Saturday, April 17, 2010

Prescriptive is a kind of Descriptive

I made New Advent my home page, and I keep seeing all these great article lines. Here's one:

There is a Freedom in Holiness

One of the misunderstandings of the Christian moral life is that it is basically a long list of dos and don’ts, or that it is a set of rules imposed on us. As such it is largely seen in negative terms wherein out behavior is said to be limited and our freedom circumscribed by authoritative norms.....

A more helpful and true understanding of the Christian moral life and of Christian moral norms is that they are descriptions of what a transformed human being is like. What begins to happen to a person who is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ? What do they look like, act like? What are their priorities and attitudes? In other words what begins to happen to a person in whom Jesus Christ really beings to live and whom he is transforming?
This reminds me a bit of David Hicks's Norms and Nobility. He makes a distinction between "prescriptive" and "descriptive" norms. ... the latter being the kind you get with statistics. But one thoroughly traditional aspect of "prescriptive" norms, the ideal kind, is that they describe someone -- someone we aren't now, perhaps can never become, but can come nearer to than we are at this moment. When we admire Hector for his steadfast bravery and his tenderness with his young son, it's an admiration that comes from a description, from seeing his character evoked in the epic. It's something that we can somehow participate in, if we choose to emulate these characteristics in our own lives, even though we will never be Hector and perhaps wouldn't want to be, all things considered.

When a doctor gives us a "prescription" he is giving us a remedy, a therapy that will hopefully help us reach the health that is presumed to be part of our potential though we may not possess it at present.

The traditional descriptions of nobility and heroism are reminder that we have the potential for nobility, too. We can transcend what we are at the moment. The prescriptive norm sketched by the moral Law, as Msr Pope points out, is a description of what our transformed selves would look like.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!