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Why Natural Law is Making a Comeback
The Weekly Standard ^ | 12-20-99 | J. Budziszewski

Posted on 01/10/2003 7:41:35 AM PST by Maximilian

Natural Born Lawyers

by J. Budziszewski

The Weekly Standard - 12-20-99

It is thought rude these days to say so, but there are some moral truths that we all really know—truths a normal human being is unable not to know. They are a universal possession and an emblem of the rational mind.

This doesn’t mean that we know them with unfailing clarity or that we have reasoned out their implications. Nor does it mean that we never pretend not to know them or that we never lose our nerve when told they aren’t true. Yet, such as it is, our common moral knowledge is as real as arithmetic and probably just as plain—so plain, in fact, that we appeal to it even to justify our wrongdoing: Rationalization is the homage paid by sin to guilty knowledge.

These basic moral principles, together with their first few rings of implications, are what philosophers refer to when they use the phrase “natural law.” The last time natural law theory made a splash in America was shortly after World War II, under the influence of such Continental exiles as Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, Heinrich Rommen, and Leo Strauss. There followed some dry decades, but now books on natural law are once again pouring from the presses: new ones written, old ones reissued, and yet more about to be released. “Natural Law” appears in the title of at least twenty-six books published in America over the last two years.

To make sense of this deluge—to grasp why it’s happening now—it’s necessary to begin, not precisely with what we all really know (which is quite a lot), but with what the great majority of human beings in all times and places admit that we know (which is rather less). Back in 1931, John M. Cooper offered this summary:

The peoples of the world, however much they differ as to details of morality, hold universally, or with practical universality, to at least the following basic precepts. Respect the Supreme Being or the benevolent being or beings who take his place. Do not “blaspheme.” Care for your children. Malicious murder or maiming, stealing, deliberate slander or “black” lying, when committed against friend or unoffending fellow clansman or tribesman, are reprehensible. Adultery proper is wrong, even though there be exceptional circumstances that permit or enjoin it and even though sexual relations among the unmarried may be viewed leniently. Incest is a heinous offense. This universal moral code agrees rather closely with our own Decalogue taken in a strictly literal sense.

Cooper’s reminder was lost at the time among other travelers’ tales: Margaret Mead’s story of a Pacific free-love paradise among the Samoans, for instance, or Colin Turnbull’s account of the conscienceless Ik in Africa. Of course, as it has since been revealed, Mead and Turnbull were wrong: The Samoans turn out to have been fierce defenders of chastity, and the Ik to have had a strong sense of mutual obligation. And, in fact, the discrediting of Mead and Turnbull’s sort of anthropology is one cause of the revival of interest in natural law—for part of our common moral sense is the notion that there actually is a common moral sense. Philosophers call it “natural” to convey the idea that it is somehow rooted in the way things really are. Chinese wisdom traditions call it the Tao; Indian, the dharma or rita. The Talmud declares that it was given to the “sons” of Noah, which means all of us. St. Paul says that when gentiles do by nature what the law requires, they show that its works are “written on their hearts.”

Of course, much of modern philosophy has turned on the attempt to deny any specific content to this common moral knowledge. And the endless hectoring—by utilitarians (who try to ignore everything but pleasure), libertarians (who try to ignore everything but rights), Kantians (who try to ignore everything but the will), and relativists (who try to ignore everything)—has had its effect. When, in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the Supreme Court announced a “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” it was widely thought to have at last banished from American jurisprudence any appeal to the idea of natural law.

A little reflection, however, reveals that what the Court was really doing (and this is yet more proof of the fact that we can’t succeed, try as we might, at the attempt to ignore our common moral sense) was not rejecting the theory of natural law, but asserting it—in a degenerate and self-annihilating way. But even a self-annihilating theory is still a theory. Your rights are powers to make moral claims upon me, and thus if I want to deny those moral claims (as the Court said I could do with the unborn child’s), I must pretend that you are not a human being. We turn out to be following the logic of natural law even while we’re trying to escape it; the right to define one’s own existence ends up as an effort to define other people’s non-existence.

