This review article, now published in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Spring 2009, focuses on several themes in the two volumes, posthumously selected, edited and published by a daughter and son-in-law, of G.E.M. Anscombe’s philosophical and philosophical/theological essays. Of first importance is her philosophical explication and defence of the spirituality of human life, as manifested in even the simplest act such as pointing to something as an example of colour rather than of shape. With that is connected her defence of (...) freedom of choice in face of scientistic doubts. Then there is the question of the proper interpretation of her famous thesis about the dependence of the moral ought on divine law; and the question whether or how she applied her epoch-making explication of intention in her own treatment of moral questions. The review also discusses the progress of her thought about contraception to an understanding of the relation between sex and the good of marriage itself; and her thoughts about the rational preambles to religious faith. (shrink)
This address to a philosophical conference on truth and faith in ethics engages in an extended critique of the account of truth in Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: an essay in genealogy (Princeton University Press, 2002). For any jurisprudential, moral or political theory that affirms natural law needs to respond first to sceptical denials that reason can discover any truths about what ends all human individuals or groups ought to pursue. But any such theory also needs to make clear how (...) it differs from, even when it coincides in moral judgment with, bodies of moral teaching self-identified as part of a divine revelation addressed to everyone. It also needs to show how truths of natural law provide grounds for rejecting, as well as for accepting, particular human claims to be the bearer of such a universal revelation. Parts I to III below address these issues through a critical examination of some contemporary philosophizing which, while acknowledging the warranted universality of the predicate “is true,” withhold that predicate from the principles of practical reason. Parts IV and V address another aspect of universality and particularity about which natural law theory needs to get clear: how the moral norms of natural law, properly as universal as human nature and the community of all people and peoples, nonetheless warrant strong loyalty to specific communities, above all one’s country and one’s marital family. The paper is now published in an edited version in The American Journal of Jurisprudence 53 (2008) 23-48. (shrink)
'Public reason' in Rawls's stipulated usage signifies propositions that can legitimately be used in deliberating on and deciding fundamental issues of political life and legislation because they are propositions which all citizens may reasonably be expected to endorse: their use is therefore fair (respects the moral principle of reciprocity) and preserves the public peace which is at risk from contests between comprehensive doctrines, contests exemplified by wars of religion. This attractive set of suggestions is ruined by irresoluable ambiguities, truncation of (...) reason's resources and of public discourse just when they are most needed, and incipient capitulation to some radical injustices. But public reason may nonetheless be an opportune phrase for conveying the gist of four permanently valid theses in the classical political thought that develops from Socrates/Plato to Aquinas and beyond. That tradition has been significantly modified by recognition that a human right to immunity of religious beliefs and acts from coercion extends – precisely by reason of the importance of finding and adhering to the truth about the divine source of reality and value – to mistaken as well as correct religious beliefs and practices. That immunity is subject to limitations necessary to preserve public order; likewise, a religion's legitimacy as a source of reasons for public actions is dependent on its willingness to foster genuine public discourse. Analogously, a political or legal philosophy's rational warrant is dependent on the compatibility of its theses with the worth of authentic discourse and the support they give to institutions, including the rule of law, which favour such discourse. Habermas's account of discourse ethics fails by overlooking some truths about discourse, truth and friendship that Plato made clear in Gorgias. And (the rule of) law, too, is most adequately understood as a product and articulation of public reason. (shrink)
This paper identifies and contests the thesis it takes to be the central premise of Giubilini and Minerva, ‘Why should the baby live?’, namely that rights, subjecthood and personhood have as a necessary condition that the undergoing of a harm be experienced. That thesis entails the repugnant or absurd conclusion that we do not have the right not to be killed in our sleep. The conclusion can be avoided by adding some premise or qualification about actual capacities for experience of (...) harm, but nothing in the Giubilini and Minerva article shows that such capacities do not exist, as actual and not merely potential, in the newly born human infant (and indeed in the unborn human child/foetus). The present paper reviews an earlier philosophical attempt to deploy an awareness criterion of personhood, and proposes objections to some other aspects of the article under consideration. (shrink)
This essay, in the context of a conference on justice, reviews and reaffirms the main theses of “The Priority of Persons” (2000), and supplements them with the benefit of hindsight in six theses. The wrongness of Roe v. Wade goes wider than was indicated. The secularist scientistic or naturalist dimension of the reigning contemporary ideology is inconsistent with the spiritual reality manifested in every word or gesture of its proponents. The temporal continuity of the existence of human persons and their (...) communities is highly significant for the common good, which is the point and measure of social justice, properly understood. Forms of injustice that are more or less independent of this temporal dimension are nonetheless important. The nation and its lasting are neglected in much of the social-political theory assumed by contemporary legal theory. So too is the family and the “covenant” between its generations, a neglect that opens the door to euthanasia. (shrink)
The past in which theory of this kind had its origins is notably similar to the present. For this is theory–practical theory–which articulates a critique of critiques, and the critiques it criticizes, rejects and replaces have much in common whether one looks at them in their fifth century B.C. Hellenic (Sophistic) or their modern (Enlightenment, Nietzschean or postmodern) forms.
