integral calculus: avery dulles and the death penalty

For the introduction to this series, here. For the first post like this one, here.

Article in Weekly Standard on Cardinal Avery Dulles and his somewhat nuanced reiteration of traditional Catholic teaching on the Death Penalty. The author Mark Tooley pretty accurately in my mind represents Dulles’ views. When I was a Jesuit I spent my last year in studies at Fordham where then Cardinal Dulles was still teaching (that was in 2003-2004). Dulles died recently (RIP and pray for us). He was flat and dry as a a piece of wood in class but he was a really kind and gracious person. And a brilliant scholar. The basic gist of the position re: death penalty is that the Catholic Church grants the state the right to have the death penalty but particularly in countries with modern penal systems probably doesn’t ever actually need to use it. And should proceed if ever with extreme caution. Certainly issues in the US system like the number of cases of DNA exonerating people either after death or while on death row, the execution of the mentally challenged or disturbed, and the massively disproportionate number of poor people (poor white, black, and Latino) as those executed all suggest a mass moratorium across the country on the practice. For anyone interested here is a really well done sorta fan page of Dulles with video, articles he’s written, and the like.

Anyway off to the perspectives…  (Warning: Dense-ness  ahead).

(From the article)

Seemingly none of the recent obituaries of Avery Dulles, a renowned theologian and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, has mentioned his crisp, theoretical defense of capital punishment


Obits are a particularly interesting case study from the point of view of integral perspectivalism. [Especially given its new quadratic tendencies relative to new technologies/culture]. Obits relay the intersections of a public figure and his/her public signs (3rd person communication through 2nd person modes of discourse to express one’s first person interpretation of one’s first person interior). They run the gambit from attempting to place oneself almost inside the skin of the deceased. A 1st person (with their own first person consciousness) taking up an imaginative what if position of being in the interiors of the 2nd person (to the writer, i.e. the deceased). That 2nd person (relative to the obituarist) who is now no longer alive in our understanding of life leaves open the question of the continuation of consciousness (first person awareness in bodily 3rd person form inherently in relational 2nd persons/1st plural modes…i.e. comm-union of saints).

Other obits, like this one in the Weekly Standard, deal with a strain of the dead’s thought or work. The obits deal with the signs. A sign, treated as a quadratic holon from the perspective of the investigator (called a quadrivia). For signs that is the signified, the third person (relative to my first person) materiality–either words on a page or vocal vibrations in the voice, or hand or other non-verbal gestures—is the UR, which always already (given it is in inherent relationship both interior and exterior, bottom quadrants) comes to be in a series of interactions or a social technology-medium (syntax), the LR. Those materialities are simply the 3rd person view when viewed from the 1st person (the interior correlates of the exterior arising depending on the view upon which one takes up relative to the arising occassion/holon), then we have the signified (UL, the intended expression) which is itself always already within a culture, or a series of nested cultures (LLs all the way down), i.e. the semantics. The quadrant-sign itself then is already arising from a first person approaching an occasion in either 1,2, or 3rd person modes of being and the sign then helps enact/interpret/embody a referent. In the case of this essay the teaching on capital punishment.

The teaching on capital punishment itself a very much 1st person plural, normative, justness/justice, moral mode of being-in-the-world. The teaching on capital punishment in other words is itself a reeferent that intrinsically brings one into relation with the event of the state actually executing a person—condemned by legal mechanisms of the state.

The state which in Wilber’s formulation possesses regnant-nexus agency and itself is in a series of relationship with states upon states (the adaptation/communion of a state) as well as the history of its own statehood (i.e. previous levels of transformation, history of people, previous constitutions) as well as sub-parts within the nexus agency of the state (e.g. in the US the Federal Union negating and preserving the confederation of previous state republics).

The legal mechanisms of a state are the legal practices (UR), in legal social technology-space (LR), that create a normative political-legal space in a society (LL), that overtime embed as the unconscious of an individual (UL).

The state executing a person inherently raises the question of the validity, reach, and application of the legal quadrants and in particular both their practices (injunctions), their description (empiricism), and their interpretation/embedding through the community of the expert (falsifiability/worldview). And not only that discussion in terms of correctly pointing out what they do in fact do (positive law) but actually a normative discussion (the 1st person plural space).

As an individual one is a member of the interactions that make up the state. To stand then against that system can be very hard. And execution of a criminal (as decided from the point of view of the reigning regnant legal nexus of the political governance) is really in a sense to wipe out their membership and to inscribe through the technology of killing, i.e. the behavioral moment of say injecting the poisonous die, firing the bullet, swinging the axe to the neck, and/or turning on the gas or electricity, literally in the flesh the power of the state as holdover of life and death. The state (which is not different from us as citizens of said state–assuming for the moment a modern-level liberal democratic order) assings certain individuals the task of doing the executing, who are themselves first persons with their own first person awareness and their connection to the killing of a criminal puts them inherently in relation with the one to be executed. At the arising of the Soul (the subtle self-sense) there is soul-communion between the killer and killed. It’s a profound, or at least can be, relationship and raises the great questions of whether one can kill and still love someone simultaneously?

Renowned Theologian

Theologian comes from theology–“the logos of the theos” or the logos of God. Logos can be translated into English as reason, rationale, as well as the idiom (the mindset) of some form of inquiry. In this case God or the gods.

The translation issue shows up profoundly as the split between theology as a professionalized academic discipline (logos as mental reasoning) and theology (per idiom) as the language-experience of the Divine. The first dominant particularly in Western Christianity since The Middle Ages and the rise o fScholastic Theology requires simply a formal-operational level of human cognition. The other less well known understanding of theologian is as mystic–one speaks the logos of the theos. This view is the classic understanding and is still the primary one in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition.