Perhaps the best place to start for discovering how we got to this point is Heinrich Rommen’s The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, a recently reissued volume from 1936 that deserves to be better known. Rommen would lay the blame for the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision on the Enlightenment’s concept of natural rights. Even in the late Middle Ages, certain Scholastic thinkers had begun to give natural rights prominence in the theory of natural law. But in Scho lasticism, those rights were perceived to be only part of a complete picture of morality. We have rights for the same reason we have duties. We have a natural inclination to use our sexual powers, for example, and this inclination must be good, since everything in nature is good (by Scholastic definition) when it works toward its natural end. The natural end of sex is plainly the making of children and the uniting of spouses. It is proper, then, to recognize in our sexual powers both a right and a duty—the right to marry and the duty to reserve sex for the permanent, potentially procreative union of marriage.

Today’s rights talk works differently. For various reasons, Enlightenment thinkers lost confidence in the possibility of saying what the total picture is. Little by little, instead of reasoning “Because of this total picture, we have these rights and duties,” they came to reason “Because we have these rights, we have the duties we have agreed to in the exercise of our rights.” Once philosophical thought moves in this direction, it becomes difficult to say exactly where our rights came from in the first place. One Enlightenment thinker tried to derive rights from “preservation,” another from “sociality,” another from “happiness,” and every other from somewhere else. At least eight new natural law theories were published at every Leipzig booksellers’ fair in the early 1780s—all of them detailed and all of them completely different—and within a very short time the very idea of natural law seemed a discredited gimmick for passing off one’s personal prejudices as eternal truth.

And yet, though Rommen would argue that we need to return to the place where we got off the track, unlearning the bad habits we picked up in the Enlightenment and going back to the old theory of natural law we somehow forgot, it may be that the Enlightenment didn’t get everything wrong. This, at least, is the argument made by Princeton University’s Robert George in his new In Defense of Natural Law, which is not, in fact, a defense of natural law as such, but a defense of the “new” natural law theory George shares with such modern thinkers as John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

When St. Thomas Aquinas used the phrase “natural law” back in the thirteenth century, he meant that the law is natural because it is grounded in the design by which God made the universe. Yes, of course, certain moral truths are self-evident and we can’t not know them, but the important thing is that they are self-evident truths about the order of creation. That’s why St. Thomas doesn’t just call our natural inclinations good but defines goodness in terms of inclinations. “Good,” he says, “is that which all things seek after.”

This is the sort of reasoning that George, Finnis, and Grisez reject. They agree with the Enlightenment rebuke that the old natural law theory commits the “naturalist fallacy,” which means trying to derive a moral conclusion from a factual premise—in Thomas’s case, “X fulfills nature, so X is good.” We must rather assert that although some truths are self-evident, they are self-evident for a different reason than St. Thomas thought. It isn’t because they are built into nature for the reasoning mind to reflect, but because they are built into the reasoning mind itself. Self-evidence lies not in the way the world is put together, but in the way the mind is put together.

To see what a difference this new sort of reasoning makes, consider an issue in sexual ethics. The old sort of natural lawyer reflects that it is wrong to use the sexual powers in a way which thwarts their built-in working—as, for instance, in the use of artificial contraception, which fights the design of the sexual powers instead of cooperating with it. The new natural lawyers, instead of saying that it is wrong to act against the design of the sexual powers, argue that it is wrong to act directly against “the basic good of life,” something condoms plainly do. Different argument, same conclusion? Maybe not. Under the old theory it is easy to see a difference between condoms and the “rhythm method” of natural family planning, for periodic abstinence doesn’t make a fertile act infertile, while a barrier does. Under the new theory it is hard to see a difference, for both condoms and periodic abstinence are intended to prevent procreation.

And the new natural law theory proposes so many things one must not act directly against. The “basic goods” include not only life, but even such things as “skillful play,” all inviolable (in the sense that it is wrong to act against them) and incommensurable (in the sense that it is impossible to call one better than another). R.G. Wright objects that, under this scheme, I cannot even justify taking off from my golf game to rescue a drowning child. Not only is life no better than play, but I must not act against play directly. Now George has an answer, which on logical grounds cannot be faulted. Of course I should save the child, he says, for the fact that life is no better than play doesn’t mean I have no other considerations to bring to bear; there is always the Golden Rule. And besides, I am not acting directly against the good of play, because ruining the game was not my intention but only a result—a “double effect,” to use the technical term—of saving the child.

