Theses on Reformed Natural Law

  1. There is an objective moral order to which we have cognitive access.
  2. Natural law is a participation, however indirectly, in the Divine Mind. (See this chart).
  3. Law is a rule and measure of acts directed towards the common good (Thomas, ST I-II, q.90).
  4. Politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life (Althusius).
  5. God willed that each need the service and aid of others in order that friendship would bind all together and no one would consider another to be valueless (Althusius).
  6. Ownership of a realm belongs to the estates and administration of it belongs to the king [or relevant executive figure] (Ibid).
  7. Human law is not identified with natural law. It is practical reason. Human law is directed towards particulars (Thomas, Ibid, q.91).
  8. Natural law is unchangeable in its first principles, but changeable in its proximate conclusions (Ibid, 94).
  9. Thomist natural law employed a grace perfects nature scheme. It is not clear if Reformed natural law needs such a scheme.
  10. Moral virtue of rendering to others their due (ST 2a 2ae. 57.1). It is a balance of equity.

More could be written, but that would make it unwieldy. Early natural law had the state punishing heretics. Is this part of the esse of natural law? Not necessarily. As noted in Thesis 8, punishing heretics is a proximate conclusion and not binding.

Faerie Queene Book V

Spenser, Edmund. Faerie Queene Book V.

This book is the allegory of Justice. It ends with a very concrete commentary on Elizabeth’s actions in Belgium and Ireland.

As Artegall embodies justice, so he fights the Giant, Equality.  Forced equality always makes people unequal.  

The “Florimell arc” is finally wrapped up.  She is to marry Marinell.  The Britomart/Artegall narrative is also furthered. This raises another problem.  Britomart embodies the virtue Chastity.  And Spenser makes it even more provocative as Britomart best embodies chastity by seeking conjugal wedlock.  Well and good.  Except every time Britomart and Artegall conclude a story arc, they avoid marriage by going on another adventure.  This is doubly complicated with Artegall as he goes on to Ireland (or Irena), which was both unnecessary for Elizabeth and for Artegall.

As is the case with Spenser’s other books, this has a temple featuring prominently at the end. Britomart goes to the Temple of Isis, which is odd since she is a Christian.

Criticisms

Spenser almost waited too long to complete the Florimell arc. That character arc had been pursued several times and the flow of Marinell’s story is moving towards the climax of the wedding.  False Florimell downplays the tension without actually releasing it. I understand that it allowed Artegall to expose Braggadocio, but Spenser almost did it too late in the narrative.

There is a fun chiasm in Canto 10.26:

“The Castle was the strength of all that state,
Until that state by strength was pulled downe.”

A. Strength
B. State
B’ State
A’ Strength

In This World of Wonders (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life of Learning.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019.

When someone who has mastered a discipline over fifty years speaks of his experiences in that discipline, and if said discipline also overlaps with your interests, you listen when he speaks–even when he is sometimes wrong. Wolterstorff is the model of how one should do rigorous philosophy.  He is clear and thorough and never pretentious.  

His “life on the farm” growing up (son of Dutch immigrants in rural Minnesota) has that familiar ring of many in the Depression era.  He grew up poor but never really thought about it. 

During his time at Calvin he tells of studying philosophy under the famous Harry Jellema. From Calvin he pursued philosophy at Harvard and wrote his dissertation on the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, to which he never returned.  That’s probably a good thing.  After Harvard he pursued various fellowships in England and the Netherlands. His description of Jellema is just too good:

He mentions a prank some students played at Calvin.  They got a local cow and led it up the stairs of a building.  Well, they could get the cow up the stairs, but they couldn’t get it down.  The janitors had to kill and dismember the cow.

The heart of his teaching career was at Calvin where he teamed up with Plantinga and others, culminating in the Reformed Epistemology project. After Calvin he taught at Yale.

He initially didn’t want to go back to Yale, but Hans Frei really pushed for him.  Frei warned the faculty that if they didn’t get someone like Wolterstorff, then some “d*mn process theologian would fill the position!”  Wolterstorff tells of how he had to teach a class on theological aesthetics.  Not knowing anything about it, he just used the previous professor’s syllabus and book readings.  There was a section on Hans urs von Balthasar and Wolterstorff’s first impression was “This is boring.”  Then he got to the part where Balthasar praised the “passive receptivity of the Virgin Mary.”  Wolterstorff cringed.  This won’t go over well with the feminists in the class.  It didn’t.  The next day the feminists started screaming at each other over Balthasar’s words!

