Friday, June 15, 2007

Law and Morality

Concerning government and euthanasia.

Geoff said:
"Government is an instrument of force that exists to ensure that every individual respects the equal rights of every other individual in society."

and

"I think you can only legislate against something if it is a violation of another person's will or property."

I would be interested to hear how you connect these two statements. It seems to me that if the purpose of a government is to keep some from violating others' rights, and it can only do this if another person's will or property is violated, then people only have rights concerning property and what they desire. I don't want to put words in your mouth, however, so please clarify if this does not suffice.

It is true that law cannot change people's minds. Converting hearts is the ideal, and this the government cannot do, but it does have other (though lesser) duties. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae spoke on this. He said:
"Civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which--were it prohibited--would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals--even if they are the majority of the members of society--an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom."

I would like to emphasize the section in which he says even toleration of an evil cannot be legitimized as a right. This seems to directly contradict what you are saying. You say civil law can only interfere when a person's will is contradicted. However, John Paul II teaches that humans have certain inviolate rights from God that must be protected by law, that even the individual does not have the right to deny. Do you agree that men have such rights?

John Paul II continues:

"The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. This is clear once more from John XXIII's Encyclical:
'Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. . .'
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law. It might be objected that such is not the case in euthanasia, when it is requested with full awareness by the person involved. But any State which made such a request legitimate and authorized it to be carried out would be legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to the fundamental principles of absolute respect for life and of the protection of every innocent life. In this way the State contributes to lessening respect for life and opens the door to ways of acting which are destructive of trust in relations between people."

Government is a human institution, and thus is bound to follow and promote the natural law. It is true that it must decide how to prudently do this. You belittle an imposed morality, but I don't see why it is such a bad thing that the government tries to prevent people from commiting evil acts of a grave and harmful nature that contradict the natural law. (Please note the word "grave"--I am not saying the government should control everything.) Frankly, I think that it is a good thing even if the individual doesn't understand why, for two reasons: first, it stops a crime, and second because it will be easier for the person to develope a sense of morality if they are living in conformity with the natural law. Law is supposed to make people good. How can it do this if it contradicts the natural law?

3 comments:

Geoff said...

"It seems to me that if the purpose of a government is to keep some from violating others' rights, and it can only do this if another person's will or property is violated, then people only have rights concerning property and what they desire."

What right would you not desire to have, even if you chose not to exercise it?

We all have the right to life. But I do not always have a duty to defend it against an unjust aggressor. One always has a duty to God not to commit suicide or help someone else do the same. One does not owe that duty to the state.

John Paul II is dead on when he says "Civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee."

Insofar as there is a government, and insofar as it makes civil laws, it must guarantee these rights. You have the right to life. You have the right to self-defense. You have the right to have a family. The state can protect you from any violations of these rights. But the government cannot force you to exercise any of these rights.

As for the "duties" of the state, I cover that in another comment in a post above this one.

Law "makes" people good only insofar as it creates an environment in which people are free to practice virtue. A good law cannot impose virtue upon anyone, just as a bad statute cannot impose vice on anyone. Good laws are conducive to virtue, not coercive of virtue.

healthily sanguine said...

Geoff says, "One always has a duty to God not to commit suicide or help someone else do the same. One does not owe that duty to the state," which seems to separate by a strict differentiation the divine law and the civil law. On the other hand, it seems that Emily is presupposing a more comprehensive view of law, with law being ultimately one thing, the Law of God (or divine law), having different expressions in what we call the natural law and human (or civil) laws. In this paradigm, it seems that every good act is prescribed by law and every bad act is forbidden by law, because all law stems from the mind of God. The rights of God are supreme over all the rest. Now, we all agree that not every good thing should be prescribed by and not every bad thing should be forbidden by HUMAN laws, so then the question becomes a matter of prudence. In a very real sense, no one has the right to sin, because by sinning you are breaking God's law for the whole world. Nevertheless, it would be imprudent and wrong to outlaw every sinful act--but that does not change the fact that human, or state, law has the same end as divine law. It just has a different role in serving the same end. Still, the ultimate measure is the law of God--by no other standard can we create a society that will lead us to our true final end, happiness with God in heaven. The problem comes when you begin to look at a state as making laws entirely apart from the law of God (which is reason), and I see in another place your reason for doing this is a view of the State as unnatural. If I have the time, I will address this point in another post. For now, I would merely like to point out that if the state has any power whatsoever to make laws, it does not come from the consent of the ruled but from the authority granted it by God. Unless it has this authority, no law it creates can be just. Moreover, civil authority can only make just laws by making them in conformity with the natural law, as Emily stated. If what we care about most in the world is the souls of our neighbors, we will want our society to look as much like a society of God (a theocracy, as you put it) as possible. We will not want a "take it or leave it" approach to matters that intimately touch the good of the people in the society--even if it seems it is their choice to make. It is NOT a woman's right to murder her own baby, nor is it even her right to kill herself, because no one can have a right to do something that contradicts the law of God.

Geoff said...

Sylvia said:

"Geoff says, "One always has a duty to God not to commit suicide or help someone else do the same. One does not owe that duty to the state," which seems to separate by a strict differentiation the divine law and the civil law."

I was making a differentiation between God and the State. We have no duty to the state qua state. We have a duty to God, through the state, insofar as the state has laws in accord with right reason. (And not merely right reason in itself, but given the circumstances, as well. It may be reasonable to run into a burning building to save a child. There can be no law that requires it, however.)

Sylvia says, "Human, or state, law has the same end as divine law."

Yes, the same end: to help people to heaven. Divine law and state law do not have the same means. Divine law is written on the heart of every man. It exists interiorly to guide us in our actions. Civil laws are imposed on the exterior of man's heart: made so that there can be peaceful interaction between men, free from force, fraud and coercion. Period. In this free environment, the Church, teacher of the divine law, can freely pursue its ends.

Nobody has a right to kill themselves, or kill their baby (who cannot yet make a decision for itself.) Nobody has a right to sin, as you say.

But neither, you admit, should the state make a law prohibiting all sin. I propose a happy medium. Prohibit all tangible and manifest actions against that violate the property and will of human beings. The Church will then be free to do its job of convincing people through ideas and good example.