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Defending Probabilism

The Moral Theology of Juan Caramuel

Publication Year: 2006

Through the centuries, at the heart of Catholic moral theology is a fundamental question: How do we behave responsibly in the face of moral uncertainty? Attempts to resolve problems of everyday life led to the growth of a variety of moral systems, one of which emerged in the early 17th century and was known as "probabilism." This method of solving difficult moral cases allowed the believer to rely upon a view that was judged defensible in terms of its arguments or the authorities behind it, even if the opposite opinion was supported by stronger arguments or more authorities. The theologian Juan Caramuel, a Spanish Cistercian monk whom Alphonso Liguori famously characterized as "the prince of laxists," has been regarded as one of the more extreme—and notorious—proponents of probabilism. As the only full-length English study of Caramuel's theological method, Defending Probabilism seeks to reappraise Caramuel's legacy, claiming that his model of moral thinking, if better understood, can actually be of help to the Church today. Considered one of the most erudite theologians of his age, a scientist and scholar who published works on everything from astronomy and architecture to printing and Gregorian chant, Caramuel strove throughout his life to understand probabilism's theological and philosophical foundations as part of his broader analysis of the nature of human knowledge. In applying Caramuel's legacy to our own time, Defending Probabilism calls for a reconsideration of the value of provisional moral knowledge. Fleming's study shows that history matters, and that to attain any position on moral certitude is a difficult and painstaking process.

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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pp. x

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pp. xi-xv

Why do we study and read history? History has a value and, importance in itself. The pursuit of knowledge is a good in itself. History has become a very significant academic discipline in our world and history touches all aspects of our existence. Countries are proud of...

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pp. xvii-xxii

In 1663 Juan Caramuel, the bishop of a poor Italian diocese, responded to what he regarded as dangerous ethical innovations by defending in print a “most ancient and universal” Christian moral doctrine. Rejecting this tradition, he warned, would lead to dire consequences for...

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pp. xxiii

While the author bears responsibility for all errors and weaknesses in the present work, its production would have been impossible without the assistance of others, especially Charles E. Curran, who composed the foreword, James Keenan, S.J., and Richard Brown of Georgetown University...

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Chapter 1. Situating Probabilism: The Ethical Theory and Its Significance for Caramuel

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pp. 1-25

Because today neither probabilism nor Caramuel himself is likely to be a popular topic of conversation, it would be a mistake to wade into an analysis of his moral theory without clarifying its concepts and outlining its historical context. Answers to the following questions...

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Chapter 2. Advocating Probabilism: Caramuel’s Early Writings and the Proof-Texts They Provided for His Critics

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pp. 26-48

In the Apologema, Caramuel explains his early literary involvement in the discussion of probable opinion by referring to his experiences at Louvain, when Libert Froidmont attempted to promote certain theses: “The use of probabilities is new. He who leaves behind the safe path...

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Chapter 3. Using Probabilism: Avoiding Improbable Warfare and Making Peace with Protestants

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pp. 49-72

Many of Caramuel’s critics objected not only to his theories about probable opinion but also to his use of those theories in resolving particular cases. Thus, in order to understand his approach to probabilism, it is helpful to consider the applications as well as the method...

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Chapter 4. Protecting Probabilism: The Apologema as an Answer to Probabilism’s Critics

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pp. 73-94

In the Pax Licita, Caramuel took the risk of telling Church leaders what he felt they needed, but may not have wanted, to hear. Fifteen years later, he took the same risk in defense of his moral theory. This time, probabilism itself was under attack, from critics too influential to be ignored...

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Chapter 5. Explaining Probabilism: The Apologema’s Project of Education

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pp. 95-117

The reader of the Apologema will quickly recognize that Prospero Fagnani’s arguments have left Caramuel worried, angry, and amused, yet also clearly puzzled by his critic’s inability to accept what he regards as obvious conclusions. Why (one can imagine Caramuel asking...

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Chapter 6. Redefining Probabilism: The Dialexis de Non-Certitudine

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pp. 118-139

Logic suggests that the Apologema should have been Bishop Caramuel’s last major analysis of probable opinion. He had explained probabilism to the authorities of his Church with passion and an enormous sense of urgency. Yet the rebuff from those Church leaders, especially

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Afterword: Remembering Probabilism: The Contemporary Significance of Caramuel’s Legacy

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pp. 141-151

I n the twenty-first century, it is good for moral theologians to read Caramuel, if for no other reason than to recognize how much the presuppositions of ethical theory have changed since he labored over the Theologia Moralia Fundamentalis. The triumph of the Thomist assumption that...


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pp. 153-194


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pp. 195-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781589013070
E-ISBN-10: 1589013077
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589011137
Print-ISBN-10: 1589011139

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2006