It’s a little troubling that George’s defense of the Finnis-Grisez line of natural law reasoning has to bring in the complex and difficult doctrine of double effect to explain why I should lay down my golf clubs to save a drowning child—as though the decision were as difficult as figuring out whether to bomb a terrorist rocket launcher on the roof of an orphanage. The theory of natural law, after all, is supposed to explain the philosophical possibility for what everyone already knows—and we probably ought to be suspicious of theories that turn easy cases into hard ones, even when it settles them correctly.

The old natural law didn’t present us with this difficulty. Although it did hold a few things inviolable, it didn’t list so many, and it didn’t refuse to call any basic good better than any other. So Anthony J. Lisska argues in Aquinas’s Theory of Natural Law. In Lisska’s view, there was no need to develop a “new” natural law theory, because the worry about “naturalist fallacies” in the old one was misplaced. Lisska doesn’t deny that such a fallacy exists. Like other contemporary defenders of St. Thomas—Ralph McInerny, Henry Veatch, Russell Hittinger—he just denies that the old theory commits it: Yes, it’s faulty reasoning to derive a normative moral conclusion from a merely factual premise; but what if the “facts” aren’t “mere”—what if the starting point is normative already? What if we aren’t pasting values into the order of creation, but eliciting from that order the values that are already there?

Of course, making good on this claim requires an understanding of nature in which the properties of things are not “simple” but “dispositional”—which is a technical way of saying that you have to view each thing in the universe as though it were an arrow directed naturally to a goal. That’s what St. Thomas thought. The nature of a thing, he said, is “a purpose, implanted by the Divine Art, that it be moved to a determinate end.” And, regardless of philosophy, it’s the way we all naturally tend to think of things. An acorn is not essentially something small with a point at one end and a cap at the other; it’s something that wants to be an oak. A boy is not essentially something with baggy pants and a foul mouth; he’s something that wants to be a man.

In this way of thinking, everything in creation is a wannabe. You just have to recognize what it naturally wants to be, and natural law turns out to be the technical spec sheet, the guide for getting there. For the acorn, this isn’t law in the strictest sense, for law must be addressed to an intelligent being capable of choice and the acorn can’t be in conflict with itself. But a boy can—and that’s why we need philosophy to formulate the natural law.

And yet, according to the old theory of natural law, the human arrow is unlike all others because it is directed to a goal its natural powers cannot reach. We have one natural longing that nature cannot satisfy. God is not only the author of human nature but the direction in which it faces and the power on which it depends, its greatest good. That boy on the corner is something that wants to be a man, but a man is something that wants, on top of all its other difficulties of fulfillment, to be in friendship with God. And that, short of a supernatural grace, is impossible—which creates a massive problem. God, in such religions as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has offered direct revelation concerning this supernatural need of human beings. Suddenly we appear to have two laws, the natural and the divine. Suddenly, the God who implanted law in nature announces another law in words.

Embarrassed, some natural lawyers rush to assure us that the natural law would make perfect sense even if there were no God at all—forgetting that if there were no God there would be no nature either. On the other hand, some believers say that since we have the Bible to tell us what to do, we don’t need a natural law. In fact, maybe there isn’t any. The Old Testament doesn’t even mention “nature.” The New Testament does, but says there is something wrong with it.

This is the problem taken up in A Preserving Grace: Protestants, Catholics, and Natural Law, edited by Michael Cromartie, the elegant Natural Law in Judaism, by David Novak, and the interesting but rather more specialized Narrative and the Natural Law: An Interpretation of Thomistic Ethics, by Pamela Hall. The Rabbinic Jews and Protestant Christians who are skeptical about natural law ought to pick up these books, for present in all three of them is an awareness of the fact that the Bible does not claim that there is no knowledge of God and His moral requirements outside Holy Writ. What the Bible claims is rather that there is no knowledge of salvation outside God’s word, which is a very different thing. Indeed, at least five modes of extra-biblical knowledge of right and wrong and God are acknowledged in the Bible: the witnesses of conscience, of God’s handiwork, of Godward longings, of our inbuilt design, and of the “harvest,” i.e. the consequences of our deeds.

Theologians typically distinguish “general revelation,” corresponding to natural law, which God gives to all human beings through His creation, and “special revelation,” corresponding to divine law, which He gives to believers through His word. Novak argues that natural law is not only compatible with divine law but presupposed by it; if you didn’t have the general revelation, you wouldn’t be able to understand the special. Hall grasps that the relationship also works in the other direction, for the salvation story puts natural law in its context: If you didn’t have the special revelation, then you would still have the general, but it would be a message of futility. Indeed, by itself, natural law is not good news (the literal meaning of the word “gospel”), but bad news—a standard which in this fallen world we cannot keep, which serves primarily to allow us to measure our failures.

