This is merely an old, unfinished paper back from when I was a genius-in-training. Deleted the old files so this is purely random & just because I felt like posting it. I refer to Abelard’s philosophy in the post “If You Know Better, Don’t Engage.” Just wanted you all to get an idea of the theories of Vice vs Sin. Read the book yourself if this snippet has left you wanting more 😉
April 5, 2009
Peter Abelard’s Ethical Writings deals with describing and identifying sin. He insists that sin is beyond action and is committed by the consent of one’s mind and soul to do wrong. He leads us into the understanding that reason plays an enormous part in the decisions we make; from the actions we choose to the basis for our religious beliefs.
There is a great difference between a mental vice and a sin. A mental vice is not as bad as sin. As humans, we are all victims of vices and are not perfect. It is common for one to think of something inappropriate. The difference lies in whether if, given the opportunity, one would consent to the action. Our bodily wants and inclinations are impossible to escape. The basic animal nature of the human being makes us all equally susceptible to inclinations.
One usually believes that a sin in based in the action committed but it is before the action that sin takes place. A vice “is present even when the action is absent” (4), as is sin. Vice more readily describes the disposition of the person than the actual action. An individual’s personality may make them more or less inclined to consent to certain actions. A mental vice gives that person the capability of doing wrong. The vice is “in the soul in such a way that the soul is easily given” (4) to bad actions. Therefore, while the vice can exist, sin may not exist with it. Vice requires consent to form sin.
Sin is non-being. It is either a good thing that is not done or a bad thing that is notrenounced. It is the absence of a certain action. For example, by not respect one’s parents, you are sinning. Also by notturning down temptation, you are also sinning.
The sin occurs when we consider doing a bad action. The consent of the mind is equal to “scorn for God and an affront against him” (7). By consenting to an action, you are basically implying that regardless of what God considers right, there is a chance you might commit a wrong. Humans, given reason, have the ability to choose between right and wrong. We are all aware of what a good action is and what a bad action is. Having been given this ability, the use of reason must then be applied to all actions. Consenting to inappropriate actions implies that we have chosen to sin since we have to ability to choose not to.
There is no way a person will commit a bad action without consenting to it. For example, a married man may find his neighbor attractive. As humans, we frequently find others attractive. The factor of sin depends on whether or not he would, if given the chance, sleep with his neighbor. The man who does not consent at all has not sinned. Yet he who, if given the opportunity, would commit the action has sinned simply from consenting. A sin does not need to be qualified by an action to have been mentally consented to. By scorning God, one has committed the greatest, most shameful act. Abelard insists that “submission to vices” “disfigures the soul” (6).
Whether or not someone wanted, meant to or willed to commit a sin, it is still a sin. When committing a sin, one has consented to the action whether with conscious reasoning or not. Any action done willingly, especially knowing that it is wrong and against God’s laws, is unmistakably voluntary. Abelard provides the example of the slave who, to save his own life, murders his master. He does not want to murder the master, but in order to obtain what he values more (his life) he consents to murder even though he does not want or will the murder. As Abelard states, “it is plain that sin is sometimes committed without any bad will at all, so that it is clear from this that willing isn’t said to be what sin is” (20).
If a person does will something but does not consent to the action, this is not necessarily a sin. As with a married man who finds another woman attract. So long as he does not consent to the possibility of committing adultery, he has not sinned. The inclinations we feel are natural and occur to all beings without condition. These inclinations are necessary, in Abelard’s eyes, insisting that “we struggle by fighting here [on earth] in order that, triumphant in the struggle, we might receive the crown elsewhere” (22). The will to sin will arise but resisting the consent to action is what makes the person triumphant. If there is nothing to fight against, one has no proof or being a good person. How can God decide that you have proven yourself worthy of a rewarding afterlife if there were no obstacles to overcome?
