Human flourishing

Before he was elected pope, Joseph Ratzinger spoke of Socrates as “in a certain respect the prophet of Jesus Christ”. He saw him as a philosopher who was concerned with the fundamental questions of whether man alone sets standards for himself or whether we can be confident of man’s capacity for objective truth. Socrates never wrote down his conclusions because he never arrived at one: he could only move towards truth through critically challenging his own ignorance.

Socrates tells the story of how the Oracle of Delphi said that there was no man wiser than him. This seemed so unlikely that he felt it necessary to test it by discussions with politicians, savants and craftsmen. He found that they knew many things which, on examination, turned out to be untrue. He concluded that his wisdom lay, by contrast, in not thinking that he knew things when he did not.

The philosopher’s approach was maieutic. Instead of proclaiming his own views, he asked questions which enabled his friends to explore what they claimed and, in doing so, to discover their errors. But he must, I suspect, have been a rather trying conversationalist, always ready to challenge what he heard. For instance, one debate – about whether God loves the good because the good is lovable or the good is lovable because God loves it – involves around 170 exchanges and still ends inconclusively. At one point his interlocutor calls him a bully.

But his fundamental principle is straightforward: virtue is the necessary outcome of knowledge. If we fully understand how our behaviour contributes to the flourishing of mankind, then that is how we behave. To behave otherwise is the result of ignorance. Perhaps his best-known quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, sums him up. This is much more extensive than a simple examination of conscience; it requires us from time to time to face up to and confirm our deepest values, and judge how well we express them in the conduct of our lives. When was the last time we set aside an hour or two for deep self-examination?

He did not, I think, use the phrase “natural law”, but this has become the description of the behaviour we require for flourishing. It was later to be explicitly identified by the Greeks as the principle of Stoicism. Stoicism was adopted by the Romans and influenced Christianity in the development of natural law, which remains the basis for moral teaching to this day.

Natural law has by no means been popular with all philosophers. Take the 18th-century writer David Hume: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” Arguably, Hume was the patron saint of logical positivism. This held that the metaphysical questions addressed by traditional philosophy had no meaning since, by definition, they could not meet Hume’s criteria.

We have assumed in the past that natural laws do not change – after all, it was God who created human nature. But perhaps we should remember that He did so through the process of evolution over some 3.5 billion years, and it continues to evolve. For example, the modern habit of women to have children later in life will eventually increase the typical age of the menopause. Moreover, as we understand more and more about human nature through genetics and psychology, we are helped towards a deeper understanding of how we may flourish in modern circumstances. Socrates would have been the first to investigate aspects of existing moral law.

An interesting example is Fr Josef Fuchs, SJ. He was appointed to the official contraception commission as an expert, and an orthodox, moral theologian. But having discussed the matter with the representative female witnesses he concluded that, through marital experience, they understood aspects of the natural law unrealised by the ecclesiastics. But others might argue that the widespread use of artificial contraception has effectively separated sexual activity from fertilisation – and so from marriage, with consequences which may be far from human flourishing.

Socrates would have had little truck with moral rules presented to him by external authority: his emphasis was always on his individual grasp achieved through questioning and confirmation. The moral theologian Fr James F Keenan SJ records Fuchs saying to him: “You Americans are so emphatic with your judgments. You finish your statements with a period. I find a question mark much more effective.” Socrates would have agreed.

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Human flourishing

  1. Nektarios says:

    We seem to be going round in circles yet again and once more we are back looking at Socrates.

    I would point out that Socrates approach of questioning in discussion and in his own thinking was not a new method, it had been done that way for centuries before Socrates, in India for example.

    The idea was to pose a question, not give an answer, but to explore the question. Here one had to work at it and be attentive when engaged with the group. The question had first got to be understood and the ramifications of the question within, that is, to see it, not intellectually only, but completely.
    Needless to say, this took a long time, days exploring one question with all its ramifications.
    For the individual, the answer(s) would eventually emerge which could be life-changing.

    I will stop here for now.

  2. Coconuts says:

    Natural law has by no means been popular with all philosophers. Take the 18th-century writer David Hume: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” Arguably, Hume was the patron saint of logical positivism. This held that the metaphysical questions addressed by traditional philosophy had no meaning since, by definition, they could not meet Hume’s criteria.

    An important criticism of Hume’s Fork is that it is self-refuting. It is neither abstract reasoning about number or quantity, nor does it derive from empirical experience and experimental reasoning about that. So, by its own lights it needs to be consigned to the flames, together with a lot of the book in which Hume set it out.

