Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: Intellect and Will - The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy
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CHAPTER IX: Intellect and Will - Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy 
The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, trans. Thomas R. Hanley. Introduction and Bibliography by Russell Hittinger (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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Intellect and Will
The order perceived by reflective thought is not, however, a rigid, static order of motionless things. It is not external compulsion, a clocklike mechanism which, once wound, runs according to mechanical laws. The order conforms to the natures of the things. It is indeed an order of necessity for inanimate as well as for living but irrational creatures. But it is an order of freedom, a moral order, for beings endowed with reason and free will. Therefore, so far as man perceives that he is a creature possessed of free will who is not subject to blind necessity but to the law of freedom, he also perceives that this order, in accordance with God’s will, ought to be. The ontological order becomes, in relation to man endowed with free will, the moral order. The order of being confronting the intelligence becomes the order of oughtness for the will. Since, therefore, from knowledge of the essences of things the order is perceived as established by God in conformity with His essence, this order necessarily appears to the will of the rational and free creature as likewise an order to be attained and preserved and as a norm of the finite will. But this order is naturally and really “given.” It is not projected by human reason, in keeping with subjective, regulative forms, into an external world which in itself is unrecognizable as order. It is objective order, independent both of our thought and of its being thought of here and now.
In its essence this order is established by God’s wisdom; in its existence it has proceeded from God’s will. In its meaning and end it is again directed to God, the highest end. Teleologically also there is but the one order, because being is both true and good.
The law of order, then, does not lie in the bare, positively promulgated will of God, but in the nature of things as God’s wisdom ordains them. The order of being can be a moral order only if its essential basis is God’s wisdom, only if in God the intellect is, humanly speaking, the nobler faculty. Otherwise we could never derive a norm from the essential order of the world, but solely from the revealed will of God.
It has already been shown how in moral philosophy this thesis of the will as the nobler faculty led, and had to lead, through Duns Scotus to Occam, i.e., to the most one-sided moral positivism, for the doctrine of the will as the nobler faculty is itself the root of nominalism. But nominalism, directed only to the individual, particular thisness, to the existence which is related to the will, arrives in its extreme forms at the denial of the clear and distinct knowability of the essences of things, of the essence which is related to the intellect. The universals are but vocal utterances. Reality, since in its quiddity it is not unmistakably knowable for us, is likewise not the measure of our knowledge. The order of being cannot of itself become a norm of the will; the absolute, omnipotent will of the Supreme Being can alone become that.
The entire doctrine of the eternal law and natural moral law is undermined by such a view. Just as the theory of will in municipal and international law cannot admit a law beyond the positive one (or, more precisely stated, beyond the factual will as a persisting act), so Occam, for instance, could not admit a morality that does not have its first, proximate, and sole norm in omnipotent will, in the absolute power of God. If, then, the idea of God and therewith the supreme personal will are lost to sight or rejected, nothing is left as the source of norms but the concrete will of the earthly lawmaker. Or, as in the case of Spinoza, the deep impulses of nature (here taken as contrasted with mind) are regarded as the natural norm. The biological as well as materialistic ethical systems and theories of law have here their roots.
From this it follows that the doctrine of the priority of the intellect over the will in God as well as in man is a prerequisite of the possibility of a natural moral law and hence of the natural law in the narrower sense. It is significant that traditionalism is congenial both to the historical school of law and to the conservative thinking of Donoso Cortes, De Maistre, and A. von Haller, a consequence of the deep feeling against rationalism. The principles of morality, it appeared to them, are not to be discovered in being. They are a positive revelation, a primordial revelation, mysteriously handed down through the centuries and millennia in the hearts of men.
