You are here

More metaphysics

Another example of how people act when their metaphysics are challenged: Status of Catholic Church in Spain Threatened. The Catholic Church in Spain has protested a citizenship education program that promotes full normalization of homosexuality. Professor Gregorio Peces-Barba Martínez, apparently the socialist government’s main theoretician, has responded with a newspaper column in which he accuses the Church of “an extreme arrogance, a sensation of impunity and an insufferable sense of superiority, derived from the fact that they administer ‘superior truths.’” He further accused them of “harassing those who are heterodox” and “showing disrespect for individual consciences,” and adds that they must back down or suffer consequences.

On its face it seems bizarre that restating a widespread and long-established opinion regarding some issue of morality and applying that opinion to new public policy ventures should be thought to show “extreme arrogance,” or that protesting mandatory indoctrination of schoolchildren should be considered a form of “harassing those who are heterodox.” To the professor, of course, it is not bizarre at all, because what is at issue for him is not something on which differing positions are possible but a fundamental principle necessary to a social and moral setting within which mutual respect and intelligent discussion is possible.

Peces-Barba apparently believes that questioning the full normalization of homosexuality, in and of itself, is extreme arrogance and harassment. The reason he believes that, I suppose, is that at bottom he accepts something equivalent to the modern technological understanding of reason: the only things that we must take into account in acting are wills, desires, resources, techniques, and formal constraints like equality. On such a view, will and desire is the sole basis of value, and a claim that one constellation of will and desire is better than another is irrational, as least as long as both accept constraints like equality. Such a claim cannot be made in legitimate public discussion that hopes to maintain peace and progress on the basis of reason and the equality of all parties. If a prominent institution that asserts moral authority makes such a claim it is a threat to social order and morality and must be treated as a public enemy. Hence the threats against the Church.

The battle between the Church and the socialists, then, is metaphysical: are there goods that transcend desire and can serve as its measure, or are there only desires and various schemes for satisfying them and dealing with their conflicts. Modern thought and institutions, along with Professor Peces-Barba, have resolutely chosen the latter view. To me it seems, as it seemed to Edmund Burke, that making everything a matter of desire and will puts us into an “antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.” Each can size up the situation as best he can and choose his side.