The basic goods theory and revisionism: A methodological comparison on the use of reason and experience as sources of moral knowledge

Heythrop Journal 42 (4):423–450 (2001)

In Roman Catholic moral theology there is an ongoing debate between the proportionalist or revisionist school and the traditionalist school that has developed what is referred to as the ‘New Natural Law Theory’ or ‘Basic Goods Theory’ . The stakes in this debate have been raised with Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis Splendor on fundamental moral theology that condemned ‘proportionalism’ or ‘teleologism’ as an ethical theory while utilizing many of the ideas, concepts, and terminology of the BGT, thereby implicitly endorsing that ethical theory. While absolute norms and intrinsically evil acts have frequently been the focus of debate between these two schools, what is it that divides them fundamentally, on the level of ethical method? It is the role and function of reason and experience as two sources of moral knowledge, in part, that distinguish these two versions of natural law on the most basic level. While the BGT has a strict hierarchy of the sources of moral knowledge that posits the hierarchical magisterium as the definitive interpreter of reason and experience, revisionists posit a more dialogical relationship between reason, experience, and the magisterium. On certain ethical issues , the experience of the faithful as well as the rational arguments developed by revisionist Catholic moral theologians challenge some of the normative claims of the magisterium. This paper investigates the methodological use of reason and experience in each theory's interpretation of natural law and how and why these two sources of moral knowledge lead to fundamentally divergent normative claims on particular ethical issues
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DOI 10.1111/1468-2265.00172
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