Comparison of the Novak and Cromartie books suggests an interesting parallel between the situations of natural law in Judaism and in Christianity. Each tradition contains some who wish to slight the natural law and some who wish to slight the divine law—some who snub the general revelation, and others who snub the special. In Novak’s punning way of putting it, there are people who reduce reason to revelation, and people who reduce revelation to reason. Just as he seeks a middle path for Jews, the contributions edited by Cromartie seek a middle path for Christians. Cromartie’s book is an anthology, the record of a conference. That usually spells dull reading, but in this case the prophecy is wrong. The great hit of the volume is Susan Schreiner’s piece on John Calvin, an eye-opener because Calvin thought much more highly of natural law than do many who fly his flag today. Also appealing is the deftly edited audience discussion, in which the reader cannot help noticing the way that some of the Protestants sound like Roman Cath olics, and some of the Catholics like Evangelical Protestants.

For those more interested in knowing what practical difference natural law makes in law and politics, the volume to get is Natural Law and Contemporary Public Policy, edited by David Forte. Proponents of several theories of natural law are included, and it provides a good sampling of the issues: privacy, homosexuality, bioethics, education, and half a dozen more.

Consider just Christopher Wolfe’s piece on judicial review. Despite their moral traditionalism, some conservatives are wary of the claim that there is a natural law higher than written law. Aren’t activist judges too full of themselves already? Do they really need another excuse to throw their weight around? What these conservatives forget to ask is how these judges got that way. Even when they don’t know it, our activist judges are already working with a theory of natural law—it’s just a bad one. And the antidote isn’t no theory, but a better one. Wolfe points out that the core principles of the natural law are very general, and their application to the detailed circumstances of actual communities is hard work. Prudence suggests a division of labor. Let legislators use natural law to make the statutes, for otherwise they will be unjust. Let judges use natural law to understand the statutes, for otherwise they will be opaque. No guideline is immune from abuse, but so far as it goes, Wolfe’s proposal makes good sense.

And yet, perhaps those conservatives are not entirely wrong to be wary of the effect of recent efforts of natural law theory on political and judicial decisions. The more headway the theory makes, the harder every ideologue will work to reinterpret it, to distort it, to turn it to advantage. One theorist will try to use it to justify same-sex mating. Another to explain euthanasia and abortion. A third to argue that “natural law’s concrete conclusions are dynamic and humanly generated to the same degree that humanity itself is”—which is to say that the unnatural is natural, if we say so. If you want to see how this sort of thing might be done, you might look at Christina Traina’s Feminist Ethics and Natural Law.

But none of these misuses invalidates natural law theory; in fact, they mostly serve to help prove its validity, for a lie travels furthest on the back of truth. We’re seeing in America in recent years a rebirth of interest in natural law, partly because of the failure of Enlightenment ethics to propose a successful substitute, partly because of the intellectual discrediting of 1950s-style anthropological relativism, and partly because Americans may finally be remembering that there really are, after all is said and done to deny them, some moral truths that we know—truths a normal human being is unable not to know. But as one reads one’s way through recent judicial decisions, one comes upon what may be the best reason for the revival of interest: We need the authentic natural law to save us from its impersonators.


TOPICS: Catholic; General Discusssion; History; Moral Issues; Religion & Culture; Religion & Science; Theology
KEYWORDS: aquinas; catholiclist; naturallaw; philosophy

1 posted on 01/10/2003 7:41:35 AM PST by Maximilian
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To: Diago; narses; Loyalist; BlackElk; american colleen; saradippity; Polycarp; Dajjal; ...
This article is a little bit long and difficult, but your effort will be greatly rewarded. This is the best single-article description of the Natural Law debate that I have seen. J. Budziszewski is a genius, and he has the ability to make complex arguments simple to understand.

