Aquinas, Finnis and Non-naturalism

In Craig Paterson & Matthew Pugh (eds.), Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue. Ashgate (2006)

Abstract

In this chapter I seek to examine the credibility of Finnis’s basic stance on Aquinas that while many neo-Thomists are meta-ethically naturalistic in their understanding of natural law theory (for example, Heinrich Rommen, Henry Veatch, Ralph McInerny, Russell Hittinger, Benedict Ashley and Anthony Lisska), Aquinas’s own meta-ethical framework avoids the “pitfall” of naturalism. On examination, the short of it is that I find Finnis’s account (while adroit) wanting in the interpretation stakes vis-à-vis other accounts of Aquinas’s meta-ethical foundationalism. I think that the neo-Thomists are basically right to argue that for Aquinas we cannot really understand objective truths about moral standards unless we derive them from our intellective knowledge of natural facts as given to us by the essential human nature that we have. While I find Finnis’s interpretative position on Aquinas wanting, I go on to argue that his own attachment to non-naturalism is justified and should not be jettisoned. Because I think non-naturalism important to the future tenability of a viable natural law ethics (an ethics that is both cognitive and objectivist), I argue that Finnis should, so to speak, “beef up” his “fundamental option” for non-naturalism and more fully avail himself of certain argumentative strategies available in its defense, argumentative strategies that are inspired by the analytical philosophy of G.E. Moore.

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Craig Paterson
Saint Louis University (PhD)

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Natural Law and Ethical Non-Naturalism.John D. O’Connor - 2021 - Studies in Christian Ethics 34 (2):190-208.

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