Fired for the Natural Law, Part II: Toward a Marriage of Natures

A watchmaker makes a watch; he puts a battery in it to make it tick; he sets the time and watches it mark the passing seconds perfectly.  A human being is conceived; he soon acquires the “accidental” capacity to laugh and cry; he becomes a pious Catholic, a faithful husband, a good provider, and devoted father of five.  He is living an almost perfect life, one that will be completed and perfected absolutely upon his final and eternal intellectual union with the Father in Heaven.  The purpose of a watch is instrumental: it serves man.  The purpose of a human life also lies beyond itself, but not in an instrumental fashion, for the eternal end that summons us is to happiness in truth and love.  To say so does not reduce the Aristotelian and Thomist accounts of nature to a “utilitarian” one, but it acknowledges something that utilitarianism gets not right but more right than the Stoics: individual actions must also be judged according to a purpose that lies beyond them.  Conversely, the Stoics are right to observe that those actions and ends are part of a rational and intelligible order and so have an absolute significance.  But our age, and human beings in every age, requires more.

No doubt, in the course as a whole, Howell provided his students with a fuller description of that expansive call, the summons to happiness-in-perfection of the Catholic faith.  No doubt, he did so circumspectly, and in his effort to meet many students in their benighted condition, he gave them a less compelling argument than he might have.  And even for this, this small gift of knowledge and respect for the intellectual and moral potential of his students, he has already paid a great price.

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