His section concerning the death of his adult son Eric was quite powerful, as was the episode where he taught at a men’s prison.

It might seem bad form to analyze someone’s memoirs, yet Wolterstorff’s thought is so rich one can’t do otherwise. And while Wolterstorff is never as flighty as the current worldview Kuyperians–in many respects he is their polar opposite–one can see the seeds of dissolution early on. He described himself as a feminist from at least the 1970s, bemoaning “sexist language” in his earlier works.   His wife was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He also participated in liturgical reform in the CRC.  Oddly enough, he doesn’t mention his most recent support for same-sex unions.

He ends with a discussion of his recent books on justice and rights.  Here is where he differs from most Social Justice Warriors.  Wolterstorff can actually define the word justice without setting a trash can on fire. Further, most Christian social justice activists are disciples of O’Donovan and Hauerwas.  Wolterstorff is not.  He clearly rejects them.  I don’t think he is being fair to Oliver O’Donovan’s work, since O’Donovan is on the opposite end of Hauerwas.

Aristotle said justice is the equitable distribution of rights and benefits.  That doesn’t make much sense if we take a horrific case like abuse.  On that gloss abuse would be wrong because benefits weren’t distributed equally!  That just doesn’t seem right. A better take is from the Roman jurist Ulpian-we render to each person what is his natural ius, or right. Therefore, according to Wolterstorff, 

Despite all of that, the book has much value. Indeed, it is a literary masterpiece (something for which analytic philosophers aren’t always known).  You can’t help but be drawn into the narrative. It is that well-written.

Unto This Last and Other Writings

Ruskin, John.  Unto This Last and Other Writings

It’s a collection of his thoughts on architecture, social morality, and economics (which, ironically, the Soviets knew were all interconnected.  That is why Soviet life was so dismal).

Ruskin has some relevance in light of the Bat Soup Plague and the stimulus bill.   How do both value life and create an economy that will sustain it?

From the Introduction

Architecture and Ontology

  • the quality of architectural adornment is affected by the conditions of labour in which it is produced (Introduction, 17).
  • A certain type of architecture will arise from the conditions in that society.
    • From Renaissance came neo-classicism.  The ornament is subservient to the perfection of design.
    • Industrial Revolution: grotesque, mass-produced.

Economics

Specialization is arbitrary and unnatural.  It isolates the subject from its environment.    Three influences on Ruskin: Bible, Toryism, Romanticism.    Interestingly, state intervention was a right-ish phenomenon (cf the abolition of slavery under Wilberforce, a Tory).

Unto this Last

Rejects and questions Mill:  if society appears to benefit from materialism and selfishness, how is it that Mill is not recommending this?  Mill’s economic man is a complete abstraction. Mill didn’t think he actually existed, but served as a good model.  Ruskin said this is not how science should proceed. If he doesn’t exist, why bother using him as a model? 

What do value and justice actually mean?

value:  an object’s value is its power to support life.  It is intrinsic. 

Goal of essay: “to provide a logical definition of wealth” (Ruskin 161).  His second goal is to show that the acquisition of wealth is possible only under certain moral conditions of society, and he will explain those conditions.  

Essay 1: The Roots of Honour

Modern political economy (liberal capitalism) presumes a “negation of the soul” (169). God intended social dynamics to be regulated by justice, not expediency.

The problem of wages: Ruskin argues for regulating wages.  He says this is already the case for most of the labour on earth.  All labour ought to be paid “by an invariable standard” (173). He suggests that the good workmen will be paid and employed, whereas the bad workman will (necessarily?) be unemployed. He maintains one result will be a steady employment rate.  

Ruskin is aware of the problem of intermittent labour (think of the construction worker on the rainy day).  So he says such a worker should have higher wages, but also this would encourage the employer to seek stable levels of employment.

Says soldiers should be paid more because they risk dying (175). By contrast, a merchant is always presumed to act selfishly.  Ruskin wants to say that a true merchant will occasionally allow for voluntary loss–in the sense that if the choice were to arise between duty and profit, or showing grace to renters vs. profit, the true merchant–the honest one–will always accept the loss (177).

Ruskin brings home his point with unusual force.  He lists a series of professions whose job is to provide for the “common objects of love” (Augustine’s words, not his). 