The objective, the real, is the measure of knowledge. The order subsisting in reality is perceived by man. At first it is known in a speculative, purely intuitive way. Reason is thus for a long while absorbent, receptive. But man is not only pure reason; as a free agent and part of the order, he is himself called to realize it. As reason turns from pure, merely receptive knowledge, from the idea as end, to existent being, it becomes practical reason which is directed to doing and making. Being is perceived as oughtness; the idea is perceived as goal and norm of making and doing. Realistic metaphysics sets out from artistic activity as a model as it does also from self-consciousness, from man’s self-knowledge. Man does not act blindly. There are not two reasons in man. On the contrary, the rational soul, while it apprehends being as truth, directs the known truth to action. The position that the practical reason is the extension of the theoretical reason corresponds to the position that moral philosophy, the science of moral action, is an extension of metaphysics, the science of being. The speculative intellect becomes practical. First the theoretical reason knows, and the real exists prior to it. The known truth thereupon appears to practical reason as truth to be accomplished through the will.1
In this priority of the real or of being over knowing, and of knowledge over willing, lies the basis of the possibility of a natural moral law. The structure of moral action is built up from the knowledge, through the theoretical reason, of the idea as goal of the being by way of the recognition, through the practical reason, of this being as a good. This good is then proposed to the will as something to be striven for.
Knowable being is the principle of oughtness. The supreme principle of oughtness is simply this: Become your essential being. For the rational, free nature of man this signifies: Act in accordance with reason; bring your essential being to completion; fulfill the order of being which you confront as a free creature.2 The order of all being has its principle in God: as order of essences in God’s essence, as created existing order in God’s will. The essences of things, as first creatively conceived by God’s intellect, are, once established, unalterable.3
This order of the world is the eternal law. The purposiveness of things, their continual pursuit of their ends, which reveals the order, points to the supreme Lawgiver. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the exemplar of divine wisdom, as directing all actions (of rational creatures) and all movements (of irrational creatures) to their due end.4 Or as St. Augustine had defined it, “the eternal law is the divine order or will of God, which requires the preservation of natural order, and forbids the breach of it.”5 But order results from the steady pursuit of their ends on the part of the various natures, from the natural activities implanted in things by God in conformity with the natures of the things. “All things partake in some way of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”6 But they participate in it in keeping with their natures: the unfree, irrational creatures in an unfree manner, blindly obeying the compulsion of their nature; the rational, free beings in the freedom of oughtness. The order of the world is an order of absolute necessity for unfree creatures, but it is an order of oughtness, a moral order, for rational and free beings. In the former case the eternal law is a law of necessity; in the latter, it is a moral law of freedom.7
The natural moral law is therefore the eternal law for rational, free beings. The ontological law becomes a moral law; the order of being becomes an order of oughtness. The natural moral law may be defined8 as “the light of reason inherent in us by nature, through which we perceive what we ought to do and avoid; or also: the knowledge, communicated to us by the Creator through nature, that we must strictly observe in our conduct the order which corresponds to our nature.”9
[1.]“It is at this juncture then that moral philosophy assumes its specific role, linking action to being, doing to thinking, ethics to metaphysics, and posing the all-important question as to how rational animals can guide themselves to their proper ends. And if … all activities, including all human acts, flow from the natures of created beings, then it is the order of being and reality which establishes an unshakable norm for the order of action or the moral order. And it is that same order of reality which exacts sanction and retribution whenever its laws are violated in the sphere of human action.
[2.]In other words, man’s basic and prime duty is to become (in fact, actually, fully, completely) what he is (in idea, potentially, germinally, essentially) through the consistent and persistent use of his reason and free will in the light and direction of his natural inclinations.
