Natural Law

2014-badge-300x300Like Aristotle, the great Western theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas talks about morality in terms of what it means to be human. So for Aquinas, like Aristotle, morality teleological.

Aquinas has a “natural law” theory of morality. While there are different views of what is—and isn’t—meant by natural law for Aquinas it means that what is ethically right and wrong is found in what it means to be human.

But, I can hear you ask, what does it mean to be human? Continue reading

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Natural Law and Human Reason

An interesting observation that  those Orthodox Christians who reject natural law in any form might want to consider:

By rejecting Hellinization, or Greek Philosophy, fundamentalist Islam denies the validity of reason, and therefore also denies the existence of natural law. Reilly argues that without reason and natural law it is impossible to develop the sort of constitutional systems that are prevalent in the West. He further traces the problem back in history and explains that a divide arose in “9th century in Baghdad between those who wished to give primacy to reason and those who wished to give primacy to pure will and power. So you had, on one side, the first theological school in Islam that said, ‘God is rationality and justice,’ and the other side which said: ‘No, God is pure will and power. Rationality has nothing to do with Him and whatever He does is incomprehensible to us and He cannot be confined to what is thought to be reasonable or unreasonable.’”The latter view ultimately prevailed, as Reilly points that even today the majority theological school believes “that God is the first and only cause of everything and there cannot be secondary causes (such as natural law) because that would be a challenge to God’s omnipotence. So for God to be omnipotent, nothing else can be even so much as potent. Therefore, gravity does not make the rock fall; God does. Fire doesn’t burn cotton; God does.”

As a result there is a:

…rejection of reason in fundamentalist Islam leads to the belief that “the mind is incapable of knowing good and evil from moral philosophy because there is nothing to be known, because things have no nature and are therefore neither good nor evil in themselves, [it is only because] God says so.”

And the practical conclusion?

The Church cannot expect to have any meaningful dialogue with either the secularists or the fundamentalists until both have been re-Hellenized. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD,” but such an invitation can only be accepted by a man who would say “I desire only to know the truth, and to live as well as I can.”

You can read the rest here: The Re-Hellenization of Islam.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Nature or Will? A Final Look at the Marriage Debate

Here’s the last of my posts on the same-sex marriage debate. You can read parts one and two here and here.

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Contemporary discussions about marriage (and sexuality more generally) have largely abandoned the conjugal model in favor of one that focuses on consent. We have seen a shift from a conversation rooted in human nature—and the moral norm of conformity or obedience to nature—to a radical emphasis on the will as the sole source of what is humanly meaningful. These are strong words on my part I know. And I don’t mean them to suggest that I would reject out of hand the consensual dimension of marriage. It is however to say that while consent is an element of the traditional, conjugal view of marriage, it is not the whole of it. We must attend not only to the human will but to human nature which is its proximate source.

The real social and pastoral problem is not  same-sex marriage (SSM) but  that both popular culture and many Christians have abandoned a morality based in human nature in favor of one based in the human will. Though serious the SSM debate is an adoption and application of a truncated view of marriage to the needs and desires of same-sex couples. The ease, indeed the eagerness, with which some Christians have taken up the cause of SSM would suggest that for a significant number of Christians the classical biblical and natural law understanding of marriage simply doesn’t matter.  For all that they may affirm the Creed in matters of dogma, when it comes to matters of personal morality (and public policy) many otherwise orthodox Christians are estranged from, and even hostile to, their own moral tradition. Continue reading

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Acton University 2013 – Ancient Faith Radio

Acton University is a unique, four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. Guided by a distinguished international faculty, Acton University is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology, and sound economics. At this year’s event, the following Orthodox speakers were featured.

Together with Fr Michael Butler and Fr Hans Jacobse, I lectured last week at Acton University. Fr Michael spoke on an Orthodox understanding of natural law as well as the relationship of Church and State in the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Fr Hans spoke on  why Aleksander Solzhenitsyn matters to us today. My own talk was on consumerism and the ascetical life. All four talks can be found on Ancient Faith Radio (Acton University 2013) and are free to download or listen to online. You can also purchase the audio at the Acton Institute.

While I welcome people’s comments on the presentations, please listen to them before you comment.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

 

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Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience

Dylan Pahman,a research associate at the Acton Institute, has an interesting contribution to the contemporary understanding and application of natural law over at Ethika Politika where he is a contributing editor. What makes the essay (Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience: An Orthodox Response to David Bentley Hart) even more interesting is that Pahman, like Hart, is an Orthodox Christian and so it is from within that tradition that he engages the debate.

Please take a moment to go over to Ethika Politika and read the essay and maybe even join the discussion. For those who might be interested, here’s my response to Dylan’s essay.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

First of all, well said Dylan! As do you, I admire Hart’s writing, the elegance of his language and the intricacy of his thought are breath taking. Above all, however, is his command of the sources, Christian and non-Christian, ancient, medieval, modern and post-modern. This makes the absence of any treatment of conscience in his critique of natural law all the more glaring. That individuals, and even whole communities, are often wrong about the Good, the True, the Just  and the Beautiful (see Philippians 4:8) doesn’t mean these aren’t “really real” as my intro to philosophy professor would often remind us. In its own way, error testifies to the existence of the truth, even as evil does to good, injustice to justice and the ugly to the beautiful.