  1. The Soldier’s profession is to defend it (i.e., common objects of love)
  2. The Pastor’s is to teach it.
  3. The physician’s is to keep it in health.
  4. The Lawyer’s is to enforce justice in it.
  5. The Merchant’s is to provide for it.

But in life we sometimes have to die for something:

  1. The soldier will die rather than leave his post in battle.
  2. The Physician, rather than leave his post in plague.
  3. The Pastor, rather than teach falsehood.
  4. The Lawyer, rather than countenance injustice.
  5. The Merchant–what is his “due occasion” of death?

But Ruskin does not disparage the merchant.  I know it is fashionable to blame all of the evils of the world on Protestantism, but the truth remains that the Protestant world was a merchant/burgher world–and it exploded in science, technology, and  medicine.  This wouldn’t be possible without the merchant class.

And Ruskin knows this.  And a merchant has a great opportunity for the commonweal.   A merchant can function as a father figure to youths coming under his responsibility (178ff).

Essay 1: Roots of Honor

Question:  what is justice?

  • The affection one man owes another (169).  Ruskin includes this in his definition of justice. Many cannot be quantified as a laborer.  He has a soul that is a stronger motive force.

The problem of wages.  He begins by correctly noting that the price of labor is regulated by the demand for it.  However, he asserts that the best labor “ought to be paid by an invariable standard” (173). Ruskin thinks this will prevent bad workmen from offering shoddy work at half price. I’m not so sure.  On the other hand, this shows exactly what happened with cheap foreign labor.

Practical Applications

  • a capitalist will not necessarily want wages so low (which would maximize proximal profit) if it meant a sickly and depressed work force (169). 

Essay II: Veins of Wealth

Political economy consists in the production, preservation, and distribution of useful or pleasurable things (181). Real wealth consists in substantial possessions and not in a claim upon labor, which Ruskin associates with the mercantile class.

Essay III: Qui Judicatis Terram

Definition of Justice, revisited: absolute exchange.  All of this is fine but how do we move from this definition to something like “just wages?”  Ruskin says that it consists in a sum of money “which will at any time procure for him at least as much labour as he has given” (196).  Labor, then, matches wages.

As it is, this doesn’t tell me anything.  From this I have no idea whether 10$ an hour is just or $20.  Ruskin continues: “The current coin or document is practically an order on the nation for so much work of any kind” (196).  That’s not unprecedented. It worked in Nazi Germany after 1933 (one of the few times in history socialism literally worked).  It almost worked in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

On the next page Ruskin comes very close to the “subjective-value theory.”  “There are few bargains in which the buyer can ascertain with anything like precision that the seller would have taken no less.”  This is correct. Economics demands knowledge of various moving parts. Ruskin, however, does not draw the Austrian conclusion. He says because of this lack of knowledge neither side will try to outwit the other.  

Conclusion of justice: diminish the wealth in one man’s hands through a chain of men.  This doesn’t necessarily mean communism. It simply points out if there are limits to the amount of wealth in one man’s hands, it automatically limits his power over their lives (199). Just payment must be diffused through “a descending series of offices or grades of labour.”

Essay IV: Ad Valorum

Ruskin now tries to tie together his economic theory where it concerns value, prices, etc.  Unlike economists of his time (Smith and Marx), Ruskin does not go for a full objective theory of value.  There is a value to the object, to be sure, but Ruskin avoids Marx’s crude mistake. The value is in the use of the object (206). Midway through the essay Ruskin breaks free from these lines of thought altogether: “A truly valuable thing is that which leads to life with its whole strength” (209). We must desire things that lead to life.

Ruskin has subtly but brilliantly changed the definition of wealth.  It is no longer what we “have” but what we can use (210). But this only works when it is in the hands of those capable of using.  This leads to his famous saying, “Wealth is the possession of the valuable by the valiant” (211).

The book ends with some final essays which contain useful advice:

“All good architecture is the expression of national life and character” (233).

“The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things” (234).  I never thought discipleship and architecture would be interwoven like this, but they are. As James K. A. Smith points out, the shopping mall is modeled after a cathedral and it has its own liturgies.  When you are in a shopping mall, it is discipling you.

“True kingship consists in a stronger moral state, and a truer thoughtful state than that of others” (253).

Fors Clavigera

Ruskin’s letters are interesting.  His mother made him memorize Deut. 32, Psalm 119, the Sermon on the Mount, most of Revelation, and 1 Cor. 15  (307). He learned his Toryism from Walter Scott.

