Wednesday 18th July 2018

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The Basis Of Morality

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By DONALD DeMARCO

A friend of mine informed me that she was assigned to teach a course on morality. While she was excited about this new responsibility, she was not sure where she should start. She solicited my advice. I was eager to comply, but not sure I could make myself understandable.
Where does one start? How does one describe the starting point? Today, the subject of morality has been largely taken over by relativists, skeptics, and deconstructionists. Thus, morality is now on very shaky ground. Nonetheless, there is a firm basis for morality which is just as firm as the basis for our measuring instruments.
The meter is used to measure lengths. But it is not an arbitrary measuring instrument. It is fixed because it is related to a standard which is also fixed, and a highly precise one. Scientists, in their pursuit of impeccable accuracy, now define the meter as the distance that light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458th of a second. That may be mindboggling, but it is the pinnacle of accuracy. Obviously accuracy is important in establishing the unwavering length of a meter.
The basis of morality can be compared with the basis for the meter. It is fixed in its relation to the nature of the human being. The nature of the eye is to see color, the nature of the ear is to hear sounds, the nature of the lungs is to receive oxygen, and so forth. There is a fundamental inclination in the human being to do good and to avoid evil.
St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this as “synderesis,” which is the basis for the natural law. Reason is the measure of human actions and reason itself must be measured by the natural law. The natural law, in turn, is measured by its conformity with the Eternal Law which is in God. So too, my height is measured by a meter stick, which, in turn, is measured by the current scientific standard by which the meter stick is fixed.
The most fundamental natural inclination in the human being is to preserve itself in being, or, simply put, to stay alive. We can observe this in a baby’s will to continue to live. It has not been instructed to behave in this fashion. Its desire springs from its being which inclines it to live. Therefore, we can say that killing a person is contrary to the natural law, the basic inclination which is grounded in a person’s being and is his claim or right to continue to be. Thus, such killing is immoral.
This inclination is natural, but it is also “connatural” inasmuch as it conforms to something other than itself. We are “connatured” with the world around us. This means that we do not need to think about our desire to live, love, seek the truth, do good and avoid evil. They are ingrained in us. In this sense, the basis of morality is indisputable, safely removed from any arbitrary construction.
On record in the files of the FBI is a case that provides an example of an act that most people would regard as clearly morally iniquitous. According to the record, a man took out a lucrative insurance policy on his mother, put her on a plane with a time bomb in her suitcase. The plane exploded, killing all passengers, but providing the son, who named himself the beneficiary, with a sizable fortune.
People shudder when they hear of this. They do not need an explanation. Their reaction is instinctive. As Jacques Maritain has noted, the natural law is “within the being of things as their very essence is, and . . . precedes all formulation, and is even known to human reason not in terms of conceptual and rational knowledge.”
From the son’s perspective, he was doing something good, namely, acquiring a lot of money. Yet, it is only too clear that he did not obey one of the primary dictates of the natural law: Do no evil.
The natural law which inclines us to do good and avoid evil is a formula for happiness. It is a truism that everyone desires to be happy. It is also a simple matter of fact that many people are unhappy. The reason for the amount of unhappiness in the world is because the inclination to do good is more primary.
We cannot achieve happiness if we do not know in what happiness consists. But it consists in being true to ourselves and being faithful to the promptings of the natural law that is within us. Happiness is something that “happens” when we live a good life.
A student desires a diploma, but will not achieve his end without taking courses and studying well enough to pass them. An athlete wants to succeed, but will not achieve his sought-after end without training, discipline, and determination. Happiness, like any other end, requires a particular means. When the means is ignored, happiness recedes. In other words, the natural law cannot be disregarded if one wants to find happiness.
The natural law is the basis of morality. Its implications include not only a right to live, but the duty to do good while avoiding evil, to live by the Golden Rule, to seek the truth, to thrive physically and spiritually, to learn about God, and to love one’s neighbor.
My advice to my neophyte teacher of morality is to try to get her students to be more aware of their basic, original inclinations, their connaturality with things, what springs, so to speak, from their heart. Let them sense their outrage over outrageous acts and have them exam why they admire actions that they admire. The basis for morality is within us. A good teacher will help students bring to the surface those hidden tendencies to do good and to avoid evil.
(Dr. DeMarco’s book Why I Am Pro-Life and Not Politically Correct may be obtained through Good Books Media, 3453 Aransas, Corpus Christi, TX 73411; goodbooksmedia.com.)

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