Monday, August 16, 2010

Discerning the Good

In chapter 8 of Book One, Hooker returns to the question of how humans naturally discern the laws that govern proper behavior. He reminds the reader that humans are created to desire the good, so that human “felicitie therefore being the object and accomplishment of our desire, we cannot choose but wish and covet it” (I.8.1, 3-5). Reason enables humans to discern the good, but human reason itself is imperfect so that “If reason erre, we fall into evill, and are so farre foorth deprived of the generall perfection we seeke” (I.8.1, 7-9).

Hooker explains that there are two general ways to discern goodness. One is by the “knowledge of the causes whereby it is made such” (I.8.2, 28-29). This is the method of scholastic thought and Aristotelianism but Hooker observes that this approach is so mentally taxing that people rarely engage in it, making it less than useful for the public debate with Puritanism that Hooker has engaged. The other approach is the “observation of those signes and tokesn, which being annexed alwaies unto goodness, argue that where they are found, there also goodness is, although we know not the cause by force whereof it is there” (I.8.2, 29-1). This approach to discerning goodness rationally is more appealing to Hooker, especially when objects or concepts are deemed good by a broad consensus of humanity. Hooker summarizes this inductive approach to rationally discerning by expanding on the medieval English concept that the voice of the people is the voice of God: “The generall and perpetuall voyce of men is as the sentence of God him selfe. For that which all men have at all times learned, nature her selfe must needed have taught; and God being the author of nature, her voyce is but his instrument” (I.8.4, 1-4).

Hooker continues to build his argument about the law of nature by observing that this is something that all humans can observe and so be drawn to natural goodness for which all humans were created (I.8.6). Reason helps people to determine the goodness of their actions. This “sentence of reason,” as Hooker calls it, is “either mandatory, shewing what must be done; or els permissive, declaring onely what may bee done; or thirdly admonitory, opening what is the most convenient for us to be done” (I.8.8, 2-5). Here Hooker shows that there is a diversity of things that might be called good, but all good things share the quality of having been discerned by humans via rational insight to be in them good. In turn, although all people, whether Christian or not, can rationally discern the good, nonetheless this is not possible “without the perpetuall aid and concurrence of that supreme cause of all things” (I.8.11, 27-28).

Hooker’s reasoning here is itself a distillation of Artistole’s thought and common theme in humanist scholarship in the century preceding Hooker. For Hooker, there is a common ground of reasoning to draw upon here with which he will uses as a foundation to rebuff the biblicism of his Puritan opponents.

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