Sunday, February 21, 2010

J. Budziszewski: "The Natural, the Connatural, and the Unnatural" (Update)

(Update: I failed to mention in the earlier version of this post that a version of Professor Budziszewski's article forms one of the chapters in his recent book The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction [ISI Books, 2009]. I should have told you this, since I endorsed the book!)

The following are excerpts from an illuminating essay authored by University of Texas Professor of Philosophy and Government, J. Budziszewski (notes omitted):

Can the unnatural become natural to us?

One of the strangest and most intriguing things about
human nature is its openness to what Plato and subsequent philosophers have called "second nature." We are designed in such a way that things which are not part of our design can become so habitual, so ingrained, that they seem as though they are. Another old-fashioned term for this phenomenon is "connaturality." Consider the grace of a classically trained ballerina. Human beings do not spontaneously move like that; she must learn that exquisite poise, that heartrending beauty in movement. To that end, she retrains every nerve, muscle, and reflex until clumsiness would take effort, artlessness would take art, and her very walking looks like dancing. It isn't that grace becomes effortless for her even then, although she makes it look as though it is. But her limbs have internalized the aesthetic of the dance; beautiful movement, or at least beautiful movement of that kind, has become connatural. It is second nature to her.

Can something that goes against the grain also become ingrained? Can something in conflict with nature also become second nature? In one sense, apparently, yes. Consider coffee. We naturally avoid bitter flavors, and I have never heard of anyone liking coffee at first taste. Yet it is possible to learn to enjoy that particular bitter flavor, even to savor it. For me, this happened on a cold day in Chicago in my eighteenth year, when black coffee was the only hot thing around.

In a certain sense, every acquired discipline goes against our natural inclinations. Consider the ballerina again. The young dancer persists in unpleasant practice for the sake of an end which is so fascinating, delightful, and vitalizing that the boredom, pain, and exhaustion of the means are worth enduring. That is how it is with the virtues too. Initially, it is difficult to be good, to be brave, to be true, difficult and most unpleasant. Yet if one persists in this unpleasant discipline -- as I later explain, with the help of divine grace as well -- then one can see a day coming from afar, when it will be more difficult and unpleasant not to be good, honest, and true. The actions that virtue requires become second nature....

We are now in a position to restate our original question. I asked whether the unnatural can become connatural, whether something that goes against the grain can become ingrained. Something that goes against the grain of lower nature can surely become ingrained, otherwise no one would drink coffee, become brave, or learn to dance. But can something that goes against the grain of higher nature become ingrained? To put the query another way, can the radically unnatural become connatural -- is our design open to what frustrates the purposes of our design?

Let us call this The Problem of Unnatural Connaturality. For illumination, I turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.

You can read the whole thing

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