A first glance these issues may seem abstract, but as the author points out so well, they have concrete applications to every single one of the moral issues which are troubling our society.
2 posted on 01/10/2003 7:49:00 AM PST by Maximilian
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To: Maximilian
Ave Maria School of Law
http://www.avemarialaw.edu/prospective/cur1.cfm

Preparing for Leadership in the Profession:
Guiding Principles

Ave Maria’s curriculum reflects its mission — to provide students with a superior legal education enriched by instruction in the __natural law__ and the Catholic intellectual tradition. The curriculum ensures a rigorous intellectual environment and grounds students in the knowledge and the skills critical to the intelligent practice of law. The curriculum fosters the development of professional men and women by challenging students to develop an informed and mature judgment and to approach issues in a comprehensive, integrative manner.

3 posted on 01/10/2003 7:55:07 AM PST by Notwithstanding (America: Home of Abortion on Demand - 35,000,000 Slaughtered)
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To: Maximilian
bttt
4 posted on 01/10/2003 8:04:10 AM PST by yendu bwam
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To: Maximilian
Thanks for posting this - it's an excellent article.

One point which he should have made is the connection between St. Thomas' conception of ethics and natural law and his conception of metaphysics.

Thomas adopts Aristotle's fundamental principle that "the good is that at which all things aim" and shows its affinity to God's commandment to Israel "I have set before you life and death, good and evil, blessing and curse: choose you therefore life" and formulates his own first principle of the natural law: "that good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided".

And St. Thomas defines good as "convertible with being" - that good actions are actions which enable man to "be" more fully. For St. Thomas only one being truly is in the fullest sense - God. So the natural law - doing good and avoiding evil - is to strive to imitate God in His being, His goodness. For St. Thomas there is no conflict between natural law and divine law - Christ became man in order to show us how natural law may most perfectly be fulfilled and He died to give us the grace to follow that perfection - so that we may have "life, and have it more abundantly".

5 posted on 01/10/2003 8:14:59 AM PST by wideawake
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To: Maximilian
Interesting article. I think that Catholics (at least those who have not had their brains turned to mush by AmChurch) will make a significant intellectual contribution in the near future through a restoration of Thomism and its associated concepts. Neo-neo-Thomism?
6 posted on 01/10/2003 9:03:55 AM PST by livius
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To: dansangel
PING
7 posted on 01/10/2003 9:29:12 AM PST by .45MAN (Less Law more Justice)
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To: Maximilian
read later
8 posted on 01/10/2003 9:30:16 AM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: Maximilian
Ditto. Thanks for posting and pinging.

Someone needs to create a libertarian list and ping them on this stuff...may knock some sense into them.

9 posted on 01/10/2003 9:30:55 AM PST by HumanaeVitae
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To: Maximilian
Your right it's long but worth reading.. thanks for the Post...
10 posted on 01/10/2003 9:31:41 AM PST by .45MAN (Less Law more Justice)
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To: wideawake
exellent comment....
11 posted on 01/10/2003 9:34:01 AM PST by .45MAN (Less Law more Justice)
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To: .45MAN
Thank you.
12 posted on 01/10/2003 9:37:51 AM PST by wideawake
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To: HumanaeVitae
There is a libertarian school (of which I consider myself to be a member) which wholeheartedly embraces Aristotelian realism and Thomist natural law theory.

The term it uses for a libertarian (really governmentless) society is a "natural order". This natural order is predicated on the principle of subsidiarity rigorously understood and the natural law understanding of the family as the most basic unit of civil society.

St. Thomas' conception of liberty is superior, quite obviously, to Randian and utilitarian notions.

13 posted on 01/10/2003 9:44:08 AM PST by wideawake
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To: wideawake
Most FR libertarians are either Randians or "Modal" War-on-Drugs libertarians (as Murray Rothbard called them). I once had a debate on the virtues of polygamy with a libertarian here...he even had it figured out as to what kind of contract would be involved...
14 posted on 01/10/2003 9:53:57 AM PST by HumanaeVitae
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To: Maximilian
When St. Thomas Aquinas used the phrase “natural law” back in the thirteenth century, he meant that the law is natural because it is grounded in the design by which God made the universe. Yes, of course, certain moral truths are self-evident and we can’t not know them, but the important thing is that they are self-evident truths about the order of creation. That’s why St. Thomas doesn’t just call our natural inclinations good but defines goodness in terms of inclinations. “Good,” he says, “is that which all things seek after.”

And also that each thing has its proper good, end or purpose. Fish have to swim and birds have to fly. It's as simple and commonsensical as that.

