June 23, 2013

Moral Compass: Relational

Welcome back to the third segment of a series that was originally intended to only have two segments. It got away from me, but only a little. Today, I'm going to take a more modest task, and merely attempt to talk about the next form of moral argumentation: the relational kind of argumentation.

Relational arguments are simple, like the ontological arguments are simple, and (I repeat) is also a valid form of finding the right answers to moral questions. Relational arguments assume the same Catholic worldview as a valid ontological argument, but, instead of looking at the ontological nature of the things being acted upon, relational arguments look at what kinds of people and things are involved, in relation to each other. For example, an ontological argument against abortion could be that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent baby. A relational argument might be that it is wrong for a mother to kill her child. Both are completely valid arguments, and both are compelling, but they are different. The first, the ontological, is concerned with the act defined by the circumstances: it is wrong (judgment) to kill (action) an innocent baby (the circumstances: in this case, WHO, ontologically, is being killed). A relational argument is different: it looks at the effect of an action on the relationships it affects, and judges that action according to the ideal state of that relationship. In the same case: it is wrong (judgment) for a mother (person, defined by her relationship) to kill (action) her child (second person defined by their relationship). In this argument, it is assumed that it is not ideal for mothers to kill their children: an ideal mother-child relationship, instead, would presumably be one of caring, nurturing, and heroic defense of physical and spiritual well-being. Killing the child, or having him killed by a doctor, violates the tenets of that ideal relationship, and thus is wrong.

A second example of a relational argument could be this: it is wrong for a husband to cheat on his wife because it would introduce dishonesty, mistrust, and unnecessary difficulty into their relationship. In other words, if he loved his wife, he would not do such a thing to her. This allows for two more observations about relational argumentation: first, that things which are judged wrong according to relational arguments are sins. Talking about relationships in order to make moral judgments is no less objective than talking about actions according to ontology. Relationships, after all, as John Paul II brilliantly explains in Love and Responsibility, are objective things. Each person subjectively experiences the relationship, and each does so differently, but the relationship itself can be looked at as something which exists outside of any of the people involved: because they are in communion with each other, an objective thing beyond any of them exists, an objective relationship which can be evaluated by the moral standard of what that relationship ought to be in its most Christian form.

This leads directly into the second point we can draw from the husband cheating example: the proper, and most perfect, judge for any relationship is charity, in the most theological and infused sense. Because charity is the crown of the virtues, and because it is responsible for correctly ordering our relationships directly according to our individual and communal relationship with God, charity is also the rule by which all relationships are judged. The Catholic husband who cheats on his Catholic wife, in a licit and valid marriage, sins principally against charity, while also sinning against chastity and trustworthiness, among other violated virtues. And thus, the relational argument against his cheating is essentially a comparison of this action with the action of a truly Catholic husband, on fire with the love of God, acting out of perfect charity towards his wife. It compares this practical marriage, which might be sinned against, against marriage as the Church sees that it ought to be, in the complete and holistic context of salvation and all of Christendom.

A few final notes about relational arguments. They also work in referring to our relationship with God. In this, it is helpful to view how Christ and how Mary treated God, because each of them exists as a perfect example of how a relationship with God should look. Similarly, in attempting to determine what a fully Catholic relationship should look like, it is helpful to look to the saints. The saints are those who acted rightly towards their brethren according to their relationship with God. How St. Therese of the Little Flower treated her ailing father is an example of what all children should do towards their parents. How St. Sebastian stood as an example to all of the men under his command is an example of how all officers should treat their soldiers. We are not alone in the Christian life, and have other shining examples of people to whom, not only can we look for guidance, we can also ask for intercession. It is fitting that, in making relational arguments, we have recourse to our mystical relationship with the entire Body of Christ, in the Church Militant as well as the Church Triumphant.

Anyway, more moral stuff to think on. The analogical form of argumentation is more difficult, so it will probably take me a little while to work through. I may post something else in the mean time.



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