Abelard tackles the issue of whether or not sin is voluntary. As mentioned before, to sin is to scorn God by doing as we please –not what he considers right. Still, as we may sin by doing what we want, Abelard points out we do not “want to scorn God…or to grow worse or to be made deserving of damnation” (31). No one looks for punishment. When committing a sin, one usually acts in a way that will benefit you whether it is out of duress or for pleasure. We commit these acts because some sort of good will come from it. The slave kills his master to save his own life. The married man commits adultery in order to satisfy his sexual desires. None these actions were committed neither in order to receive God’s scorn nor to gain admittance into eternal damnation. The thought of God has not crossed that person’s mind. By sinning, he/she did not specifically think, “I want to scorn God,” rather they thought “I want pleasure,” or “I want to live”.
During the action, there is no debate of right vs. wrong ensuing in the person’s mind. It is before the action occurs [during consent] that the real sin is based. When consenting, one is supposed to use reason and choose the right path. The married man, tempted to sleep with his neighbor, must think “I cannot and will never do that because it is wrong”. Reasoning is used in this stage as to avoid sin. If one is already in the middle of the action, there has already been consent. The sin happened before the action.
The action does not add additional sin because “any kind of carrying out of deeds is irrelevant to increasing a sin” (47). We commit sins in order to obtain various beneficial ends all of which contain some sort of inherent pleasure. Pleasure applies to many different benefits. One can find pleasure in sexual activity or even in the tastes of foods. One also finds pleasure in staying alive. So whether one is a glutton, an adulterer or has committed murder for self-defense, a sin has been committed by consenting to an action considered wrong by God. Abelard expresses that it is incorrect to label an action as sin. The action simply provides the person with pleasure. We cannot call pleasure in itself a sin since God has allowed us to experience such pleasure. Yet, letting this pleasure overcome us leads us down the wrong path.
Still Abelard understands the it is fairly impossible for anyone to go their entire lives without committing a single sin, insisting that “it is hard, indeed impossible, in our feeble state for us to stay completely devoid of sin” (136) The laws set by God do not address our unspoken, unseen feelings or actions. They are laid out apparently plainly telling us what to do and not to do as specific actions. For example, one of the commandments tells us not to steal. But it does not say “do not will to steal”. The will to sin will always be present, even when sin is not. One can want to steal, want commit adultery or want to murder but never consider actually playing out the act. This shows that the will for evil is present without sin.
They also exist the other way around. An evil action can exist without sin. For example, it is a sin for a man to take his sister as his wife. But what would happen if this man was not aware that the woman was his sister. He was ignorant of the sin. By marrying his sister, he has committed a sin. Not being aware of what he was doing makes him no less guilty of committing the deed. Therefore, a sinful deed can be committed when the sin of consent is not present. We can see with this example that there are times when “one wills something to be done contrary to God’s command, but even that it is done, and done knowingly, without any of the guilt belonging to sin” (66).
Sin takes place in three stages: Suggestion, pleasure and consent (68). The suggestion is when the opportunity or thought arises. Pleasure applies to the benefit one would receive in doing the action (this is the desire, will or inclination). The consent solidifies the sin by agreeing to it (given the opportunity).
Abelard’s writings give the consent more importance than the action itself and explains then, why the deed is punished more drastically than the consent. This is because the deed, whether done with sin or not, should be punished by law regardless of condition because it is wrong. Yet the sins of the mind can only be judged by God. One cannot escape God’s judgment because it is He “alone who pays attention not so much to the deeds done as to the mind with which they are done, [and] is truly thinking about the guilt in our intention and tries the fault in a true court” (82). The judges in the mortal world may uphold God’s laws but they are not ultimate judges. Only on the Day of Judgment will we know how we will be punished.
As Abelard has his dialogue with the Christian the issue of God also arises. Abelard’s writing insists that the consent of the mind uses reasoning when deciding what to or what not to do. Yet the Christian would argue that will belongs to God alone and one should give up one’s will for God, showing that you have faith in him. Abelard does not agree that one should have blind faith for God. Reasoning is important.
In the Christian mind, natural law insists that humans have a natural ability to know God. The Christian believes that….