The Oxford Dominicans have been enjoying more publishing success as they have cleared out the desk of the great Herbert McCabe O.P. (that’s Order of Preachers, Thomas Aquinas’s Dominican teaching order). Herbert McCabe taught without bothering too much about publication, but a crucial work that he did send to the publishers is ‘Law, Love and Language’.
Here Herbert McCabe shows us that ethics is about all human action and interaction, and that we are intrinsically in conversation, all our action is response to others, and this economy of response determines our environment too. There is no split here between nature and culture (between ‘is’ and ‘ought’). There is no particular need to attribute anything here to Aquinas or Wittgenstein, for McCabe is simply saying that we are not disembodied beings isolated from another in an inert or neutral or hostile world. McCabe’s argument is simply good Christian theology, so he shows that we are not only embodied, but social and linguistic beings too. McCabe’s version of ethics as all human action is therefore very much bigger than the usual accounts of morality investigated through a small number of difficult moral problems. Herbert McCabe replaces our modern dualist account of language and life (for every thing, a word timelessly exists, so language is simply the correspondence of word to thing) with a more supple dynamic (‘aristotelian’) account which allows that what we do really alters who we are, what there is and how we relate to it. What we think of things and how we name them is not just the (post-)modern power game of the individual. We inherit and inhabit our social world along with how we think of it, as we live and interact in interlocking sets of language-speakers and communities. This deflates the (post-) modern Cartesian view which makes naming an act of power by the individual who is above all relationship and responsibility. The effect of his book is to show how in hock we are to the disembodying pull of Cartesian thought, for which turns we are essentially a demonic eye that hovers above the world. In other words, McCabe has recovered important aspects of theological anthropology and the doctrine of creation.
I’ll post some snippets from Law, Love and Language. You’ll thank me.