contractual”. Love completes justice. Without love, justice self-destructs. Let us cite the Compendium: “By itself, justice is not enough. Indeed, it can even betray itself, unless it is open to that deeper power which is love” (#203). “The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself” (#206).

Love or charity

16.            The Compendium presents a curious flow. Justice must consider solidarity and solidarity offers the chance of peace. “In fact”, says the Compendium, “the Church's social doctrine places alongside the value of justice that of solidarity, in that it is the privileged way of peace” (#203). Justice and solidarity come together. Remember what solidarity involves; it is the rejection of “structures of sin”. Justice may create structures of sin (if it becomes “contractual justice”). Thus justice must be marked by this rejection of those structures; it must be paired with solidarity. When there is solidarity in justice what do we find? We find love.
17.            There is an interesting section in the Compendium that balances justice with love. (See #206-208). Justice is not enough to regulate social life. It needs a constant “correction”, a constant “re-doing”. What will correct justice? Love will correct justice (#206). The Compendium explains why, and the explanation is very fascinating.
18.            We can have laws in our society. But how can people be convinced of the justice of these laws if they do not love? People need to be invited to love. This may sound “corny” in discussions about society. But let us think about this for a while. Imagine going through the legal gestures of daily life because we are obliged. This is living in justice but without love. Imagine going through the legal gestures of daily life with the concern for the welfare of others; with love. It changes the picture, right? Justice on its own tends to be contractual. It needs love.

19.            Love or charity that interests itself with justice is “social political charity” (#208). This is the effort—or the will—to make sure that social institutions—structures and systems—are meant to improve people’s lives. It is also the effort to make sure that these structures eliminate whatever makes social members destitute and miserable. Let us quote the Compendium: “to make use of social mediations to improve his life or to remove social factors that cause his indigence” (#208). This is what makes the Compendium interesting. Charity—social political charity—is not just being nice to each other and kissing each other’s cheeks. It is also a matter of structural concerns. Social political charity wants effectives on an institutional level. It is a chastity that organizes social life so that social members do not fall into deprivation.     

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