Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts on Person, Relation, Family

This post is really just going to be a handful of quotes and thoughts.

Friendship seems to hold states together, and lawgivers apparently devote more attention to it than to justice. For concord seems to be something similar to friendship, and concord is what they most strive to attain, while they do their best to expel faction, the enemy of concord. When people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they need friendship in addition. In fact, the just in the fullest sense is regarded as constituting an element of friendship. Friendship is noble as well as necessary: we praise those who love their friends and consider the possession of many friends a noble thing. And further, we believe of our friends that they are good men. (Nicomachean Ethics, 8.1, at the beginning of Aristotle's consideration of friendship)

Relativity toward the other constitutes the human person. The human person is the event or being of relativity. (Joseph Ratzinger, Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology)

"Pope Paul VI noted that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking”. He was making an observation, but also expressing a wish: a new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization. Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man's transcendent dignity is to be properly understood." (Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate)

The third reason [against marrying blood relations] is, because this would hinder a man from having many friends: since through a man taking a stranger to wife, all his wife's relations are united to him by a special kind of friendship, as though they were of the same blood as himself. Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xv, 16): "The demands of charity are most perfectly satisfied by men uniting together in the bonds that the various ties of friendship require, so that they may live together in a useful and becoming amity; nor should one man have many relationships in one, but each should have one." (Summa, II-II.159.9)

All right, those are all the quotes I wanted to bring together. The one quote from Aristotle has long been on my mind since it sounds odd when first heard: legislators care most about friendship. When we think of lawmakers, this is not the first thing that comes to mind, but giving it a few minutes of thoughts, that certainly seems like the way to go. Laws bring about justice for the sake of this higher good, friendship. If everything were just but nobody had friends, that would be a very poor state. A state with many friendships and strong friendships would seem to be the ideal.

The Ratzinger quote is one that I have puzzled over for sometime. Is he saying that a person is relation, or even that relation is somehow prior to a person being a person? Those statements both seem odd. Yet it is true that every persons is potentially related (to all other persons) and even necessarily actually related to at least two persons upon coming into existence. It is also the case that only persons can have the kinds of relations that are noble (i.e. friendship). So the capacity for friendship (I will call this relation, meaning this limited sense) is a property of the person, in the sense that only persons can be friends and all persons can be friends.

I want to note here that person does not name a nature, so it is interesting that I can point out a property. There are other properties (having intellect and will), so perhaps its not too odd, but I did want it to be noticed that these are not properties of a nature, but of something else.

These relations really seems to be what a person is made for. Aristotle speaks very highly of friendship, saying that life would not be worth living apart from it, yet goes on to say that our happiness consists in a contemplative act. His argument for this is from our nature, to which it is proper to know. That contemplation/seeing is certainly our happiness is beyond doubt. Yet there is more to be said, and what is seen is also to be considered. He says (I'm being vaguer than he) that the object of contemplation must be the highest thing for it to constitute our happiness. Yet in the two preceding books he talked about the glory of a friend and how one reason friends are so great is that one can contemplate the highest things in his friend. So it seems the object of the perfect sight is likely to be a friend.

Toward the end (this is just my memory) he says the object are the gods. Now surely, something divine is the highest object, right? I think so. Yet to see the divine, not only as other or as higher, but as friend is surely a far greater happiness. I do not know what Aristotle could have known about the personality of God, yet I think he would agree that to behold a friend is better than not to behold a friend, and that to behold God is better than not to; therefore, to behold God as friend is the highest of all.

Now it is a person that has a relationship. This is most clearly seen in the Christological disputes that took place. We call Mary the Mother of God because she bore Christ, a person who is divine. She did not beget a nature, but a person. I was not born of "parenthood", but of my mother and my father who became related to me when I was conceived.

(I wish my thinking was more complete and orderly on this. I'm really just writing where my mind goes, but I'm leaving out tons of stuff that I think is worth saying...)

There was a TIME magazine cover recently about how childless couples seem to be happier than those without children. Just about everyone I know was disgusted by this cover. Nope, I haven't read the article, but here is the cover:,16641,20130812,00.html "The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children." Someone seems to be missing something. That most parents would give away everything they have to care for their child should be a sign that a child is something very special, something not entirely understood, but something loved--someone loved. It's a person! And the dignity/worth/awesomeness of this person is most made manifest through relation. It's nice that every child is born within at least two relations (this reminds me of a board game called Catan, where everyone automatically starts with 2 points; and yes, I just gave nature a compliment). A developing person is one that is learning to form and grow in relationships with others. If a child learned to eat, drink, dress himself, sleep, work, pay bills, study and entertain himself, but did not have any relationships with others, it would be safe to say that something went wrong, the child had not yet finished growing.

