Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hume and Is It All about Pleasure?

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher who thought all ideas came form experience, none from reason. I can't stand him, but I bring him up to refute his central claim that everybody does everything because they are seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. When we act in front of others, we act to seek praise and avoid blame, according to Hume.
This idea has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. Between my uncle, two friends, my dad, and two priests, I've accumulated several reasons that it is wrong.

1. That's how two year olds act, and the whole point of growing up and being raised by your parents is to grow strong enough to break out of that selfish mode of behavior.

2. There is no way we could possibly know if everyone always acts like that. I might find that I do, but I will never know more than that for sure, and assuming others do because I do is a fallacy. (Incidentally, I don't always act for those motives.)

3. To disprove such a statement, we have only to find one person in one situation. That alone would show that such a statement isn't true. The Martyrs are examples of this; they offered their lives because of belief, not for anything less, not for the happiness of heaven; they died because they loved God and His truth and wanted to obey Him for His pure goodness.

4. We obey God because He is our maker, not because He will reward us. That is the call of every Christian, and every person really: to obey God, not for our own gain, but because it is the will of God who is all goodness, all truth, all love.

5. Pleasure, essentially, is the satisfying of the lower urges and passions: hunger, thirst, wanting to be warm and comfortable, have the admiration of your friends (or maybe the whole world), etc. etc. etc. Pain, then, is when these desires are not fulfilled and/or denied. People do not always operate on such lowly motives. Sometimes we are actually capable of doing something for the goodness of the act and the joy of the person who will benefit. We are more than animals. We have higher faculties and aspirations. We can go beyond these lower urges by using these higher faculties to strive for these higher aspirations, which take us beyond our falleness into the fullness of who God calls us to be and do.

6. Our own pleasure may somehow be involved, like as an encouragement or incentive to push yourself with when you want to give up, but that doesn't make it the motive. Take the task of fighting sin to reach heaven, or any other such high mission. They are all about someone else, some good and truth of God. We fight temptations because they are wrong and we do good because it is right; that in itself is the reason. When it gets hard, the pleasure of heaven is an encouragement, but it is not our motive for fighting evil and doing good. The pleasure of heaven, though great, is not enough to inspire such martyrs and saints and missionaries as there are in the world.

7. Consider the nature of temptation. I've been tempted (and fallen) enough times to know that temptations often appeal to the pleasures. Pride appeals to the pleasure of thinking you are great; Gluttony appeals to the pleasure of taste and eating; Hate appeals to the pleasure of not sacrificing for anyone or doing anything selfless, and instead being consumed with yourself; Envy appeals to the pleasure of thinking you deserve things and feeling angry and revengeful to those who have what you think you deserve. The list goes on for miles. The urge to do good deeds, on the other hand, comes from knowing something is good, someone needs something done for them, etc. Virtues all come from love, and love... Love gives pleasure, but the main point of love is the sacrificing for another, for their sake. I shall paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI: Love is wanting the best for someone and taking efficacious steps to provide what is best to the beloved. Since love, the root of all good (because God is Love), is not about satisfying your own pleasures, than neither are all things which come, purely, from love. Sins, however, are very driven by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain for oneself.

8. And last but not least, the argument by my very own dad: If all actions are based on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, then morality becomes nothing. There is nothing wrong with killing your nasty neighbor if it gives you the pleasure of blasting his head to smithereens and knowing you'll never be bothered by him again. Of course, you are forfeiting the pleasure of heaven, but if you don't believe in an afterlife, or can convince yourself that sinning won't be an obstacle, you are all set to do the most horrific nasty pleasurable things you can imagine.

In conclusion, let us consider the prayer the Church instructs her members to say in the repentance from their sins: "...I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because I have offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love..."
The first motive for hating the faults one has committed is the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; this is a pleasure vs. pain motive, but it is not the only motive. Nor is it the main motive, or the strongest motive. It is surpassed by far by the regret of having offended God. Notice how the attention goes from oneself to something other than and beyond oneself. The motives for which people do truly great things are other-centered. Notice also the reasons for regretting having offended God: it is for no other reason than that God is good and deserves our love. He deserves not all only our love, but all our love, once again showing that great deeds are other-centered while sins and lowly behavior are self-centered.

Hume may think we always operate in self-centered ways, but if the Church instructs us to act in other-centered ways, then it is possible. Moreover, the Church gives us examples of such behavior in the saints and drives us to do likewise, for we are all called to be saints.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


is the correspondence of Reason and Reality. God is Absolute Truth, and with our reason and what God has revealed to us -Divine Revelation- we can reach truths about God and His creation.

There are two Kinds of Truth:

Truths of Reason These truths are learned by our reason and observations. They lead us to know that there is a First Cause, a source of all that exist.
Truths of Faith These truths are the truths we learn from God because we are not capable of learning them through our own reason and observation. They lead us to know who the First Cause is. They deal with realities we could never learn of by our human reason. They are based on God's reason.

The authority of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, is why we believe. With God's aid, we believe. This believing is faith. Further, we naturally search for more understanding of what we believe in; the more we understand, the more clearly and firmly we believe.
This is a sketch of the relation between reason and faith.