Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flying Too Close to the Sun

I have been meaning to post on the moral issue of "probability" for some time. Since the blog is largely a conversation with myself, save for the loyal family member or unlucky visitor who happens to stray these portals, I don't feel guilty for indulging myself.

After William of Ockham set up reason as a kind of neutral arbiter which could operate, so to speak, from a skeptical void (since names are just conventions, and since we really only know what we think we know), moral theology moved definitively in the direction of laxness. The Jesuit order attempted to instill a counter-discipline, but it was perceived mostly as a hair-shirt. Since Ockham, Western man has moved in the direction of only having to give one, just one, good reason why a tradition, rule, law, or custom could be safely neglected, guilt-free.

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is ALWAYS at least ONE good reason to do anything, even the most heinous acts imaginable (at least the ones I can imagine). While this may have liberated the sensual and sensually-sunken material man to pursue experimentation and science (or "Progress & Reality", as the proponents like to call it in its purest and most unfettered state), and while great material goods have undoubtedly been produced (though the problem of equity and distribution is yet, I note, to be solved, with no end in sight), it also essentially gave a trump card for Reason against Religion: no religious argument, or even a real religion, or perhaps even any personal piety, can long survive the conviction that one good reason on the devil's side is sufficient to fore go the ancient path.

This has been extended, even, in Modern Times to include the idea that merely one tiny doubt on the other side of the ledger (the Faith, or debit side) can suffice to justify a wholesale write-off. Modern "religious" people complain about this lopsidedness, but the two developments are related, it would appear. Minimalism in ethics can lead to minimalism in dogmatics, as well.

A host of intellects have debated these issues, and it is one of the more interesting Counter Reformation topics that developed out of the late medieval nominalism. I'll note Alphonso Ligouri as one of the more interesting.


  1. You will, I hope, forgive my historical ignorance on this point and educate me... But I am unfamiliar with any rational thought process which proclaims that one "need only a single reason to justify a thing" nor how you find this connected to Occam's famous dictum.
    Nor have I observed this as a widespread fallacy in the world....

    I think I missed something, somewhere - If you might be so kind as to point it out.

  2. Nuallan, if you are still there...

    The answer to your question is that it isn't a rational thought process at all, just a modern "thought process" which to some extent infects the world we live in. I haven't searched it out, so to speak, but intuit it to be so. Generally, most modern people who argue with you pursue a "single exception" line of reasoning, with great vehemence. We can discuss more if you wish.

  3. Another way to look at it is this
    It's not that a single reason justifies something, but doubt, accompanied by a single reason, is sufficient to omit the performance of something we find stricturing or difficult

  4. "The Cherubinic Wanderer", 11 (I. 178):


    If gazing on the Sun endangereth thy sight,
    The blame is in thine eyes, and not in that great Light.}