Saturday, December 06, 2003

The bane of morality: Nominalism

There's a good discussion going on here at Disputations concerning the impact of the late medieval philosophy of nominalism on morality. Tom offered a quote from U.S. Dominican and current undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr. Augustine Di Noia as found in John Allen's latest Word from Rome:
    Nominalism, [Under-Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Fr. Augustine] Di Noia[, OP,] argued, "let loose a catastrophe on the human race" by separating morality from anthropology... Imagine, he said, a mother cooking dinner who spots her child eating cookies. The mother could say, "eating cookies is forbidden in this house," appealing to her authority. Or she could say, "if you eat those cookies, you'll spoil your appetite," appealing to a truth about human nature. Nominalism proposes the first kind of morality, Di Noia said, while Thomism proposes the second.

    Speaking of nominalism, Di Noia said: "The prevalence of this kind of moral theology gave rise to the intolerable tensions experienced by many Catholics in the face of the moral teaching of Humanae Vitae -- and eventually the entirety of Christian teaching about human sexuality -- which seemed to impose an outdated moral obligation whose connection with the human good was either denied or dismissed, or more commonly, simply not apparent." ...

    Di Noia said the aim of John Paul II's 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor was to resuscitate a natural law approach to morality, one that sees obedience of moral commands "not as the suppression of the human person, but its perfection."
As I indicate in my comments, I agree completely Fr. Di Noia. For those interested in this discussion, I'd highly recommend The Sources of Christian Ethics by Di Noia's Dominican confrere, Fr. Servais Pinckaers.

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