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Natural Law and the Meaning Crisis

Taken from Jonathan Pageau’s January Q&A:

Question: Is there much difference in the Platonic forms and the patterns you talk about in your videos?

Pageau: There is definitely a relationship between the two.  I think that the more ancient cosmologies are closer to what I am talking about than the Platonic forms, although I do think that Plato is super-helpful, and that Neo-Platonism is super-helpful to help us integrate all of this together.

But I am really older world than that.  It’s like hierarchies of acting principalities is what the world is mostly made of.  That is, these forms are not just abstract concepts or abstract ideas.  That the ideas are active, that they are purposive.

That’s why I think St. Maximus the confessor gets it so much better because he joins the notion of forms with the notion of purpose.  He joins the notion of forms with the notion of Aristotle’s final causes.  That there is an active aspect, there is something that is pushing and pulling, which is bringing things into being through teleology.

So, I think that that might be the difference.

What does this have to do with natural law and the meaning crisis?  Pageau describes patterns, and these patterns can lift us up or tear us down.  To what do we aim our purposive behavior?  What is the end, the telos, at which we aim?  The answer to this question will aim us higher or aim us lower.

The highest purpose is love – love God, love our neighbor.  The manifestation of this is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is Aristotle’s manifest form of the perfect abstract form described by Plato – God.  It appears, although I am no expert, that this is what Maximus was describing.

Jesus is the ultimate, the highest, archetype.  The form of the Good made manifest.  This is the pattern, and He offers that at which we would aim.  And from this, one can deduce all of the natural law.

I explain my thoughts further on this here.

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Paul VanderKlay is commenting on the Joe Rogan – Jordan Peterson discussion.  After Peterson introduces the foundational value of the Bible to Western Culture, VanderKlay offers:

“And he’s right.  He’s exactly right.  That’s the Bible.  It’s not just the Bible.  It’s the Bible and all of the mechanisms, all of the culture that has brought the Bible out into the world and have facilitated the Bible’s coding of our world.”

To which I commented:

Paul, it’s called natural law.  I don’t think I have mentioned this before…. 🙂

Obviously, I have, dozens of times.  PVK is inching closer but still isn’t going there or just hasn’t grasped it.  I have written before (scroll down here) about the struggle that many Protestants and all Orthodox Christians (let alone academic philosophers) have with accepting the idea of the natural law ethic (or, at least, saying the words), although the entire conversation that involves Peterson, VanderKlay, Pageau and Vervaeke is aimed directly at it and is searching for it.

Abandoning natural law is at the root of the meaning crisis, solutions for which these four and others are grasping.

Continuing with my comment:

That culture is found in and through many that have influenced and shaped the West and have been the sources through which we have been able to understand the natural law ethic that has its foundational requirements found in Scripture.  These influences would include (in addition to Biblical authors) Aristotle (the Apostle Paul understood that the Greeks were in search of God when he spoke at the Areopagus) and Aquinas, among others.

Conclusion

I have traced this out more extensively here.  But to summarize: man is created with a purpose; that purpose is exemplified in the life of Christ – the form of Plato’s Good made manifest as Aristotle (and, apparently, Maximus) would have it.

Pageau and VanderKlay are describing exactly this and this is precisely what they have been in search of.  Protestant nominalism and Orthodox angst about Scholasticism prevents or otherwise disallows these two from embracing the possibility that the answer to the meaning crisis is to be found in Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law.

It doesn’t help that when either of these two have had conversations with Catholic theologians, clergy, or lay people, the Catholics don’t even bring it up.

Protestants need not accept the Catholic faith to find value in natural law; the Orthodox need not accept every word in the Summa to do the same.  Overcoming these, or whatever, obstacles, would go a long way toward aiming this conversation toward a fruitful end.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.