This is the sort of reasoning that George, Finnis, and Grisez reject. They agree with the Enlightenment rebuke that the old natural law theory commits the “naturalist fallacy,” which means trying to derive a moral conclusion from a factual premise—in Thomas’s case, “X fulfills nature, so X is good.” We must rather assert that although some truths are self-evident, they are self-evident for a different reason than St. Thomas thought. It isn’t because they are built into nature for the reasoning mind to reflect, but because they are built into the reasoning mind itself. Self-evidence lies not in the way the world is put together, but in the way the mind is put together.

This way leads to relativism.

Of course, making good on this claim requires an understanding of nature in which the properties of things are not “simple” but “dispositional”—which is a technical way of saying that you have to view each thing in the universe as though it were an arrow directed naturally to a goal. That’s what St. Thomas thought. The nature of a thing, he said, is “a purpose, implanted by the Divine Art, that it be moved to a determinate end.” And, regardless of philosophy, it’s the way we all naturally tend to think of things.

Good philosophy conforms with common sense and experience.

On the other hand, some believers say that since we have the Bible to tell us what to do, we don’t need a natural law. In fact, maybe there isn’t any. The Old Testament doesn’t even mention “nature.”

Not literally. But the idea is laid out explicitly in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 30

1 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Good article.

15 posted on 01/10/2003 10:32:08 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Maximilian
I read that. I'd like to see someone tackle the vacuity of personalism and particularly phenomenology as a method. It's fine to assert natural law intuitively, but we're in the position of saying, "look what the children of Descartes have wrought." It's hard to trace the error.
16 posted on 01/10/2003 10:44:39 AM PST by WriteOn
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To: Maximilian
It was a very worthwhile and hopeful read. I thank you very much for the ping to this fine article.
17 posted on 01/10/2003 11:01:18 AM PST by Siobhan (+ Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet +)
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To: HumanaeVitae
Most modal libertarians don't seem to realize that the privatization of governmental functions will involve an enormous amount of personal responsibility.

In a world where your behavior affects your insurance premiums, everything you do would have an implicit cost/benefit analysis. Sitting around and snorting coke would no longer be a juvenile game of either being caught or not being caught. It eventually would become a matter of deciding whether to live permanently as an unemployable and uninsurable outcast or prosperously in polite society.

A truly free society would be a very unforgiving place for freaks, idlers, druggies and perverts.

18 posted on 01/10/2003 11:05:33 AM PST by wideawake
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To: WriteOn; Notwithstanding; yendu bwam; wideawake; livius; dansangel; .45MAN; LiteKeeper; ...
I'd like to see someone tackle the vacuity of personalism and particularly phenomenology as a method.

It's a little bit frustrating that Budziszewski leads us on with his explanation of why the "new natural law" is vacuous, but then he stops short in order to maintain a position of objectivity (which is understandable).

And yet, this is the most important point of all. Classical Thomistic natural law is based on the REALITY OF CREATED NATURE. "New" natural law joins with modern philosophy in rejecting that fundamental basis. The school represented by George, Grisez and Finnis is considered "conservative" because they support natural law at all, and because they have been able (through the convoluted type of reasoning criticized by Budziszewski in the article) to reach some conservative conclusions. Yet in reality they are supporting the deconstruction of the realist epistemological approach that has been the only sane philosophy since Aristotle.

Hegel's dialectical method, as exemplified by Darwinism, is the only servicable foundation other than realism. This is where I believe there could be a fruitful union between Thomistic natural law and the school of intelligent design. Scholastic teleology fell out of favor because people stopped believing in creation. How could beings who evolved have been designed for a purpose? The "new" natural law philosophy will not accept classical thomism because they do not want to be grouped into the "flat earth society."

But "intelligent design" has demonstrated conclusively the fallacies of Darwinism and the reality of creation by an intelligent being. Therefore creation for a purpose as the classical foundation for natural law was always the correct and truly scientific basis for any realist philosophy.

19 posted on 01/10/2003 11:34:35 AM PST by Maximilian
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To: WriteOn
I'd like to see someone tackle the vacuity of personalism and particularly phenomenology as a method . . . It's hard to trace the error.

Let's try.

