Catholic Probabilism - Status of The Question - Arguments Against Probabilism

Arguments Against Probabilism

When the less safe opinion is notably and certainly less probable than the safe opinion, there is no true probability in favour of liberty, since the stronger destroy the force of the weaker reasons. Hence probabilists cannot consistently maintain that it is safe in practice to act on the less safe opinion which is also the less probable. – probabilists reply that the greater probability does not of necessity destroy the solid probability of the less probable opinion. When the foundations of the opposing probabilities are not derived from the same source, then at least the opposing arguments do not detract from one another; and even when the two probabilities are based on a consideration of the same argument, one opinion will retain probability insofar as the opposing opinion recedes from certainty.

A moral system, to be of any use, must be certain, since an uncertain reflex principle cannot give practical certainty. But probabilism is not certain, because it is rejected by all those theologians who upheld one or another of the opposing views. Hence probabilism cannot be accepted as a satisfactory solution of the question at issue. – Probabilists reply that their system can be of no use to those who do not look on it as certainly true; but the fact that many theologians do not accept it does not prevent its adherents from regarding it as certain, since these can and do believe that the arguments urged in its favour are insuperable.

Probabilism is seen by some Catholic authorities as an easy road to Laxism, because people are often inclined to regard opinions as really probable which are based on flimsy arguments, and because it is not difficult to find five or six serious authors who approve of opinions which right-minded men consider lax. They stress that the only sure way to safeguard Catholic morals is to reject the opinion which opens the way to Laxism. Probabilists reply that their system must be prudently employed, and that no serious danger of Laxism arises if it is recognized that an opinion is not solidly probable unless there are arguments in its favour which are sufficient to gain the assent of many prudent men. As for the authority of approved authors, it must be remembered that five or six grave authors do not give solid probability to an opinion unless they are notable for learning and prudence, and independently adhere to an opinion which has not been set aside by authoritative decisions or by unanswered arguments.

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