Monday, April 08, 2002

A couple articles

I'm note sure if the editors of First Things did so intentionally, but the return of Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial coincided roughly with March's issue of the magazine, which included an interesting article by Fred Heeren entitled "Home Alone in the Universe?". It's a highly interesting (and readable) article on the question of intelligent life beyond our planet. Heeren covers both "the best reasons to believe in intelligent extraterrestrials" as well as "the new reasons to doubt"; he finds the latter more compelling than the former (as do I), but his presentation is very fair and balanced. Good reading.

The same issue has an article by papal biographer George Weigel called "A Better Concept of Freedom" which contrasts two concepts of freedom. Modernity tends to identify freedom with an act of the will, and Weigel shows how this view derives from William of Ockam's philosophy of nominalism which led him to a concept of freedom which can be called the freedom of indifference in which "freedom is simply a neutral faculty of choice and choice is everything, for choice is a matter of self–assertion, of power."

This view of freedom, though, was preceded by that argued for by St. Thomas Aquinas, whose own understanding of freedom can be called freedom for excellence. As Weigel says, "freedom, for St. Thomas, is a means to human excellence, to human happiness, to the fulfillment of human destiny". At the end of his article, Weigel concludes his argument (for the Thomistic conception of freedom) by pointing to the social consequences which it entails, in contrast with the Ockhamistic view:

Freedom for excellence is the freedom that will satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart to be free. It is more than that, though. The idea of freedom for excellence and the disciplines of self–command it im­ plies are essential for democracy and for the defense of freedom.

Homo Voluntatis, Willful Man, cannot exploit the new genetic knowledge so that it serves the ends of freedom and avoids the brave new world. Homo Voluntatis cannot explain why some things that can be done should not be done. Homo Voluntatis cannot defend himself or the institutions of democracy against the new dangers to national security and world order. Homo Voluntatis cannot give an account of a freedom worth sacrificing, and even dying, for.

There are, indeed, two ideas of freedom. Both ideas have consequences. One of them is worthy of this nation. One of them will see us through to a future worthy of a free people.

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