Job NIVAC (Walton)

Walton, John H. Job The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Walton does theology by avoiding easy, cliched answers. It pays off in his commentary on Job. Although he is criticized for reading Ancient Near Eastern culture into the biblical text, Walton doesn’t actually do that. He goes to great pains to show how Job is different from ANE (Walton pp.33-37).

Ancient Near Eastern thought believed in “The Great Symbiosis.” We provide sacrifices for the gods and in return they protect us. If bad things happen to us, it’s probably because either a) that’s just how the cosmos is, or b) we made a ritual faux pas. Walton points out that the justice of a particular god is irrelevant. A god might be interested in promoting justice in a city, but ancient man had no reason to believe that the god himself is just.

This places “Satan’s” challenge in a new context. If the Great Symbiosis is true, and there is a strict “Retributive Principle” at work, then Satan is right. If Job even concedes that the evil has come as a result of Job’s sin, and in doing so expects God to restore the balance, the Challenger wins. By the end of the book we are affirmed in believing that God is just. The point of the book, however, is that wisdom, not justice, should be the epistemological foundation. We see God’s wisdom in the cosmos.

This book is unique among the NIVAC set in that Walton allows one of his former students to tell her story concerning a crippling nerve injury she had. It reads like a novel. Walton ends with some moving meditations about God’s will and suffering.

The ancient world believed the cosmos was ordered. However, within this ordered cosmos are spheres of disorder. Eden was an ordered cosmos, but not so the area outside Eden.

We do not always see God’s justice. The book of Job, however, promises us God’s wisdom. As Walton notes, “God has ordered the cosmos by his wisdom; justice is one of his attributes, but the cosmos do not always mirror his justice. Wisdom is at the heart of order” (Walton 411).

Chapter 1

Who are the “sons of God?” Walton correctly identifies the bene elohim as divine council members (64). They are not angels. Angels have a messenger function, whereas these have an administrative function.

Who is Satan? This is tricky. While Walton offers a lucid commentary on the morphology of the term, he muddies the waters by bringing in passages from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Let’s say for the sake of argument this is the “devil.” You could never make that case from Job 1. This “challenger” isn’t cast out from heaven. Nothing he says is evil (in fact, he makes a good case against the pagan ANE mindset of the time). All of that is true.

Walton, however, goes out of his way to prove that the “devil-figure” can’t be placed in the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. This is irrelevant. I think he is wrong, but he does make a good case that since Ezekiel calls him “a cherub,” he can’t be the Serpent of Eden. That’s true. If anything, the Nachash would have been a seraph.

Some notes

4:15 is a reference to Zaqiq, the dream god (157). This would explain why when talking of the wind, Eliphaz mentions “a form before him.”

9:5-9 gives a beautiful description of cosmic geography. We have reference to the ‘pillars of the earth,’ implying a flat disc. The stars are “sealed” away (v. 7).

19. When Job asks for a mediator, does he mean Christ? Probably not. Job wanted a mediator to prove his innocence. Christ mediates for us precisely because we aren’t innocent!

25:5-6: The Realm of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are either the royal dead or quasi-demonic beings (or both). While they live in the underworld, Job identifies one of the access points as “beneath the waters.” Walton suggests that the language is the “cosmic waters,” rather than regular ocean water (250). This makes sense, otherwise we could access Sheol via submarine.

Walton correctly notes that eres can mean underworld in several locations (1 Sam. 28:13Job 10:21-22Eccl. 3.21Isaiah 26:19Jonah 2.6). Netherworld works instead of “earth” because it would be the opposite of the “heights of Zaphon.”

28:11: Sources of the Rivers. In Ugaritic literature the high god El dwells “at the source of the rivers” (Walton 286). Genesis 2 speaks of the origin of the four rivers coming from a sacred space (Eden). The origin of wisdom, then, is a cosmic mystery. There are several personifications in this passage:

  • Deep (tehom)
  • Sea (Yamm)
  • Abbadon (Destruction; Gk. Apollyon, personified as an evil Angel in Revelation 9). While Abbadon could be an evil entity, we need to be careful about reading later demonology into this passage.
  • Death

Nota Bene: Elihu mentions the spirit of God. We should be careful not to read a full Nicene theology into that phrase. For Elihu (and much of the Old Testament) the spirit of God is seen more as an extension of God’s presence than a separate person (though, of course, it is not contradictory to the later idea of the Spirit’s being a distinct person). Further, the spirit of man is “on loan” from God (Walton 376).