This central volume in the Collected Essays brings together John Finnis's wide-ranging contribution to fundamental issues in political philosophy. -/- The volume begins by examining the general theory of political community and social justice. It includes the powerful and well-known Maccabaean Lecture on Bills of Rights -- a searching critique of Ronald Dworkin's moral-political arguments and conclusions, of the European Court of Human Rights' approach to fundamental rights, and of judicial review as a constitutional institution. It is followed by an (...) equally searching analysis of Kant's thought on the intersection of law, right, and ethics. Other papers in the book's opening section include an early assessment of Rawls's A Theory of Justice, foundational discussions of migration rights, national boundaries, and the rights of non-citizens, and a challenging paper on virtue and the constitution. -/- The volume then focuses on central problems in modern political communities, including the practice of punishment; war and justice; the public control of euthanasia and abortion; and the nature of marriage and the common good. There are careful and vigorous critiques of Nietzsche on morality, Hart on punishment, Dworkin on the enforcement of morality and on euthanasia, Rawls on justice and law, Thomson on the woman's right to choose, Nussbaum and Koppelman on same-sex relations, and Dummett and Weithman on open borders. -/- The volume's previously unpublished papers include a fresh statement of a new grounding for the morality of sex, a surprising reading of C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man on genetic control and contraception, and an introduction focussing on the ultimate basis of equality and human rights. (shrink)
Law centrally or archetypically is a moral idea, but not so much an ideal as a requirement of justice. Studying it contemplatively, as Simmonds's admirable Law as a Moral Idea does, tends to truncate the investigation of law's moral character and to obscure the extent to which jurisprudence can and should be a critical moral inquiry. The book's virtues—especially its critiques of Hart, Raz and Kramer—outweigh these two objections and the further, lesser objection that the distinctions it draws between its (...) project and the strategy of Natural Law and Natural Rights perhaps misconceive the latter, which the present article accordingly tries to clarify. (shrink)
For over forty years John Finnis has pioneered the development of a new classical theory of natural law, a systematic philosophical explanation of human life that offers an integrated account of personal identity, practical reason, morality, political community, and law. The core of Finnis' theory, articulated in his seminal work Natural Law and Natural Rights, has profoundly influenced later work in the philosophy of law and practical reason, while his contributions to the ethical debates surrounding nuclear deterrence, abortion, and sexual (...) morality have been a powerful, and controversial exposition of the practical implications of his theory of natural law. -/- The Collected Essays of John Finnis brings together 106 papers, including nearly two dozen previously unpublished works. Thematically arranged, the five volumes provide ready access to his contributions across central areas of modern practical philosophy - the philosophy of practical reason; the philosophy of personal identity and intention; political philosophy; the philosophy of law; and the philosophy of revelation and the role of religion in public life. Fully cross-referenced, cross-indexed, and introduced by the author, the Collected Essays reveal the connections and coherence of the different branches of Finnis' work, showing the full picture of his philosophical contribution for the first time. -/- Covering topics from self-refutation and discourse ethics to evolution and religion, and the adoption of Bills of Rights, the work in these volumes offer a unique insight into the intellectual currents and political debates that have transformed major areas of public morality and law over the last half century. Together with the new edition of Natural Law and Natural Rights, they will be an essential resource for all those engaged with the philosophy of law and broader questions in practical philosophy. (shrink)
This address at the Hart Centenary Conference in Cambridge in July 2007 reflects on foundational elements in Hart's method in legal philosophy. It argues that his understanding of what it is to adopt an internal point of view was flawed by (a) inattention to the difference between descriptive history (or biography or detection) and descriptive general theory of human affairs, (b) inattention to practical reason as argument from premises, some factual but others normative (evaluative) in their content, and (c) relative (...) inattention to the deliberations of law-makers as distinct from subjects of the law. These flaws contributed to a concept or theory of law that so truncated its account of the juridical, and of the sources of legal reasoning, that it could provide little or no guidance in situations of legal difficulty. The paper suggests that these flaws result, to some significant extent, from the skeptical doubts about morality evident particularly in his later work. All this has implications for the kind of approach to law and legal theory often self-described as positivist. (shrink)