[3.]The primary norm of the natural moral law, “Do good and avoid evil” (i.e., act for your rational end in conformity with your total nature), must be understood and applied in the light of human nature adequately considered, i.e., in terms of man’s individual and social constitution, ends, and essential relations. Indeed this intrinsic finality of human nature is the proximate criterion for determining effectively not only the good or perfection proper to individual men but also the common good of humanity as such. Now the finality of human nature necessarily expresses itself in man’s natural inclinations or tendencies in which reason discerns the proper ends of all human acts. But these natural inclinations are themselves essentially bound up with man’s natural faculties and their proper objects or ends. Hence the natural law generally obliges man to order each of his faculties, in each of their operations, in conformity not merely with the finality of the unitary whole which is man or of the common good, but also with the intrinsic finalities of the single faculties themselves according to the hierarchy of values discoverable by reason. As St. Thomas puts the matter, “it is good for everything that it obtain its end: and its evil is that it turn from its end. This applies to the parts as well as to the whole: so that man’s every part, even as his every act, should attain to its due end” (Summa contra Gentiles, Bk. III, chap. 122). Natural morality, based on intrinsic finality in the first place, consequently demands that no single faculty or operative power of man be used except in consonance with its finalization adequately understood. That is, the natural law prescribes not only the end or ends to be achieved by man as his good but also the specific means thereto, i.e., the proper exercise of his faculties. For reason constrains us to view in the hierarchically ordered faculties of man and their proper exercise, adequately considered, the means judged best by the Author of both the finality and the law for the attainment of His purposes in regard to man. Hence the moral law per se forbids the perverse use of a human faculty, i.e., a use of the faculty plus the positive frustration of its direct and necessary effect or, again, a use which involves the positive and direct frustration of the very good to which the faculty is intrinsically ordained. This is so because the ends or objects of the natural inclinations or appetites to which the faculties are related constitute the primary criterion of man’s moral judgments. This criterion, however, is not applicable in all cases with the same ease and accuracy, nor is it the sole criterion of moral good and evil; it is of the greatest service in connection with the most fundamental problems of ethics. Nevertheless, as man may, for sufficient reasons, completely subordinate the intrinsic finality of an animal organism or faculty to his own good (e.g., in scientific experiments or artificial breeding) without being guilty of really abusing or frustrating the animal’s nature viewed adequately, so, too, a person may, for proportionately serious reasons and within reasonable limits, in any way utilize, exercise, or sacrifice, without incurring the note of real abuse or frustration, a lower human faculty or organ for the good of the individual as a whole or of another person. For every faculty in man “has its own end or object, but is subordinate to the wider faculty which contains it and to the whole organism, since the end of the whole organism includes the end of each part” (Michael Cronin, The Science of Ethics, I, 138). But it would be utterly contrary to the order of man’s rational and social nature itself for a person directly to frustrate in their very use the intrinsic good of his rational faculties and especially those faculties whose end or function is primarily social and directed to the common good (speech and sex), even at behest of the public authorities; yet induced temporary suspension of a rational faculty for a sufficient reason would not constitute frustration. In certain instances, moreover, faculties appear to be used outside rather than against their proper finalization, inasmuch as no loss of a good seems to be involved in such use. Cf. St. Thomas, loc. cit.; Michael Cronin, op. cit., I, 127–74; John A. Ryan, The Norm of Morality Defined and Applied to Particular Actions (Washington, D.C., 1944); especially James B. Sullivan, O.M.I., The Principle of Finality and the Problem of Contraception, unpublished dissertation of the University of Ottawa (1943), chapter 3.
[4.]Cf. St. Thomas, Summa theologica, Ia IIae, q.93, a.1. As St. Thomas likewise observes (ibid., q.93, a.5 ad 1), “the impression of an inward active principle is to natural things what the promulgation of law is to men; because law, by being promulgated, imprints on man a directive principle of human action.”
[5.]Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, XXII, 27 (trans. R. Stothert). Elsewhere St. Augustine more loosely states that the eternal law “ea est qua iustum est ut omnia sint ordinatissima.” De libero arbitrio, I, vi, 15.
[6.]St. Thomas, op. cit., Ia IIae, q.91, a.2.