Avery Dulles was clearly of the first camp. He was a renowned theologian in the former, scholastic sense of theology. He is most famous for an application of model-based theory to the study of the church. Dulles took up a first person plural (or 2nd person dialogical) hermeneutic stance (studying the signs, actions, texts of the church) from within and then a 3rd person view from within the first person space–which arises as model theories. Reconstructions that point to the tendency of certain patterns/structures to replicate themselves over and over again in the history of the church.

Dulles emphasized that Pope John Paul II and the bishops in recent years have upheld the classical Catholic tradition about capital punishment, affirming its theoretical validity, while warning against its potential for “miscarriages of justice, the increase of vindictiveness, or disrespect for the value of innocent human life.”

When applied to moral questions, integral thought argues for a Moral Calculus (to go along with our Perspectival Calculus) or Basic Moral Intuition. The Intuition is to understand the basics at play in a Kosmic world whereby there are levels of developed lifeworlds with the later ones more adequate/complex than the former but dependent upon the former for their existence. Not to mention multiple lines of development, individuals and collectives. Any moral act will inherently cause some pain for some so the question is how to make one’s best guess given the inordinate complexity and multi-dimensionality at work.

On capital punishment I tend to think this intuition is basically correct. Namely that states in the traditional order (mythic-agrarian empire) had to be able to put down anarchy within their boundaries as much as possible particularly against tribal forms of warfare (raiding, constant low-grade tribe v tribe war). With the rise of the bureaucratic modern state, there is the potential for a regularized penal system wherein a criminal who represents a legitimate threat to society and individuals can be held. That scenario is to be preferred (defensive and yet more humane than execution) so long as the infrastructure exists to legitimately hold such individuals. With the rise of the postmodern wave, however, the institutions of penal systems (and particularly their corrosive connection into the market economy), particularly in the writings of Foucault, the disciplining, oppressive functions of modern penal systems came to light. So a move to humanize/compassion-ify prison reform (i.e. rehabilitation forms of correction as opposed to simply retributive only) arose. Those reform models need to recall however the reality that some criminals, the most hardened of them, exist at extremely low levels of moral development (usually completely narcissistic) and no matter what the rehabilitation or compassionate system of correction represent a serious and fairly constant threat to society. And are perhaps unreformable (the retribution/incarceration model here of the law & order blue regime typically much more effective here).

Although Puritanical in demeanor, John Foster Dulles [ed. Avery’s famous father, think: Dulles Airport in DC] was hardly a devout, orthodox Calvinist. The son of a liberal Presbyterian seminary professor, he was a theological modernist. The elder Dulles dismissed “fundamentalism” as intellectually untenable…John Foster Dulles’ liberal Presbyterianism, focused more on statecraft and ethics than personal devotion, evidently did not appeal to the young Avery Dulles, who became an agnostic. While a student at Harvard in the 1930s, the younger Dulles became a believer in God after examining the intricate beauty of a blossoming tree.

Hardly a devout orthodox Calvinist. He was a theological modernist. Dismissed ‘fundamentalism’ as intellectually untenable.

John Foster Dulles fit a classic pattern of 1950s US Christianity. It represented the temporary victory of Liberal Protestant Christianity (where Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was on the Cover of Time for its 25th Anniversary Edition!!!). Modernism grew out of the orange liberal wave of modernity and was the application of that basic wave to (non-evangelical, mainline Protestant Christianity). It’s theological roots go back to Friedrick Schleiermacher in the 19th century. In Fowler’s stages of faith development (theological worldview line) stage 4, individual reflective faith.

Its typical danger (from previous link):

Its dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self overassimilates “reality” and the perspectives of others into its own world view.

Fundamentalism as intellectually untenable and his WASP anger at his son’s conversion to Catholicism (both considered lower from his liberal pov). Fundamentalism here means in the original sense of the argument against Theological Modernism in favor of “Fundamentals”. Fundamentalism here originally meant a very cognitive-intellectual defense of classic Christian doctrines (an intellectualized modernist defense of classic myth, thereby neither truly understanding modern reason nor the value of myth). Modernism allowed for the metaphoric readings of things like the Virgin Birth whereas Fundamentalism argued that one had to believe literally-concretely in the fundamentals. Formal operational cognition to defend pre-modern mythic worldview.

[JF Dulles’ liberal Presbyterianism] focused more statecraft and ethics than personal devotion.

Another classic hallmark of liberal orange-wave modernist Protestant Christianity. As Kant had earlier written (the philosophical father of so much of theological modernism/classic Protestant theology) religion was to be had only within the limits of reason alone. With the bounds/horizon, that is, set up by the classic modern worldview. [This is why Kant had such a love/hate relationship with mystics like Emanuel Swendenborg who represented a state visionary experience which was typically aligned with an earlier structural-worldview stage of development. When The Enlightenment came along and correctly brought up a deeper/more complex structural stage of development, it typically denied the earlier (more mystical) state understandings that were interpreted through the earlier worldview. Swendenborg is an interesting example of trying to apply a modern rational-structural logic to the visionary trans-rational experiences].

As modernity moved largely from the interiors to the exteriors (the dominance of the “IT” point of view, i.e. the colonization of the lifeworld) than religion to be within the limits of reason alone was largely moralistic and political. For Kant, the proof of God’s existence was The Moral Law.  Versus….

While a student at Harvard in the 1930s, the younger Dulles became a believer in God after examining the intricate beauty of a blossoming tree. By 1940, he was converted to the “sublimity” of Catholic doctrine

Notice in both the conversion to God and to Catholic doctrine the emphasis on aesthetics (as the domain of truthfulness, beauty, expression of all arising moments).


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: