- Personality and Opinion
I wish to start by remarking that there are things that are above opinion. Let us be convinced of that before we begin to reflect upon opinion itself. There are things that involve certainty, and qualified certainty, and there are things that are not matters of opinion. We need to keep those things in mind as we try to decide how to behave with regard to problems of opinion and how our personality should be involved in matters of opinion.
What are those things that are above opinion? Very briefly, we can say that they are first the propositions of faith. The propositions of faith are revealed by the Divine Word and, yes, they are indeed obscure. Obscurity is essential to faith. But it is not just a matter of opinion. We have here, in obscurity, in darkness, the best possible guarantee, the guarantee of the Divine Witness. [End Page 80]
There are also a number of natural certainties that we have no right to treat as matters of opinion. In morality, for instance, there are many things that are undecided, many problems that indeed change from one social goal to another, sometimes from individual to individual. But there are also a few ethical essences—I mean essences of ethical character—and in particular a few ethical things that involve intelligible necessity and that are either right or wrong. We will be inspired if we give all possible attention to circumstances, if we are well aware of the contingencies that may cause exceptional situations. When all that is perfectly understood, however, there remains the basic proposition that with regard to a number of ethical subjects there are natural certainties that are far above matters of opinion. Why do we need to speak of those things? For the obvious reason that we are often tempted to treat things that are above opinion as if they were matters of opinion.
And why? Because of the overwhelming fact that concerning these things that are above opinion, whether we speak of faith propositions revealed by the Divine Witness, or of natural certainties, in both cases, minds are actually divided. This is our temptation and it is a really treacherous one. Our temptation is to consider that wherever there is division among minds, there is no real certainty. We like to assume that where there is certainty, there is also unanimity, and a consensus. Well, that is not true. When there is complete and qualified certainty, there may still be a hundred accidental reasons why there should be no factual consensus, no unanimity. Let me use an example. Suppose, for instance, that we discuss whether it is lawful for parents to cut the throat of their twelve-year-old child. I think we will all agree that, all other things being equal, it is not lawful to cut the throat of a twelve-year-old child. But what if he is only nine years old? Is it the same? We would be unanimous in saying that it is wrong to cut the throat of a nine-year-old child. What about cutting the throat of a three-year-old child? We achieve about the same level of unanimity. What if we consider the cases of a newly born or an unborn child? In such cases our unanimity becomes less and less certain. [End Page 81]
I remember a case that happened near my native province in Normandy, France. A young woman with a famous name who belonged to an upper-class family had surreptitiously become pregnant. She succeeded in disguising and concealing her pregnancy until the baby was born, and then she just killed him and buried him. The incident became publicly known, there was a trial, and the jury was not moved. They gave her a two-year jail sentence but then suspended it. So a jury made up of ordinary people might have considered that so long as a child is newborn, is not twelve years old, or nine, or three, but is newborn, if his mother wants to get rid of him, perhaps that can be tolerated.
What if the baby is unborn? Now we...