Friday, October 01, 2004

A Mertonian Non Sequitur

Thomas Merton, Journals (III, 1952-1960, p. 118):

But if God wills no pleasure, every pleasure is sinful.

Non sequitur! Merton is confusing not willing X with willing non-X. If no pleasure P is such that God wills P's being experienced, it does not follow that every P is such that God wills P's not being experienced. For there is a third case, the case in which P's being experienced is neither forbidden (and thus not morally impermissible) nor commanded (and thus not morally obligatory). P might be a morally indifferent pleasure like that of enjoying a bowl of cherries.

Whether or not one accepts a divine command theory of moral obligation, one must accept that the morally obligatory/morally impermissible distinction does not partition the class of actions into two mutually exhaustive sub-classes. For there is a class of actions that are neither morally obligatory nor morally impermissible.

In the passage in question, Merton is commenting on San Juan de la Cruz and trying to twist him around to his own point of view.