    Stoicism was adopted by the Romans and influenced Christianity in the development of natural law, which remains the basis for moral teaching to this day.

    Natural law is definitely still a living option for moral teaching. It’s might be useful to add that in the Catholic Church Natural Law is the foundation for Divine or Revealed Moral Law, ‘pure’ natural law would be a more secular/natural theology thing.

    For example, the modern habit of women to have children later in life will eventually increase the typical age of the menopause.

    It may be too soon to say this; it has only been practiced for one or two generations in parts of the world; over time evolution may select against the custom.

  3. Nektarios says:

    Quentin wrote in his preamble, ‘Socrates would have had little truck with moral rules presented to him by external authority: his emphasis was always on his individual grasp achieved through questioning and confirmation. ‘

    Perhaps one reason at least for this is, it produces a division within one, The external life thinking and doing one action and within a completely different action. This leads to conflict as I said in the last topic.

    Is it possible to pose a question we can agree to explore relative to the topic, not eager to give an answer, but to explore that question together?
    To agree or not agree is not the game here, but to explore a question together where together we can come to see the answer(s) to the question completely thus avoiding any conflict between our outer life and inner life?

  4. galerimo says:

    How unnatural is the natural law.

    If indeed we find it objectively written into the nature of ourselves and our world to do good then why do we do the opposite.

    Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of child sexual assault.

    Cardinal Pell, the third most senior man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, was found guilty by a jury on 11th of December in Melbourne’s county court. This was subject to a suppression order and could not be reported until now. He is behind bars tonight as a convicted criminal.

    A Cardinal of the Catholic Church was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, only months after he was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.

    Sadly, Socrates is wrong and so was the Oracle – knowledge is not and does not lead to virtue.

    Isn’t it time old men stopped telling us how we should behave in our Churches.

    For all our talk about morality we are disgraced by a filthy church hell bent on refusing to reform itself – the Pope has all the power that it takes to change the law and make mandatory reporting obligatory for every Bishop, and he doesn’t do it.

    He has thousands of files on accused priests. Why doesn’t he hand them over to the police?

    Clearly from what we have seen at the meeting of the Leaders called to the Vatican last week our filthy Church is incapable of cleaning itself and leaves innocent children exposed to violation as a result.

    Can we really be proud of a tradition that we may claim has enshrined Natural Law as the basis for human flourishing? Is there a better way of doing Church than this?

    • Nektarios says:

      Yes!

    • John Nolan says:

      Regarding the Pell case, there are strong reasons to believe the jury’s verdict was perverse. It is to be hoped that the appeal judges will be less biased.

      • David Smith says:

        It’s interesting that Pell figures hardly at all in Sodoma. When his name does come up, it’s only as part of the conservative opposition to Francis, and his involvement in that is not explored. Perhaps that’s because Martel is writing about homosexuals in the Vatican, and if he has no reason to think that Pell is gay, he’d be of little interest to him.

        The Pope seems to be determined to ignore homosexuality among the clergy and the hierarchy, and since the media, also, have no interest in pursuing that, shining a light on paedophilia is a convenient diversion. That’s one reason, I imagine, why the media are willing to believe the worst about Pell. I imagine that from Francis’s point of view, Pell’s difficulties, however they end up, have succeeded in neutralizing him as a conservative irritant.

    • ignatius says:

      “If indeed we find it objectively written into the nature of ourselves and our world to do good then why do we do the opposite..”

      “Clearly from what we have seen at the meeting of the Leaders called to the Vatican last week our filthy Church is incapable of cleaning itself and leaves innocent children exposed to violation as a result…”

      Clearly we need to get a grip on ourselves and try our best not to trip gleefully down the road of self flagellation and spurious logic!

      The answer to Galerimo’s first question is clearly given in Chapter 7 of Pauls Letter to the Romans, plain and simple. Unfortunately Cardinal Pell is you and me….sorry if that’s a bit unpleasant to digest but there it is and I do find all the hand wringing on this subject a little tiringly self indulgent. What is required on our part is prayer and where appropriate meaningful action with regard to safeguarding issues within our own local parishes.