In the context of a family, one is immediately tied to others by familial bonds. First are the parents already mentioned several times, and then there are the siblings. I have trouble imagining life without siblings. They are persons who have a common origin, common experiences, often common likes and dislikes, common appearances, a common name, and common relatives! Whereas this can take many years to develop with another persons, in the context of the family, one is born into it. How wonderful! Meeting cousins is always wonderful, because there is at once a newness and a familiarity. This kind of relationship is so good that St. Thomas in the quote about talks about how marrying those of another family is wonderful, precisely because it increases the number of relationships like this.

I had a thought regarding the childless. Aristotle says that the ideal state is one that has as its end the common good. Less perfect states are those that aim at less common goods. Another premise, a common good is one's own good. All right, now someone who does not have children (or at least younger relatives or younger friends) will seem to have little or no interest for laws unless they affect someone of their own age group. This would be detrimental to a state which is to last from one generation to the next. On the other hand, those who have descendants (I read of an Israeli woman who recently died--she had 1400 living descendants) will be concerned that laws are framed such that they will benefit not only their own generation, but even those to come.

This makes me want to read The Republic again, paying special attention to the state invented there. Socrates suggests having children and wives in common, and yet by doing this the special relationships among them would be diminished. This is why Marx's plan leads to the destruction of the person. After reading that again, I will want to read book 2 of Aristotle's Politics where he criticizes it. Here is one line from chapter 3: "Each of the citizens comes to have a thousand sons, though not as an individual, but each in a similar fashion the son of any of them; hence all will slight them in similar fashion." And another: "It is better to have a cousin of one's own than to have a son in the sense indicated." Oh, and another! "It is impossible to avoid some who suspect who their brothers, parents, etc. actually are." That is to say, we are provided by such relations by nature.

There's some great stuff here. A quote from chapter 4: "We suppose affection to be the greatest of good things for cities." and "There are two things above all which make human beings cherish and feel affection, what is one's own and what is dear."

Another brief note. Some will say "Why are you looking to Aristotle's Politics for wisdom about political life and family relations? Doesn't he encourage slavery?" Two answers: one, he takes slavery as a given and then tries to understand its place within the whole of political and economic life. (I sometimes want to point out that the tasks done by slaves have not gone away: they still need to be done. Though I will grant that slavery and employed labor are not the same thing. That can be a long conversation for later..) The second encouragement to study the Politics comes from Blessed John Paul II! Here's a quote: "Returning to Aristotle, we should add that, as well as the Nicomachean Ethics, he also left us a work on social ethics. It is entitled Politics. Here, without addressing questions concerning the concrete strategies of political life, Aristotle limits himself to defining the ethical principles on which any just political system should be based. Catholic social teaching owes much to Aristotle’s Politics and has acquired particular prominence in modern times, thanks to the issue of labor." So that's encouraging. Read the whole of that chapter here:

Rereading that chapter just now, I noticed how much the Blessed Pope talks about freedom, which he also defines: "Freedom, for Aristotle, is a property of the will which is realized through truth. It is given to man as a task to be accomplished. There is no freedom without truth." How wonderful! Freedom is often identified with autonomy, being able to do what one wants without anyone's help or burden; the freedom John Paul speaks of is something which is open to others because it is open to truth. The Pope mentions many documents about such freedom and how it stands to human relations, especially noting Gaudium et Spes. I'm putting that at the top of my queue now...

Speaking of relation, my sister coincidentally posted a status on Facebook that seems capture something of what I'm trying to get at:
"While over the summer I was exposed to sickening amounts of profanity and blows of blatant sexism, these same men could become the most sensitive and heartfelt when talking about one subject: thier wives. Like an excited child talking about Christmas, each one would talk about her unique, timeless beauty, often showing me pictures. They would tell of her sweetness, intelligence, her motherly wisdom. Their love was so great for their wives. With overtime there is rejoicing, since they are already away from home and their wives aren't at the hotel. Weekend work? A silence of sorrow. This marvelous sweetness and passion turned an awful day around, restoring a little hope in love. Thank you. And yet, they didn't share for my sake; they just couldn't keep from talking about the one they love."

Yep, that sums it up. 

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