Last month, the Catholic University of America Press released Knowing the Natural Law: From Precepts and Inclinations to Deriving Oughts, by Steven Jensen (University of St. Thomas, Houston). The publisher’s description follows:
Recent discussions of Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of natural law have focused upon the “self-evident” character of the first principles, but few attempts have been made to determine in what manner they are self-evident. On some accounts, a self-evident precept must have, at most, a tenuous connection with speculative reason, especially our knowledge of God, and it must be untainted by the stain of “deriving” an ought from an is. Yet Aquinas himself had a robust account of the good, rooted in human nature. He saw no fundamental dierence between is-statements and ought-statements, both of which he considered to be descriptive
Knowing the Natural Law traces the thought of Aquinas from an understanding of human nature to a knowledge of the human good, from there to an account of ought-statements, and finally to choice, which issues in human actions. The much discussed article on the precepts of the natural law (I-II, 94, 2) provides the framework for a natural law rooted in human nature and in speculative knowledge. Practical knowledge is itself threefold: potentially practical knowledge, virtually practical knowledge, and fully practical knowledge.
This distinction within practical knowledge, typically overlooked or underutilized, reveals the steps by which the mind moves from speculative knowledge all the way to fully practical knowledge. The most significant sections of Knowing the Natural Law examine the nature of ought-statements, the imperative force of moral precepts, the special character of per se nota propositions as found within the natural law, and the final movement from knowledge to action.
Whatever little I know about the ius commune–continental Europe’s set of perennial legal principles (derived in part from Roman and Canon law) existing in a code-based system of law–I learned from the work of the distinguished medieval legal historian Professor R.H. Helmholz (Chicago). And because it is the 800th anniversary year of King John’s acceptance of the terms of Magna Carta, may I also recommend this podcast wherein Professor Helmholz gives a talk on Magna Carta “from a European perspective” (he begins to speak at just after the 5 minute mark and speaks for about 15 minutes).
Professor Helmholz’s very interesting latest book, Natural Law in Court: A History of Legal Theory in Practice, is being published next month by Harvard University Press. The publisher’s description follows.
The theory of natural law grounds human laws in the universal truths of God’s creation. Until very recently, lawyers in the Western tradition studied natural law as part of their training, and the task of the judicial system was to put its tenets into concrete form, building an edifice of positive law on natural law’s foundations. Although much has been written about natural law in theory, surprisingly little has been said about how it has shaped legal practice. Natural Law in Court asks how lawyers and judges made and interpreted natural law arguments in England, Europe, and the United States, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the American Civil War.
R. H. Helmholz sees a remarkable consistency in how English, Continental, and early American jurisprudence understood and applied natural law in cases ranging from family law and inheritance to criminal and commercial law. Despite differences in their judicial systems, natural law was treated across the board as the source of positive law, not its rival. The idea that no person should be condemned without a day in court, or that penalties should be proportional to the crime committed, or that self-preservation confers the right to protect oneself against attacks are valuable legal rules that originate in natural law. From a historical perspective, Helmholz concludes, natural law has advanced the cause of justice.
This month, Princeton University Press releases Changes of State: Nature and the Limits of the City in Early Modern Natural Law, by Annabel S. Brett (Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:
This is a book about the theory of the city or commonwealth, what would come to be called the state, in early modern natural law discourse. Annabel Brett takes a fresh approach by looking at this political entity from the perspective of its boundaries and those who crossed them. She begins with a classic debate from the Spanish sixteenth century over the political treatment of mendicants, showing how cosmopolitan ideals of porous boundaries could simultaneously justify the freedoms of itinerant beggars and the activities of European colonists in the Indies. She goes on to examine the boundaries of the state in multiple senses, including the fundamental barrier between human beings and animals and the limits of the state in the face of the natural lives of its subjects, as well as territorial frontiers. Drawing on a wide range of authors, Brett reveals how early modern political space was constructed from a complex dynamic of inclusion and exclusion. Throughout, she shows that early modern debates about political boundaries displayed unheralded creativity and virtuosity but were nevertheless vulnerable to innumerable paradoxes, contradictions, and loose ends. Changes of State is a major work of intellectual history that resonates with modern debates about globalization and the transformation of the nation-state.
This May, Wiley will publish Aquinas and the Supreme Court: Biblical Narratives of Jews, Gentiles and Gender by Eugene F. Rogers, Jr. (University of North Carolina). The publisher’s description follows.
This new work clarifies Aquinas’ concept of natural law through his biblical commentaries, and explores its applications to U.S. constitutional law.