The four kinds of explanation identified by Aquinas at the beginning of his commentary on Aristotle's Ethics are deployed to show that the identity of the human person is sui generis and mysterious, even though each of its elements is more or less readily accessible to our understanding. The essay attends particularly to the explorations by Aquinas and, with different techniques, by Shakespeare of the experience and understanding of (a) one's lasting presence to oneself as one and the same bodily (...) and mental self, and (b) one's self-shaping by one's free choices, especially of commitments. Shakespeare further explores these, quite deliberately, through displays of mistaken identity and humiliating deflations of the personas one constructs for life in society. (shrink)
Augustine was undeniably a dogmatic thinker, but he also had an “aporetic side” which makes him more relevant to Christian philosophers today than isgenerally recognized. Augustine’s first experience of reading philosophy came from Cicero’s Hortensius, from which Augustine gained an appreciation for philosophical scepticism which he never lost. Thus, in all of his works and in all periods of his life, Augustine’s characteristic way of doing philosophy is aporetic, rather than either systematic or speculative. Paradoxically, Augustine’s faith in the truth (...) of Holy Scripture and Church Doctrine gave him a freedom to explore theological and philosophical conundra and, if he could not resolve them, admit frankly that he could not do so. Like Socrates, Augustine was wise partly because he admitted to being puzzled about things that others took for granted. Some of the perplexities which occupied him are: (a) the nature of time; (b) whether it is possible to show someone (without using words) what walking is if one is already walking; (c) whether one is responsible for what one does in one’s dreams; (d) whether one can think about sadness or pleasure by having an image of it in one’s mind, but without experiencing any sadness or pleasure in the thought, and (e) (perhaps most famously, in the Confessions) how one can want something that he does not believe to be good. (shrink)
Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought -/- Series Editor: Dr Mark Philp, Oriel College, University of Oxford -/- Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought present critical examinations of the work of major political philosophers and social theorists, assessing both their initial contribution and continuing relevance to politics and society. Each volume provides a clear, accessible, historically-informed account of each thinker's work, focusing on a re-assessment of their central ideas and arguments. Founders encourage scholars and students to link their (...) study of classic texts to current debates in political philosophy and social theory. -/- This launch volume in the Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought series presents a critical examination of Aquinas' thought, combining an accessible, historically-informed account of his work with a re-assessment of his central ideas and arguments. John Finnis presents a richly-documented review of Aquinas's ideas on morality, politics, law, and method in social science, using the philosopher's own long-neglected distinctions between types of order and types of theory. Unique in his coverage of Aquinas's primary and secondary texts and his own vigorous argumentation on many themes, the author focuses on the Aquinas's philosophy while also demonstrating how this interconnects with the theological elements. In his fresh, far-reaching re-reading of Aquinas, John Finnis argues out such questions as: Is egoism rational? Why is Aristotle's paternalism wrong? Has sexual morality any reasonable principle? What's wrong with lying and usury? Why are democracy and the rule of law aspects of the best polity? -/- Drawing on over 60 of Aquinas's works, the author shows how, despite some medieval limitations, Aquinas makes profound, powerful contributions to present debates. (shrink)
This Major Reference series brings together a wide range of key international articles in law and legal theory. Many of these essays are not readily accessible, and their presentation in these volumes will provide a vital new resource for both research and teaching. Each volume is edited by leading international authorities who explain the significance and context of articles in an informative and complete introduction.
Nuclear deterrence requires objective ethical analysis. In providing it, the authors face realities - the Soviet threat, possible nuclear holocaust, strategic imperatives - but they also unmask moral evasions - deterrence cannot be bluff, pure counterforce, the lesser (or greater) evil, or a step towards disarmament. They conclude that the deterrent is unjustifiable and examine the new question of conscience that this raises for everyone.