      It is estimated that in UK prisons at least 54% of prisoners have personality disorders which range from the minor to the grave. In the sex offender unit where I work the incidence is probably much higher. As well as our general tendencies to concupiscence some battle with more serious malfunctioning of personality and desire, these need to be carefully weeded out from positions of authority and where appropriate imprisoned for their good and for ours because tendencies such as these flourish into nightmare proportions given the least opportunity. Certainly the church has stables in need of cleansing but the correct response on our part is one of sorrow coupled with firmness of intent and action towards holiness,both at a personal and an ‘institutional’ level; slagging off the church just for the sake of it is rarely a good idea.

      • galerimo says:

        Your opinion carries weight with me, coming as it does from the Pastoral care of others. I have read Romans 7 again; thank you and I accept the “Cardinal Pell in you and me”. I promise there is no “but” or “however”.

        When I confess my sins to God, sometimes in the hearing of another, I confess to…

        What I have done
        And what I have failed to do.

        It is this failure to do… that I struggle with. The structural, institutional sins of my world. In the corporate world, the political arena and in the structures of the church.

        In light of the idea of a universal law that is embedded by Divine order in the soul of human beings urging them to flourish as seems very remote when held up against any one of these.

        The silence from the Bishops apart from the “thoughts and prayers” rhetoric, is, as usual, deafening.

        The canonisation of John Paul II, now seen in this light, as he must have known the extent of what was going on, is honestly, shocking.

        We are in a new age, our Petrine model of doing Church no longer works. A Marian and a Johannine way of being Church has got to be cultivated, one or both including the function of Unity within a less centralised Petrine ministry role.

        The number of Catholics in the world is approaching 2 billion and not even one per cent of that number would constitute all the clergy who exercise 100% of the power. No female presence, mandatory Celibacy and a governance where the average age must be 80 at least. All tired old men. Surely we have to own some failure in such a setting.

    • George says:

      “the Pope has all the power that it takes to change the law and make mandatory reporting obligatory for every Bishop, and he doesn’t do it.” He could, but are you sure you want him to? Imagine a country where sexual abuse is punished by execution? Or where the authorities are more interested in throwing dirt at the Church than protecting children? In 90% of countries I think allegations of sexual abuse outside the confessional should be reported to the police immediately, but the Pope can only issue universal norms which are universal.

      But I don’t think this has much to do with the original subject of this posting. If anyone is so naive as to believe that church dignitaries are supposed to be free from sin, they need to read Dante and see how many he put in Hell. And I think mediaeval depictions of Hell very often show one or two mitred inhabitants.

  5. Nektarios says:

    Concerning Cardinal Pell, he chose to go to face trial in Australia. Just days before, he was caught with others in his office building with shipped in male prostitutes and drugs indulging in shameful acts, something we know happened regularly.
    I hear nothing of stripping him of his office or defrocking him altogether. Nor have we heard anything more about being caught red-handed as they say, in his Vatican office.

    Going voluntarily to Australia to face his crimes was less embarrassing to the Vatican and so a distraction from all that and other sordid sexual and religious crimes that are known to have gone on for decades at the Vatican.

    • ignatius says:

      “Concerning Cardinal Pell, he chose to go to face trial in Australia. Just days before, he was caught with others in his office building with shipped in male prostitutes and drugs indulging in shameful acts, something we know happened regularly…”

      And your hard evidence is …where…??

      • Nektarios says:

        Leon Zagami a reporter and writer and insider on the Vatican.
        Google up his name and get the info and the latest.

  6. ignatius says:

    Nektarios,
    You mean the self styled illuminati -invisible master-chap we talked about before?…you aren’t still listening to him are you?

    • Alasdair says:

      The Evangelical christian mind (my own included, when I’m not careful!) is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists like Zagami. Especially when he seems to be dealing with concepts like the coming New World Order and Antichrist spoken about in various guises in the Pauline letters and Revelation.
      Although it is absolutely not the policy of any church, organisations with a global reach are often viewed by with deep suspicion. These include the Roman Catholic Church, the UN, the EU, and the environmental movement amongst many others.
      Candidates for up-and-coming antichrist vary from Pope Francis to the pop singer Taylor Swift.
      While I don’t advocate that we become “foolish virgins”, we should remain clear-headed and avoid paranoia.

      • Nektarios says:

        Alasdair

        You are not suggesting as you wrote: the ‘New World Order and Antichrist is spoken about in various guises in the Pauline letters and Revelation.’ I hope you are not suggesting
        that the Apostle Paul was a mere conspiracy theorist, surely not?

        I agree with you when you wrote finally, ‘we should remain clear-headed and avoid paranoia.

      • Alasdair says:

        Nektarios, you said: “I hope you are not suggesting
        that the Apostle Paul was a mere conspiracy theorist, surely not?”
        No indeed. I take the apostles’ warnings seriously. But I am circumspect when I hear the frequent claims that current events are indisputable fulfillment of his prophesies leading imminently to the end times scenario. That error has been made far too often already.
        (Notably by none other than Homer in The Simpsons episode “Thank God It’s Doomsday”)

  7. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius

    Not self-styled illiminati, but was a high-up in it. He left it and reported on it, wrote on it. Both him and his family have been threatened many times. He may not be correct on everything, but I have listened to him many times. Some of the facts on what he says could only come from insider knowledge and a deep undertanding.
    I don’t know if you have read him or watched him on the internet. You just dismiss him as a crank
    because he pionts to things within the Vatican and its workings you would rather not know. Sounds a totally biased opinion, Ignatius?

  8. galerimo says:

    When Ratznger describes Socrates as, in some sense, a prophet of Jesus he gives us a clue about just how faulty is this notion of natural law as both a basis for Christian morality and a way of human flourishing.

    The influence of Saint Augustine for a thousand years on the developing Christian consciousness still has impact, in patches at least, on Natural Law subscribers. It comes with strong traces of Plato, Socrates’ teacher.

    The pre-existence of the soul, the World of Forms with their “impress” on the human mind and existing independently of it, is highly suggestive of the concept of Natural Law. Some sort of pre-coded deposit in the evolved human mind. Augustine was able to devise a theology of the Trinity by going no further than his own mind, with its memory, intellect and will.

    I would suggest our still thriving Neoplatonic construction of Christianity lies in the root system of this very restrictive notion of Natural Law.

    The mistake that Ratzinger makes is that he identifies Jesus as belonging to this system.

    Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew.

    With his religiously circumcised penis, from the top of his beautiful olive skinned head to his plain big toe, he was a Jew – immersed all the way in his culture and traditions. Beautiful though these facts are it is sad that this perfect embodiment of the Hebrew response of humanity to God could only be seen as alien within that culture. And was rejected.

    The two points I wish to make here are, firstly, that as the perfect fulfilment of the Law Jesus did not come to teach us about any type of law, Much much more than that. He came so that we should have LIFE, and have it in abundance. This Christianity that we have created as our response to God’s gift looks very narrow, law bound and trapped in a limited, categorically Greek world view.

    And secondly the motivating factor which does not feature in the Platonic School of human flourishing, is, Jesus. None other. Not in any way, shape or form prefigured by Socrates or any of his Big Ideas, however subtly they may continue to shape our Catholic thinking.

    Jesus is the way for, and more than any ‘reason for’ being good and doing good.

  9. ignatius says:

    Nektarios,
    Here is a review of Zagami’s book: The Invisible Master (Secret Chiefs, Unknown Superiors, and the Puppet Masters Who Pull the Strings of Occult Power from the Alien World )

    “..Leo Zagami’s groundbreaking study of aliens and UFOs explores where we come from and which mysterious figures have guided humanity’s political and religious choices. From the prophets to the initiates and magicians, all ages have drawn from a common source of ultra-terrestrial and magical knowledge, passed down for millennia. This text reveals the identity of the unknown superiors, secret chiefs, and invisible masters who have guided Freemasonry, the Illuminati, and others. Zagami speaks of the existence of multidimensional doors used by the various Illuminati to let other beings into our world, while alluding to the latest discoveries of quantum physics for support. This shocking text will be embraced by those willing to look beyond the everyday to analyze our world’s most puzzling circumstances…”

    You seriously want to promote your interest in this man? I guess you do and the wilder shores of your wierd beliefs have clearly found a reference point and a home. But if I were you I wouldn’t speak of this man and expect to be taken seriously at the same time. Peddling Zagami’s wild theories while at the same time professing apostolic beliefs simply speaks of the irrational and the incoherent, using Zagami as a means of further denigrating Cardinal Pell in the public arena is probably verging on slander.

  10. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius

    As I mentioned earlier, Zagami may not be right on everything. I do not promote him, nor am I peddling his wild theories. He is Italian and speaks as a Roman Catholic. Therefore I see his knowing about black masses and what their intended purpose is supposed to be. This is what in his narrative is these aliens or inter-dimensional beings. We call them demons
    Satan has been cast out. No amount of mumbo- jumbo in ritualistic form will bring him back until the end time. Question is, are we in that end time?

    Of course, I hold to Apostolic Doctrine, teaching and Practice, for these are the things surely believed among us, alas known but rarely not taught in these days leading to much confusion.

    I am not the judge of Cardinal Pell, but one cannot ignore entirely the evidence heaping up against him. Still, it is not my place to judge him, that is for others to do.

    • ignatius says:

      Nektarios,
      ““Concerning Cardinal Pell, he chose to go to face trial in Australia. Just days before, he was caught with others in his office building with shipped in male prostitutes and drugs indulging in shameful acts, something we know happened regularly…”

      If it’s not your place to judge why are you slandering him on this public website ?

      • George says:

        I believe in the jury system. When an accused person is defended by one of the best advocates in his country, and a randomly selected jury of twelve are nevertheless all sure he is guilty, I think the jury are very likely to be right. Of course juries are sometimes wrong, that’s why there is an appeal system. But I would certainly trust the jury more than those who haven’t actually sat through the trial or otherwise examined the evidence in the same depth.

  11. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius

    He was caught red-handed by the Police within the Vatican. Leon Zagami has influence and obtains some information about what happened. Cardinal Pell did not leave the Vatican but was pushed to leave. On leaving the Vatican he would have been arrested to face trial in Australia anyway. It was not as voluntary as Cardinal Pell claims.

    As far as slandering Cardinal Pell on a public website, far be it for me to do so. Since you brought up one of my sources I am only relating what is common knowledge concerning him.

    It is a typical trait to accuse the messenger of some misdemeanour. Authorities do it all the time, it is called reverse psychology.

    I am only left with the question, why are you defending Cardinal Pell, who is only a tip of an iceberg in this and other sexual and deviant activities goings on within the Vatican.

    I won’t go into all the other criminal activities of the Vatican at home and on the global stage. I just don’t get where you are coming from? For God sake, don’t call it Christian!

  12. John Nolan says:

    Human flourishing? Man cannot flourish unless he unites himself with Our Lord Jesus Christ and submits himself body and soul to his Divine Will. That, friends, is what Christianity has always been about. Everything else is just froth and bubble.

    Hard to understand? No. Difficult to implement? You bet.

    • Nektarios says:

      Yes, John, absolutely right, however, what I see means that humanity is not flourishing. in fact, the opposite is taking place. We cannot but be aware of it in the world today? If not we are in denial of the truth.

  13. David Smith says:

    // what I see means that humanity is not flourishing. in fact, the opposite is taking place. //

    Surely that’s too broad? The West looks to be in cultural disintegration, but extremes have a way of righting themselves.

  14. David Smith says:

    A comment by way of interjection, not to pursue anything anyone’s said, but rather to remark that Socrates seems to me to have done the only sensible thing a human mind can do by way of dealing with the human need to raise questions about non-material things, which is to keep proposing answers and then questioning the answers. That’s the way our brains are built – to keep asking questions until we’re exhausted and fall asleep, and then, on waking, to keep doing the same thing, over and over, forever, until we finally fall asleep for the last time. There can be no universally acceptable answers to these questions. We seek them because we must, no more.

    P. S. Today is the first time since Quentin’s most recent topic change that I’ve been able to post here. As happened once before, some months ago, WordPress suddenly refused to accept anything I wrote. There seems to be a bug in WordPress that causes this to bite people now and then (Google found me at least one reference). Has anyone else here run across this?

  15. Nektarios says:

    David Smith

    I did try to get us all back on track with the topic of the week using Socrates’ means of asking questions. This was the practice in India long before Socrates was born. To investigate, find out, and discover through the means of exploring a question.

    Two or three things need to be said if we are going to do that and see it through to real answers.
    1. One must be free to investigate a question.
    2. One does not need to be encumbered with duties and other problems civic, work or things that are domestic.
    3. It is better to investigate an agreed question with others.

    Is it possible to ask deep imponderable questions if we are conditioned; if we are weighed down by problems of one sort or another: if our religious lives are so prescribed by and influenced by religious leaders both now and historical?

    It takes a great deal of energy and focus, to have external and inward freedom to pose and explore such questions of importance.

    Do we have the desire, let alone the required prerequisites to engage in such exploration?

  16. David Smith says:

    Nektarios writes:

    // I did try to get us all back on track with the topic of the week using Socrates’ means of asking questions. This was the practice in India long before Socrates was born. To investigate, find out, and discover through the means of exploring a question.

    Two or three things need to be said if we are going to do that and see it through to real answers.
    1. One must be free to investigate a question.
    2. One does not need to be encumbered with duties and other problems civic, work or things that are domestic.
    3. It is better to investigate an agreed question with others. //

    I understand the need to have free, unencumbered time. I don’t know, though, that a hermit couldn’t do it alone, though he’d have to be a very open-minded and self-confident hermit. Continually uprooting oneself from one’s mental moorings could be thoroughly unsettling.

    But what’s the goal? Surely, I think, not the discovery of truth. Words just lead to more words, questions to more questions. The goal must be simply to experience the pleasure of lobbing the ball back and forth, scoring points now and then, and finishing with the knowledge that you’ve played well. I admire people who can do that, but it’s way beyond my abilities. Have at it. I’ll enjoy watching the game.

  17. Nektarios says:

    David Smith

    One must remember that Socrates was a pagan, his world view was very limited as was the view about himself.

    You ask what the goal is? Ultimately it is for Christians, union with God and one another. So the goal would be a deeper understanding all of which one gets in Bible study especially the Apostles and the Saints.

    If the point is more questions and points scoring one has not entered into such a discussion really. Of course if one is a hermit who is externally alone if spiritually alive is never truly alone.

    I would also say, David, though there are some difficult passages in Scriptures to understand, it is given of God to every man in the world, while the Apostolic doctrine, teaching and practice is for those who are of the Kingdom of God for they and they alone are spiritually alive.
    It has very little to do with God-given natural abilities unless one is spiritually alive and used in His service.
    Up to the measure God has for you such will be your understanding and spiritual growth.

  18. Alasdair says:

    Consider the following definition: “Human flourishing is defined as an effort to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals, each with the right to pursue his or her own such efforts”.
    Was that not just what the much-maligned serpent wanted for Adam and Eve?

    • David Smith says:

      // Was that not just what the much-maligned serpent wanted for Adam and Eve? //

      Yep. Eve wanting and taking the apple is the child grabbing the toy in the crib. Rights language is the verbalization of greed. I am the universe, and you’re a grain of sand in my shoe.

      • Alasdair says:

        “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” = human flourishing
        “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” = human flourishing.
        “Then the eyes of both were opened” = human flourishing
        “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower (the tower of Babel) that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” = human flourishing

      • Alasdair says:

        John Nolan therefore was spot on:
        “Human flourishing? Man cannot flourish unless he unites himself with Our Lord Jesus Christ and submits himself body and soul to his Divine Will. That, friends, is what Christianity has always been about”.

      • Alan says:

        To decide whether they made an overall contribution to human flourishing you would need to take into account any costs too.

    • Alasdair says:

      Alan, if you mean did Adam and Eve’s “contribution to human flourishing” have a cost then I think we’d say yes, would we not?

      • Alan says:

        Alasdair, it wasn’t quite Adam and Eve themselves I meant but I agree there were reportedly costs in this case.

        I had expected my reply to immediately follow the one of yours that included the quotes –

        ““when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” = human flourishing” …

        but your following post sneaked in just before mine. The quotes/examples you gave were the “they” I actually meant. If the costs of those actions happened to outweigh the gains then regardless of good intentions, they don’t actually allow humans to flourish. Without those costs it is hard to imagine what the objection might be to gaining knowledge of good and evil or becoming wise, etc.

        “… if you mean did Adam and Eve’s “contribution to human flourishing” have a cost then I think we’d say yes, would we not?”

        I would say yes, within the story of Adam and Eve. Outside of that it is unclear to me how John Nolan is therefore “spot on”.

    • David Smith says:

      Alisdair writes:

      // Consider the following definition: “Human flourishing is defined as an effort to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals, each with the right to pursue his or her own such efforts”. //

      That’s thirty-three words, each of which alters slightly the meaning of every other. We may think it’s a clear and concise definition, but it can mean millions of things to millions of people. Far from being a clear and concise definition, it’s just a cloud of meaning. I imagine that’s what Hume meant when he remarked that metaphysical questions and answers were meaningless (my paraphrasis of Quentin’s paraphrasis:

      // Natural law has by no means been popular with all philosophers. Take the 18th-century writer David Hume: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” Arguably, Hume was the patron saint of logical positivism. This held that the metaphysical questions addressed by traditional philosophy had no meaning since, by definition, they could not meet Hume’s criteria. // )

      I’m inclined to think that Hume was simply stating the obvious.