[7.]“No theistic and teleological system of philosophy that acknowledges an intelligent supreme Being can omit the concept of a supreme and eternal law” (Hans Meyer, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 463). Man’s general obligation, then, is to live according to right order adequately considered. The natural law does not merely command us to avoid whatever may harm ourselves, our fellows, or society; it commands us rather to observe the natural order of things, imposed upon us by the Author of nature as means to the end, lest such harm ensue. Indeed, we are not bound by the natural law to attain certain ends so much as we are bound by it to observe the order of nature as the means to their attainment. Since, therefore, it is not so much the immediate and proximate duty of man to attain the various ends of his nature as it is to observe the order itself which has been established for the sake of such ends, a person may not consider himself no longer bound to observe the natural order simply because some end is in a given case accidentally unattainable. God does not, by means of the natural law, impose obligations upon human nature through the individuals who share in it; He rather imposes obligations upon individual men through their human nature itself. Take, for example, the case of fornication on the part of a man or woman who has been sterilized, or the case of two parties who solemnly and sincerely bind themselves to take good care of any offspring that may result from their illicit relations. Does the natural-law prohibition of fornication lose its force or become unmeaning in the premises? Not at all. The natural law does not merely enjoin the due multiplication of men upon earth and the proper education of offspring; it rather obliges men to observe the order of rational nature, namely, the orderly and controlled satisfaction of their sex cravings in the marriage union alone, which has been instituted precisely for the attainment of these important ends. Hence any violation of that order viewed adequately, no matter what the results may be, is already an infringement of the natural law, a sin against the end of nature to which man is intrinsically ordered. And a substantial violation of the essential order of things constitutes a serious infringement of the natural law, a grave sin—which occurs in all extramarital use of the sex function as well as in certain marital abuses, for complete and unconditional restriction of human sexual activity to natural use in lawful wedlock is, especially but not solely in view of the disastrous operation of the wedge principle in sexual matters, absolutely required for individual and social well-being. Yet it must be frankly admitted that it is far from easy always to discriminate in the light of reason alone, in a very complex situation or very complicated set of circumstances, between what the natural order of things strictly requires, what the natural law precisely forbids, and what it permits as a genuine aid or supplement to nature itself adequately considered, i.e., in its constitution, end, and essential relationships. In such cases even the most intelligent, upright, and balanced moralists can and do disagree. Certain borderline cases have defied, and perhaps will continue to defy, clear and certain rational solution.
[8.]Or, in the clear words of Hans Meyer (The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 466), the natural law is “the complexus of all those prescriptions which flow from human nature, which are directed to the fulfillment of man’s ultimate end, which are known by the light of reason, and which appear in the consciousness of man armed with a claim to absolute obedience.” According to Jacques Maritain, “natural law is the ensemble of things to do and not to do which follow” from the principle that we must do good and avoid evil “in necessary fashion, and from the simple fact that man is man, nothing else being taken into account” (The Rights of Man and Natural Law, p. 63). Natural law, says J. P. Steffes, comprises “all those binding norms which are valid for the whole of mankind on the basis of nature itself and not just in consequence of the authoritative expression of some will or other, which may however be added to finished nature, whether on the part of God or man” (“Das Naturrecht im Rahmen einer Religionsphilosophischen Weltbetrachtung,” Philosophia Perennis, II, 1020). The essence of the natural moral law consists in three elements taken in some way collectively: man’s natural inclinations, the light of reason with which he is endowed, and the resultant dictate or proposition of reason; more precisely, however, it consists in the third element, the dictate of practical reason. “Like all other animals, man has natural inclinations; unlike all others he has the faculty of reason which recognizes these natural inclinations naturally; and the result of these two is a natural dictate or command of reason. … Separately the inclinations of man or the light of reason do not at all answer to the description of law; separately the dictate of reason does not answer to the qualifications of the natural, for it is not born in us. With the three elements taken together all difficulties about the Natural Moral Law vanish. This dictate is natural, necessary as flowing immediately and inevitably from the two preceding elements, dependent upon them.” (Walter Farrell, O.P., A Companion to the Summa, II, 379 f.). Cf. also: The Natural Moral Law According to St. Thomas and Suarez, pp. 82 ff.
[9.]Viktor Cathrein, S.J., op. cit., I, 344 f.