Aristotle and St. Thomas began with a position of moderate realism from the principle of noncontradiction - the famous "one and the same thing cannot both be and not be in the same time in the same place and in the same manner". Using this axiom they investigated the reality around them and sought correspondences and structures which they then attempted to describe logically and consistently.

This method was more or less objective and self-correcting - sometimes one made mistakes or saw things only from their own vantage point to the neglect of important details, but the more one reflected and the more one looked, the clearer things would become.

The nominalists broke from this, famously, by saying that since the power of observation could be deceived the Thomistic project was inherently subjective and that it is impossible to accurately describe things in general terms.

Descartes accepted nominalist arguments but was unhappy with the nominalist conclusion, so he tried to find some basic datum that could be accurately observed without being deceived by man's fallible senses and he settled upon self-awareness - the famous "I think therefore I am". Just compare an article from St. Thomas' Summa to the first of Descartes Meditations and one can see a tremendous shift from Thomas' dry, impersonal analysis to Descartes highly personalized, novelistic (by comparison) study.

At this point Descartes is saying that the self-aware human person is the arbiter of reality.

Kant goes further by saying that all our sense data are not part of an objective reality, but are merely the way we perceive a reality which cannot ever truly know. Kant moves from considering reality from the vantage point of the subjective observer to that of simply considering the nature of perception, since we can never have contact with the thing-in-itself

Husserl then followed Kant by saying that the thing-in-itself (objective reality) should be abandoned forever and that the thing as it disclosed itself to the observer (i.e. as a phenomenon rather than object) was the important focus.

From there it was only another step to personalism - from how things present themselves to me to the level of how I present my own phenomenological perception of things to myself.

From hardheaded observation of reality to a reality filtered through my own feelings and emotions.

20 posted on 01/10/2003 11:48:19 AM PST by wideawake
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To: Maximilian
Exactly.
21 posted on 01/10/2003 11:57:38 AM PST by WriteOn
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To: wideawake
Nice analysis of the root of absurdity.
22 posted on 01/10/2003 12:02:03 PM PST by WriteOn
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To: Maximilian
Interesting analysis on ID and Natural Law. If you have time, here is a talk that William Dembski gave on the future prospects of ID, including research fields (most intriguing: DNA steganography). The link is to a web page, the full paper is in PDF.
23 posted on 01/10/2003 12:12:24 PM PST by HumanaeVitae
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To: wideawake
Thanks...useful, clarifying summary.
24 posted on 01/10/2003 12:13:25 PM PST by HumanaeVitae
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To: Maximilian
Thanks for a great post!!it has captured in one article al-st everything about natural law that the many books I have read and lectures I have attended,enabled me to put in my "world view".And,it has done it clearly and concisely.

In fact I spent years accumulating the info and then spent the last several years trying to figure out how to introduce it into pertinent conversations without putting the other party into a state of utter confusion or a coma.

thaanks again and your right about the author,a genius!!

25 posted on 01/10/2003 1:02:54 PM PST by saradippity
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To: Maximilian
Po-Mo-Tho bump
26 posted on 01/10/2003 8:49:48 PM PST by Dajjal (really, that should be Po-Po-No-Tho, since we're now in "After")
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To: Maximilian
Thanks for posting this. Just to tie it in with the other threads, the claim that the natural law is changeable has been a common assertion of the new theology. Charles Curran made this claim, teaching that the natural law and moral rules were in continual evolution. Cardinal Suenens made a similar point when he stated that "a healthy evolution" had removed certain taboos in the relations between men and women. Some of this thinking has permeated the seminaries for a long time now, which explains in part some of the moral rot. In other theological circles the ontological basis for the Natural Law itself has been fiercely attacked.
27 posted on 01/11/2003 6:57:49 AM PST by ultima ratio
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To: Maximilian
Thank you. An important post. While the most general contours of natural law may be "self evident," the particulars aren't all that clear, hence the centuries of disucussion of this important concept. Glad to hear it's back on the front burner of at least some moral philosophers. Generally speaking, though, natural law has few champions amidst the prevailing orthodoxies of postmodernism. Too bad.
28 posted on 01/11/2003 1:15:48 PM PST by Hibernius Druid
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To: Maximilian
What a pleasure to come across this thread. Thanks for the flag.
29 posted on 01/13/2003 11:40:27 PM PST by Askel5
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To: ThanksBTTT
.
30 posted on 01/13/2003 11:43:05 PM PST by Askel5
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