      • Alasdair says:

        I trawled that definition off the internet and don’t stand by it other than as a conversation piece.
        Hume is often touted as a shining light of the Scottish Enlightenment. If he genuinely believed what he wrote his thinking is quite shallow and he does not deserve that exalted status.

      • Coconuts says:

        ‘Hume’s fork’ is a statement of Hume’s empiricist metaphysical position, he basically argued that only sense data gave us knowledge of reality and anything not deriving from sense data was knowledge only of the content and working of our own minds.

        It is a major metaphysical thesis in itself, this has been one of the major criticisms of it; it is a claim about the nature of reality that can’t derive from sense data. By it’s own lights it is sophistry and illusion.

        It’s a little strange to see it here directly because it was mainly aimed at metaphysical claims that don’t directly have to do with morality (things like understanding of causation, change, essentialism about objects etc.). It does lead to scepticism about the objectivity of moral claims because they are both normative and can’t derive from sense data.

      • Alasdair says:

        Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion, verifiable fact vs. values etc represent different areas of inquiry, the boundaries or “nets” of which do not intersect.
        Therefore it is ridiculous to make a statement belonging in one of the magisteria while applying the methods of the other.
        Perhaps this is an answer to Hume if one is needed.

      • George says:

        Alisdair wrote “Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion, verifiable fact vs. values etc represent different areas of inquiry, the boundaries or “nets” of which do not intersect.” I haven’t read much of Gould, but didn’t Newman have the same idea in “The Idea of a University” ?http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/discourse4.html . But I think Newman s more subtle. Although as a Catholic one has to believe that science properly understood and the Catholic Church cannot contradict each other, one can still conceive of circumstances where they might, for example if there were scientific proof obtained via a time machine that Jesus never existed.

  19. Alasdair says:

    The pursuit of Human Flourishing (or any other label meaning something similar) without reference to God is unalloyed Atheist Humanism.
    The tragic error of atheist humanism is described to us with total clarity, albeit in allegorical fashion, in Genesis. So there is absolutely no excuse for going down that road.

    God clearly shows us his plan for us to flourish (flower).
    “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light”
    “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly”
    “I am the true vine, if you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit – apart from me you can do nothing”
    etc etc etc.

    I fear for brothers and sisters in christian traditions which are so mangled, and so riven with “tradition” that these simple truths appear to be lost.

  20. Alasdair says:

    A simple test – Match statements 1 and 2 with the outcomes a and b below

    Statements:
    1) “God’s way is a bit restrictive and prevents me from flourishing as a person – therefore I’ll go my own way”
    2) “He’s God, so I’ll throw in my lot with Him even though, for the moment, I don’t totally get it”

    Outcomes:
    a) Salvation
    b) Damnation

    Finished? How did you get on?

    • Alan says:

      I think I know what the answers are supposed to be, but I’ve questions about the wording of the test of course.

      Question 1 talks about God restricting “my” flourishing. That’s a little different from the more inclusive “human flourishing” that’s been discussed before. The test doesn’t look so simple to me if we substitute that more inclusive purpose/goal rather than a personal one.

      1) “God’s way is a bit restrictive and prevents humanity from flourishing – therefore I’ll go the way that does allow humanity to flourish”

      Is the answer to this question still damnation? Why? What would God’s objection be?

      • Nektarios says:

        Alan

        If you see your real fulfilment only in terms of self-fulfilment please read again if you have not done so my two replies to Iona below. Then ask yourself if it is truly possible to ever be fulfilled by or through self?

      • Alan says:

        Nektarios,

        My reply to Alasdair was not about self fulfilment. Personally I would say that even “human” flourishing/fulfilment/well being is a bit more “self centred” than I would wish.

  21. Iona says:

    The 33-word definition that Alasdair picked from the internet: It raises as many questions as it answers, if not more. For example, what counts as self-actualisation? What counts as fulfilment? What happens when two different members of the “larger community” collide in their individual attempts at self-fulfilment?
    A concrete example: someone raising a severely disabled child, or caring long-term for a demanding relative; such a person cannot self-actualise through any self-chosen activities such as creative or leisure activites, nor paid work etc. But if s/he decides instead to transfer the burden elsewhere (social services, for example) in order to pursue what s/he sees as his/her own fulfilment, I think most of us would want to say that that choice does not, in the long run, lead to human flourishing, either overall or possibly even in relation to that one person.

