Friday, July 09, 2004

Is Fuzziness a Good Thing?

From Demi, In an English Garden:

...I will say this: the way things were done was not the way Rome, for instance, would have approached it. But that is, to me, one of the primary differences in Roman thinking as opposed to Anglican thinking. They have two very different ways of being.

Hopefully if I'm off-base here, Paul will jump in and straighten this out. But from what I have gathered, there are (at least) two ways to approach the theory of law: Napoleonic and English. Civil law and common law.

From what I have gathered, (and I am painting with a very broad brush here) the English favored an ad hoc process: everything is permitted until it scares the dogs and wakes the children. Once a thing becomes problematic for the community, only then is it allowed but restricted or allowed outright or else forbidden. Experience is what drives the creation of law.

Conversely, the Roman or Napoleonic mode of law-making begins with a first principle, and derives corollaries from that principle. You can see this meta-cognitive difference in the way the two theologies are written: pick up a Roman Catholic catechism, and you'll see a masterwork of formal logic, with syllogisms carefully worked out. The legacy of Aquinas and Aristotle. It's deductive logic: begin with a premise, and work out the corollaries from there...

...Had The Issue arisen in the Roman church, the hierarchy's course of action would have been clear: excommunicate the heretics. They are no longer Roman Catholics. End of story, finito. Roma locuta est, causa finita est: "Rome has spoken; the case is closed." They don't burn heretics at the stake anymore, but they do forbid them to teach in Catholic universities. Then they find jobs in secular or Protestant institutions, who are more than happy to have them, because Romans do a lot of good scholarship. (Celibates who don't have to feed four hungry chillen and a wife have the time and resources to devote their all to their work. Makes sense.)

In any case, the mode of discourse that takes first principles first, and derives all corollaries from those premises is how they do things on the other side of the Tiber.

Well, Anglicans don't do things that way. Try to find a work of systematic theology in that tradition: go on, I dare you. Hooker comes closest, but if you read the Anglican theologians, they are fuzzy fuzzy fuzzy. They're smart people, so you have to assume that they like things this way. Fuzzy...
Hmm, come to think of it, Cantuar does look a bit "fuzzy," doesn't he?

There's much more, including a "colorful" example, and a great analogy drawn from English gardens.

Go read the whole thing. I know I may be biased, since Demi is my lovely bride, but I really think she's on to something here.


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