City of God, Book 19

cropped-ghent1.jpg

From Bonds of Imperfection

A thing’s end is its perfection.  The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.  

Book 2 flashback:  traditional Roman teaching had no inherent tradition of moral teaching.  

res publica:  

true right (ius) implies obedience to the true God; for right-ness (iustitia) “is the virtue that assigns everyone his due, and there can be no rightness when the worship owed to the Creator is offered instead to unclean demons” (53).  

The whole of Book 19 can be summarized along three points:

  1. An eschatological claim:  the supreme good is perfect peace (19.11-12)
  2. A negative conclusion:  relative to the perfect peace, our life is most unhappy.
  3. A qualification of this negative conclusion:  we can have relative happiness if we make our life a means to the summum bonum.

Communis Usus

  • each city has its own end.
  • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends.  The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17:  the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household

Consensus of Wills

But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time?  For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end.  There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

Ius and Iustitia

Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21).  There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56).  Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.  

If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16).  This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs).  

O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium).  I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa.  Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward. 

(10) ?

(9)  peace of the heavenly city

(8) peace of the city

(7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

(6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

(5) peace with God

(4) Body-soul union

(3) rational soul

(2) irrational passions

  1. Body

The relation between peace and order is one of definition.  The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

Household (Domus)

It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands.  Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility.  Augustine does not try to “transform” society.  It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way.  Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).  

 

Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy Continued

It isn’t fair to criticize this book for not having the same impact that Willard’s earlier books did.  Much of it was published posthumously while other relevant parts simply echoed “worldview concerns.” Good stuff, no doubt, but no different than what Charles Colson said years ago. Nonetheless, there are key areas that shed light for the Christian thinker today.

The thesis of the book follows the title: continuing the Divine Conspiracy by applying Christian knowledge in the marketplace.  Unlike other worldview, “let’s reclaim culture” books, this one actually engages in epistemology.

Any kind of public theology or ministry follows from Plato’s insights on the City. It is the division of labor.  Not everyone in the city can be a “jack-of-all trades.” Public leadership, therefore, recognizes that we divide our labors in the pursuit of goods (51).

Moral Theory

  1. A right action is one that is not wrong (94ff).
    2. An action is right if it is the kind of action a good person would do.
  2. A morally good person cultivates understanding of the various “goods.”

What are goods? “These are things and qualities that represent, illustrate, and point us to what the Good is like” (102).  Goods are “noble and virtuous ways of acting and being in both individual and communal life.”

Knowledge: “the capacity to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (139). Knowledge gives one authority to speak in an area.

“Take-home points”

*We are participants in God’s grace, not merely passive recipients.  Willard, though not Reformed, isn’t saying this in a “see my good works for salvation” sense.  We are coworking with God in his programme for the world (21).

*Shalom: the enduring, “encompassing experience and expectation of restful, secure, holistic wellbeing” (30).

Justice: simply, the greater good (Plato). It is shown and understood by the consequences of its presence (49).

“I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”

~Captain Nathan Hale, 1776

 

Hobbes: Leviathan

Leviathan

In the beginning of his treatise Hobbes stays very close to the “Received Tradition.” He does make some troubling moves, though, and quite subtlely. He rejects the idea of a “Summum Bonum.” His definition of natural law leaves out any reference to the eternal law or the mind of God. He views liberty as a zero-sum game.

Key themes:

Anthropology: Hobbes begins with anthropology, and his politics are logical inferences from it. Hobbes defines a “Body” as that which occupies space. Substance is matter, synonymous with body. The soul is simply the body living. He specifically rejects the idea that the soul is distinct from the body (639). Hobbes has defined man in purely material terms.

Not surprisingly, Hobbes rejects free agency. Liberty and necessity are the same thing: what a man does he freely does. Yet every act of man has a desire, and so a cause. And from that another cause, all the way back to the First Cause. This appears to be Jonathan Edwards’ view as well.

Social Contract: before the institution of the commonwealth, every man had a right to everything and by any means to preserve his own (354). This means that the State can never make an unjust law.
P1: Justice is when two agree to an exchange (if you didn’t agree, you wouldn’t do the exchange).
P2: You agreed to invest the state with authority (social contract).
________________
Therefore, any law the state makes automatically has your agreement.

Zero-Sum ethics: Hobbes holds that what is mine cannot be yours; if the state has liberty, then the subject to that degree cannot. Since there is no summum bonum, there can be no sharing in the ultimate good. This, plain and simple, is the economics of Hell. Hobbes is not a pure capitalist, though. He argues elsewhere against private charity and for state welfare (387).

Religious Persecution

Hobbes argues that religious persecution is impossible, since 1) the state can’t do wrong, and 2) only martyrs can be persecuted. Further (2a) a person can only be a martyr if they have seen the risen Jesus, which rules out everyone after the Apostle John. Therefore, no one today can be a martyr. Keep in mind that thousands of Scottish Covenanters were being butchered on the basis of Hobbes’ argument. This reminds me of a time at RTS when a local Reformed pastor came in the book store and told me that he held to Hobbes’s view of the state. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to end up in a FEMA camp.

Critique

My critique will follow Dabney’s (The Sensualistic Philosophy, pp. 15-20). Hobbes has to pay a high price for his materialism. If everything reduces to sensation, then whence come numbers, mind, any correspondence between my mind and the external world, all a priori judgments, logic, and abstract entities?

If everything is sensation, then what unites the sensations? (Hume’s famous line “a bundle of sensations”) Hobbes would have to answer yet another sensation. But what unites that sensation to the previous sensations? Ad infinitum. If Hobbes bites the bullet and rejects the need for a unity, then he needs to give up concepts like identity (and probably the concept of “concept” itself). This is the fatal consequence in rejecting philosophical realism. Hobbes is split between the One and the Many. His power-state collapses everything into the One, yet his nominalism reduces everything to an aggregate of an unconnected Many.

Conclusion

I give the book 1 star for its demonic content and 5 stars for its influence. Indeed, rebutting Hobbes is like casting down demonic strongholds (2 Corinthians 10). It’s fairly easy to read and there is no mistaking its influence (the “Father of Political Science”)

Aristotle: Nichomachean Ethics

Image result for nicomachean ethics

There are too many classic discussions in this book for it to be ignored.  Especially in the chaos of the Social Justice movement, any rigorous discussion of justice is to be welcomed.  That’s not to say that all of Aristotle’s conclusions are good, but the discussion itself is excellent.

There is Aristotle’s famous line that all human activity aims at some end.  This leads us to ask, “What is the good?” He correctly rebuts Plato’s idea that Knowing the Good makes me better at what I am doing.   The one simply doesn’t follow the other.

Specifically, human good is the function of the soul in accordance with virtue.  Further, a good life will aim at happiness (eudamion).  Happiness is a good life and good actions.

Choosing the mean

The good action will be the mean between two extremes.   The problem with this, as Aristotle seems aware, is that it doesn’t apply to some actions.   Aristotle says a just man acts justly. Okay, that tells me how he acts; it doesn’t tell me what justice is.

Book I

The good is that at which all things aim.  The supreme good is eudaimion (unhappily–sorry for the pun–translated as “happiness”).  Happiness is living well and doing well (1095a). But where is happiness located? Not in the Forms, contra Plato, but in an activity of the soul.

Book 2

Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.  Contra the later Christian tradition, virtues do not arise by nature in us (1103a).  Virtues are modes of choice located in the intermediate between two extremes. The intermediate is between excess and defect.

Book 3

A compulsory action is when the cause of the action is external and the agent contributes nothing.  Anything that is done by reason of ignorance is not voluntary. A voluntary action is when the moving principle is within the agent.

Temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures. It only applies to the irrational (bodily) parts.

Book 4

Liberality and Wealth

Definition of wealth: “all the things whose value is measured by money” (1119 b25).

Justice is complete virtue in relation to others.   There is general and particular justice. Particular justice concerns transactions.  It is an intermediate that implies equality between two. Therefore, justice has four terms: the two people and the two objects.  Therefore, the just is a species of the proportionate. As it is an equality of ratios, it involves four terms (1131 a30).

Rectifying justice: distributes common possessions in proportion. The goal is to restore equality.  What does “equal” mean? It is the intermediate between greater and lesser (1132 a15). Imagine a dotted line of unequal parts.  The judge takes away that which makes them unequal.

Money: there must be reciprocity in exchange (1133 a30).  Money acts as a measure.

Aristotle says that there must be a proportional reciprocity in a just exchange.  But this begs the question: who would knowingly enter into an unjust exchange? In which case, all that can be condemned is simply fraud.

Murray Rothbard summarizes the issues in Book 5:

Aristotle’s famous discussion of reciprocity in exchange in Book V of his Nichomachean Ethics is a prime example of descent into gibberish. Aristotle talks of a builder exchanging a house for the shoes produced by a shoemaker. He then writes: ‘The number of shoes exchanged for a house must therefore correspond to the ratio of builder to shoemaker. For if this be not so, there will be no exchange and no intercourse’. Eh? How can there possibly be a ratio of ‘builder’ to ‘shoemaker’? Much less an equating of that ratio to shoes/houses? In what units can men like builders and shoemakers be expressed?

The correct answer is that there is no meaning, and that this particular exercise should be dismissed as an unfortunate example of Pythagorean quantophrenia (Rothbard, Austrian Perspective on Economic History Before Adam Smith, 17).

Aristotle argues that there must be an equal ratio between the two objects in the exchange, but this is impossible to determine with dissimilar objects.  It is precisely because they are dissimilar that persons A and B do not view them as equal.

Book 8

His take on friendship is interesting.  It was later perfected by the Christian doctrine of koinonia.

Aristotle’s Politics

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I’ll put my cards on the table.  I actively dislike Greek philosophy.  I will be fair and admit that Aristotle is a fairly good communicator, and despite his worldview, he stumbles across the truth every now and then.  And while he never really gets to a coherent statement on justice, he’s important to read on that point.  Given that many “woke” evangelicals are talking about social justice (but never defining it), Aristotle is at least a starting point.

(1) Every community is established with an aim to some good.

Aristotle begins with the most basic social unit and moves outward (family, village, city).

1.1 If the family is natural, and the movements outward are natural, then the state is a natural unity.

The Art of Getting Wealth

Legitimate economics: managing a household

“Retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth” (1.9.17).  This is important and will doom his entire project.

Usury: makes a gain out of money itself.  The proper use of money is exchange, not to grow money from money.

I used to hold to that argument. I’m not so sure anymore. It only works if we view value as something objective.  But value is anything but objective.  The whole point of an exchange is that we don’t place equal value on the object.

What is a state? Who is the citizen?  He notes that a citizen under one government might not be one under another. For the sake of argument he will assume democracy.  A citizen is the holder of a definite office, who legislates and judges, etc. (Book 3 ch. 1). A citizen shares in rulership. This is actually a pretty good definition, though it works better on smaller levels.

The chief end of a state is the well-being of the citizens

Justice: implies a relation to persons as well as things; a just distribution (Book 3; chapter 9).  He realizes this discussion is inadequate 9 pages later: “equality or inequality of what?” He hints that what is “just” or equal will be to the advantage of the common good.

Book 4

His famous discussion of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy.  And their perversions. He defines democracy as the form of govt where the free are rulers (IV.4).  He comes to a surprising and welcome conclusion: the best society is the one with a large middle class.  This comes very close to a biblical worldview. It is not a biblical worldview, however, for Aristotle despises things like retail trade.  But a society with a large middle class is one that understands the value of time, risk, and planning. In other words, it presupposes the doctrine of providence.  Aristotle, however, doesn’t really get this, nor could he.

This is why we should not go to Aristotle for economic wisdom.  For the godly man, time is not evil.  It is limited and under the curse, but it also provides the conditions for planning for the future and building wealth.

Book VII

This book begins on a chilling note: what are the most eligible forms of life?  This sounds a lot like the death camps we would have seen under the worst acts of the Affordable Care Act.  This is also good Greek philosophy.

Before we examine why Aristotle thought it was good to kill some of the babies, we need to see why he said it.  He didn’t believe an overly-populated city was a good thing. That’s a half-truth. Many large cities today aren’t very nice places.  He probably couldn’t see past the city-state idea. You can have many people in a country if you have lots of smaller cities. That’s one example.

With this background, his following comments, while evil, cohere with his system.  This is his argument:

(1) To the size of states there is a limit (1326a 35).

(2) The legislator must mold to his will the frames of newly-born children (1335a 5)

(3) As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but that on the ground of an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of this state forbid this (for in our state population has a limit), no child is to be exposed, but when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun (1335b 20-25).

Is it really necessary to refute this?  Where to start? I’ll leave with an observation: given Aristotle’s anti-market views, his state population would always be extremely limited. That made abortion a pressing reality.  Therefore, his bad economics upheld his pro-choice mentality.