- The first time the use of Aquinas on the U.S. Supreme Court has been explored in depth, and its applications tested through a rigorous reading of the biblical commentaries
- Shows how key judgments in the Supreme Court have rested on medieval natural law, and applies critical gender theory to discuss problems with these applications
- Offers new research data to give a different picture of Aquinas and natural law, and a fresh take on Aquinas’ biblical commentaries
- New research based on passages in the biblical commentaries never before available in English
I’ve always thought of natural law and law and economics as opposing schools of thought. Like Rick in Casablanca, I must have been misinformed. On March 21, law and economics scholar Richard Epstein will deliver the Spring 2013 Natural Law Colloquium Lecture at Fordham. Details are here.
This month, Lexington Books will publish Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought edited by Jesse Covington (Westmont College), Bryan McGraw (Wheaton College), and Micah Watson (Union University). The publisher’s description follows.
Natural law has long been a cornerstone of Christian political thought, providing moral norms that ground law in a shareable account of human goods and obligations. Despite this history, twentieth and twenty-first-century evangelicals have proved quite reticent to embrace natural law, casting it as a relic of scholastic Roman Catholicism that underestimates the import of scripture and the division between Christians and non-Christians. As recent critics have noted, this reluctance has posed significant problems for the coherence and completeness of evangelical political reflections. Responding to evangelically-minded thinkers’ increasing calls for a re-engagement with natural law, this volume explores the problems and prospects attending evangelical rapprochement with natural law. Many of the chapters are optimistic about an evangelical re-appropriation of natural law, but note ways in which evangelical commitments might lend distinctive shape to this engagement.
From the beginning, Christian jurisprudence has tried to distinguish the “moral” elements of the Mosaic Law, which continue to bind Christians, from the “ceremonial,” which do not. Richard Ross (University of Illinois) has written what looks to be a fascinating essay, Distinguishing Eternal from Transient Law: Natural Law and the Judicial Law of Moses, on the efforts of Protestants in early modern Europe and New England to grapple with this distinction. He ties their work to similar efforts by natural law theorists of the period to differentiate between eternal and merely local principles. The abstract follows.
This essay examines two interlinked efforts in early modern Europe and New England to distinguish legal provisions valid across different societies and time periods from those that were local and transitory and therefore not compulsory in the present. Consider, first, the judicial laws of Moses. A minority of Protestants, whom I will call the “Mosaic legalists,” tried to ascertain which Old Testament judicial ordinances were no longer obligatory because they were particular to the Jewish commonwealth, and which were eternally-valid “appendices” to the natural law and Decalogue. The challenge of differentiating the perpetual from the local also occupied early modern students of the law of nature. Whether one believed that God impressed natural law upon the world or that people deduced natural law Continue reading
Matthew B. O’Brien (Rutgers U.) and Robert C. Koons (U. of Texas, Austin) have posted Objects of Intention: A Hylomorphic Critique of the New Natural Law Theory. The abstract follows.
The “New Natural Law” Theory (NNL) of Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, and their collaborators offers a distinctive account of intentional action, which underlies a moral theory that aims to justify many aspects of traditional morality and Catholic doctrine. In fact, we show that the NNL is committed to premises that entail the permissibility of many actions that are irreconcilable with traditional morality and Catholic doctrine, such as elective abortions. These consequences follow principally from the NNL’s planning theory of intention coupled with an implicitly Cartesian conception of human behavior, in which behavior chosen by an agent has no intrinsic “intentionalness” apart from what he confers upon it as part of his plan. Pace the NNL collaborators, we sketch an alternative hylomorphic conception of intentional action that avoids untoward moral implications by grounding human agency in the exercise of basic powers that are either essential to human nature or acquired through participation in social practices.
This month, Oxford University Press published Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza (OUP Sept. 2012) by Jonathan A. Jacobs (Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics). The publisher’s description follows.
This edited volume examines the realizations between theological considerations and natural law theorizing, from Plato to Spinoza.
Theological considerations have long had a pronounced role in Catholic natural law theories, but have not been as thoroughly examined from a wider perspective. The contributors to this volume take a more inclusive view of the relation between conceptions of natural law and theistic claims and principles. They do not jointly defend one particular thematic claim, but articulate diverse ways in which natural law has both been understood and related to theistic claims.
In addition to exploring Plato and the Stoics, the volume also looks at medieval Jewish thought, the thought of Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham, and the ways in which Spinoza’s thought includes resonances of earlier views and intimations of later developments. Taken as a whole, these essays enlarge the scope of the discussion of natural law through study of how the naturalness of natural law has often been related to theses about the divine. The latter are often crucial elements of natural law theorizing, having an integral role in accounting for the metaethical status and ethical bindingness of natural law. At the same time, the question of the relation between natural law and God-and the relation between natural law and divine command-has been addressed in a multiplicity of ways by key figures throughout the history of natural law theorizing, and these essays accord them the explanatory significance they deserve.