A careful attention to my own experience reveals that I am often mistaken about what is morally good through simple, and even innocent, ignorance. But on only slightly closer inspection I also realize that there are times when I am not so much mistaken about the good as I am indifferent and even hostile to it. While divine grace makes clear to me that I am forgiven, I need only minimal self-knowledge to know that I fall short of what it means to be fully and distinctively human. While Freud and the other advocates of a hermeneutic of suspicion have helped us fill in the details of our myriad moral failures, they didn’t discover that the human heart can be stone hard or that we often fail to be our best selves.

This brings me to Fr. David’s observation. Like him, I worry we have “reached that point where conscience has become so coarsened that rational discourse in the public square is becoming more and more difficult.” This is certainly the case in the larger culture—of greater concern to me, however, is that this seems also to be the case within the Christian community. For all his eloquence and command of the sources, Hart is arguing not simply against natural law but (as you imply) against human reason’s ability to know, however incompletely, moral truth.

In my own ministry as an Orthodox priest I have found that this denigration of reason’s ability to know what is, and isn’t, morally good common not only among the laity but even among the clergy. For this reason I find myself in fundamental agreement with Fr David when he says that the “very understanding of conscience has been so distorted that I think it perhaps has gone beyond a nearsightedness or color-blindedness.” Like their Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, many Orthodox Christians hold views on matters such as abortion or same-sex marriage that are at odds with the Tradition.

Given the rather thin cultural understanding of reason, I think an re-evangelization of Christians—to say nothing of the culture—will likely not “take place as people imagine … primarily through realm of ideas and arguments or education programs,” though these will have their place, “but rather through witnessing to the cross through word and deed – the ascetical life and self sacrifice.” To Father’s observation I would add the witness of liturgy and the philanthropic ministry of the Church (which I think is probably implied by “self-sacrifice”).

Again, well done!

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Kolakowski On Natural Law

Quote

Source: Mirror of Justice.

From Leszek Kolakowski‘s 2001 essay “On Natural Law” (included in the recently released collection of essays entitled Is
God Happy?
),:

“…Moral intuition is also a kind of experience, different from sense perception – and neither of them infallible.

Our belief in natural law is not impaired by the fact that the results of this intuition are not necessarily identical in everyone’s mind, always and everywhere, nor by the fact that centuries were needed before people recognized the good and evil of their various actions and institutions – before they admitted, for example, that torture is evil and equality before the law good.  This has also been the case with many discoveries in empirical science: it took centuries before people realized that their ordinary intuitions were wrong: that the sun does not revolve around the earth, or that a force is not necessary to cause movement, or that events are never absolutely simultaneous.  All these erroneous beliefs were natural and understandable.  So why should we not accept that the principles and norms of natural law reveal themselves to us
gradually: that we must go through a process of growth before we understand certain moral truths and laws and recognize them as such?  (Although it should be said that since antiquity there have been people who preached those principles and norms with full conviction – without, however, gaining universal approval.)

******

There is no reason to accept the nihilistic doctrine that because various contradictory norms have been accepted and applied at various times and in various places, they are all, in terms of Reason, equally justified, which is to say equally groundless.  While belief in natural law does not – I repeat – require belief in the existence of God as a necessary premise, it does require the belief in something that one might call the moral (in addition to the physical) constitution of Being – a constitution that converges with the rule of Reason in the universe.

All the evils of the human world, its endless stupidity and suffering, cannot
impair our belief in natural law in this sense.  Two other realms of
intuition – perception and mathematics – also require suppositions that cannot be proved but are indispensable for the knowledge we acquire by these intuitions.  Our life as rational creatures occurs in a realm that is
constructed with the aid of various non-empirical but fundamental courts of
appeal, among them truth and goodness.  Nor need our belief in natural law
be impaired by the fact that it is not universally observed.  This fact
was well known to Seneca and Cicero, to Gratian and Suarez, to Grotius and
Kant, but it did not weaken their conviction that the rules of natural law are
valid, no matter how often they are violated.

 

 

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Philosopher Alvin Plantinga Receives Prestigious Rescher Prize

The world-renowned philosopher Alvin C. Plantinga has recently received the prestigious Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy, awarded by the University of Pittsburgh’s Departments of Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science Department, and the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science. Plantinga is widely known for his work in the philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics, and he has revolutionized scholarly interest in Christian theism, shown naturalism/atheism to be self-refuting and incoherent, and set the new standards for the defense of free will, individual agency, consciousness, rational inference, science, objective truth and morality, and more. As a result, Plantinga has both directly influenced the entire field of philosophy and has mentored and inspired new generations of top scholars who are critiquing the reductionism, relativism, materialism, collectivism, scientism, positivism, determinism, and de-humanization of the modern era. In short, Plantinga has devastated the prevailing view in Western elites that human beings are merely “matter in motion” (i.e., purposeless, accidental, robotic products of a closed, natural world ruled solely by physical laws and that truth, reason, morality, and God are illusions).

Read the whole post: The Beacon.

 

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