    • David Smith says:

      Iona writes:

      // The 33-word definition that Alasdair picked from the internet: It raises as many questions as it answers, if not more. For example, what counts as self-actualisation? What counts as fulfilment? What happens when two different members of the “larger community” collide in their individual attempts at self-fulfilment? //

      Agreed. It all depends on the definition of the definition.

  22. Nektarios says:

    Iona

    Well, let’s see if we can answer you on the issue of self-fulfilment. Actualization is a different matter entirely.
    You sort of answer your own question when you wrote: ‘What counts as fulfilment? What happens when two different members of the “larger community” collide in their individual attempts at self-fulfilment?’

    The idea of fulfilment for most people involves self. So it is self that is looking for fulfilment.
    Now self is a construct, so one is actually trying to fulfil a thought construct which is not real.

    So what is self looking for when it seeks fulfilment?

  23. Nektarios says:

    Iona,
    Sorry, I had to post my reply to you quickly as visitors turned up. Life it seems is just a series of interruptions! So to continue: So what is self looking for when it seeks fulfilment?

    Thought thinks and the centre of this process is what we call self. Because it is a thought construct self is not permanent. So, fulfilment for self is something it can’t have, permanence.
    Does that help answer your question on self-fulfilment?

  24. David Smith says:

    Alisdair writes:

    // Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion, verifiable fact vs. values etc represent different areas of inquiry, the boundaries or “nets” of which do not intersect.

    Therefore it is ridiculous to make a statement belonging in one of the magisteria while applying the methods of the other. //

    I’ll accept that. One thing that muddies the waters, though, is that both realms depend on natural language to develop and explain them, and natural language is limited in its capacity to construct and transfer information from mind to mind. Words have no precise meaning beyond their momentary, personal context. We communicate by indirection, equivocation, approximation, repetition, redundancy. That’s how natural language works. So a scientific explanation and a religious explanation sound, on the surface, very much alike, and we’re inclined to judge their content by the same criteria.

  25. Nektarios says:

    David Smith

    So, if all is seemingly meaningless, what is the actual? Scientific and religious explanations, for the most part, are not explanations as such 2 per cent perhaps, the rest is fuzzy thinking and philosophy, don’t you think?

  26. David Smith says:

    // So, if all is seemingly meaningless, what is the actual? Scientific and religious explanations, for the most part, are not explanations as such 2 per cent perhaps, the rest is fuzzy thinking and philosophy, don’t you think? //

    Science is accepted as factual because of its consistency: it works, it all ties together, it’s been proved predictable. If A then B, if A and B then C, and so on. It satisfies many people’s desire to learn ever more about the knowable world, and it makes possible increasingly complicated and powerful tools. For a tool-making species, science is great stuff. And if that’s all human beings are – tool makers and tool users – maybe it’s enough. Maybe so long as scientists can keep doing ever better science, mankind has reached its highest possible level. But I hope that’s not all we are. Because if it is, then life is meaningless and death is the end.

    • Nektarios says:

      David Smith

      You wrote, ‘Science is accepted as factual because of its consistency: it works, it all ties together, it’s been proved predictable. If A then B, if A and B then C, and so on.’

      You are quite right in some respects, but it is OK if it is mechanical and repetitive.
      The so-called scientific accepted method is being applied to Man him/herself and in many cases with dangerous consequences.
      The workplace in the office or factory is the same old dull and repetitive method.
      Of Yes, A does lead to B and then C right enough, but that is all it does.

      When one applies the dull repetitive mechanical scientific methods to Man, it does not quite work out like that at all, nor can do, but that is what some have done.
      And here is the great danger, religion, I dare say, was the first to apply the so-called dull, repetitive, mechanical scientific approach on the global level, that is neither spirituality or Christianity, just the dull, repetitive, mechanical scientific method of A then B then C.

      Apart from our alphabet, A, B, C has a different meaning for me as well, Anything But Christ.
      Much more can be said here of course and needs to be said.

    • Alasdair says:

      Students of science are often deluded into believing that they live by fact and not by faith. This is obviously not true since their understanding of the science is almost wholly dependent upon their faith in their teachers and in the authors of the books from which they acquire their scientific “knowledge”. Many people’s scientific knowledge is entirely from the telly. I personally am inclined to believe that the sources of my scientific knowledge are truthful. But I have personally tested by experimentation only a tiny fraction of the scientific theorems that I believe to be true. So, as for the vast majority of my scientific understanding, and that of everybody else, it’s all about faith.

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