Posts tagged with: natural law

The Barna Group recently released a fascinating new study on morality in America. The press release is titled, “The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code.” It summarizes the study:

New research from Barna reveals growing concern about the moral condition of the nation, even as many American adults admit they are uncertain about how to determine right from wrong.

Sounds like a problem. And, indeed, the data does give reason to be concerned. But the framing of at least one question presumes a false dichotomy.

In particular, the question “Moral Truth: Absolute or Relative?” gives as possible answers only “Absolute,” “Relative,” or “Never thought about it.”

I presume that “both” wasn’t an option because the questioners believed that the two options were mutually exclusive. However, this is simply not the case. (more…)

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton's April 20 conference in Rome.

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton’s April 20 conference in Rome.

Yesterday in the French section of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, an exclusive interview finally appeared with the outspoken Bishop Dominique Rey of Toulon-Fréjus. Bishop Rey provided the interview when in Rome last month to speak about the current challenges to religious and economic freedom in Europe at the Acton Institute’s conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time“.

The May 19 headline “Sortir du prêt-à-penser” (Thinking Outside the Box) was based on the bishop’s appeal for a deeper study of Leo’s XIII’s  landmark 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Catholic social doctrine in general, but also his discontent with the way secular Western culture superficially appraises human nature and commonly proposes solutions to social injustice, while leaving God, natural law and human dignity out of the larger picture. Quoting him from the April 20 conference, we read:

Any analysis Rerum Novarum is based on the certainty that the answer to the evils of our time will come not so much as a particular technical solution, but more so out of respect for the natural law, that is, for man himself as God created him, and by recognizing God’s place in the society. Only opening up to such transcendence helps resist absolute [forms of] materialism and consumerism.

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Pope Benedict XVI often ventured into venues historically hostile to the Judeo-Christian tradition. A new collection of essays discusses many of these speeches, probing the relationship of reason to religion, the West, and natural law. Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law, edited by Marta Cartabia and Andrea Simoncini, explores the Pope Emeritus’ speeches as well as the implications they have for law and democracy.

Writing for Public Discourse, Acton’s Samuel Gregg discusses this collection of the former Pope’s essays, arguing the theme seems to be a return to reason:

The contribution of these essays to showing how Benedict’s speeches provided pathways for faith and reason to restore coherence to the foundations of Western law and democratic systems is best described as uneven. Among the stronger papers are those of Glendon, the legal scholar J.H.H. Weiler, and the moral theologian Martin Rhonheimer. Each of these authors grapples directly and cogently with Benedict’s arguments concerning how religion and full-bodied conceptions of reason must necessarily shape each other, and in the process of doing so, help infuse greater rationality into our legal systems and democratic institutions.

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Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia

One of the many great things about living in Europe is getting the chance to meet famous Americans visiting the Old Continent. They tend to be more relaxed and accessible than they ever would be in the United States, which means you may actually manage to have a pleasant conversation with them without others trying to jostle their way between you.

It’s an even bigger thrill when you talk with someone you truly admire, which was certainly the case when I met Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the annual Istituto Bruno Leoni lecture in Turin in 2013. My friends at IBL kindly invited me to the reception and dinner following the lecture, and there I was as the only other American chatting with Justice and Mrs. Scalia.

We talked about his old friend and poker buddy Walter Berns (whose health was ailing, he told me with real concern in his face and voice), the work of the Acton Institute in Rome, and “so-called” social justice, as he put it. I tried to get his views on St. Thomas Aquinas and natural law, but he somewhat facetiously said those were “above his pay grade.” (more…)

HaleLegal historian Sir Matthew Hale has been described as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.” Yet during his lifetime (1609-1676), he chose not to publish most of his legal writings, going so far as to prohibit such publication in his will.

Against these wishes, many manuscripts were copied and circulated by other lawyers after his death. One such work, Of the Law of Nature, was written on multiple hand copies, and now, for the first time ever, it is available via CLP Academic.

As its title indicates, the treatise explores the natural law, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s close connection between law and theology also demonstrates the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.

The work was most likely written as a series of private meditations and reflections by Hale, giving it a unique, free-flowing style. Hale also brings a unique theological background and perspective to the topic, as editor David Sytsma explains in the introduction:

Sometime between writing the Discourse (ca. 1639–1641) and the Law of Nature (ca. 1668–1670) Hale’s religious perspective underwent a shift in the direction of Arminianism away from the Calvinism of his youth…In a manuscript likely written in the late 1650s, Hale still affirmed the traditionally Calvinist belief that the light of nature is insufficient for salvation. But after the Restoration he moved toward an Arminian soteriology which understood the gospel of the new covenant as offering forgiveness of sins by a condition of imperfect, sincere obedience. He also came to affirm the view, commonly associated with Arminianism, that virtuous pagans could be saved through obedience to the natural law (discussed below). In the last years of his life Hale professed that “Points controverted between the Arminians and Calvinists” regarding God’s decrees, his influence on the human will, the resistibility of grace, and so forth were impossible to determine and of “inconsiderable moment.” …Whether or not Hale changed his mind in the last year of his life, the soteriology present in his Law of Nature is clearly representative of his Arminian turn.

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property and practical reasonAt Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg (Acton’s director of research) discusses Adam Macleod’s Property and Practical Reason, which Gregg says attempts to rethink this key element of economic liberty and renews “the manner in which natural law scholars have traditionally addressed this topic.”

Gregg first outlines classical reflections on natural law. Then, he offers what he sees as Macleod’s insights:

In addition to drawing on new natural law theory (of which he provides one of the most accessible explanations that I’ve read), MacLeod is attentive to other exponents of pluralist non-paternalistic perfectionist accounts of law, such as the liberal legal theorist Joseph Raz. MacLeod’s core thesis is summarized concisely in the second sentence of the book’s introduction: “institutions of private ownership are justified, and in many communities are required, by a basic moral principle. That principle is equal respect for human beings as agents of practical reason.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Most of us associate the words “I have a dream” with the iconic speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. But there was a woman, nearly 200 years earlier, who wrote of her own impassioned dreams of liberty.

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 in England and championed social and educational equality for women. The daughter of a farmer, Wollstonecraft came to debate the likes of Edmund Burke regarding natural law, revolution and individual liberty.

What is intriguing about Wollstonecraft is that she continued the discussion in this later book in order to apply for the first time these ideas about individual liberty to women as well as men. Having established this to be the case to her satisfaction she then asked the further question why were women in the subordinate position they were in vis-à-vis men? Her answer was that they were held in this position by a combination of force (laws which discriminated against them in terms of property ownership, education, and marriage) and established opinion regarding the proper role of women in the home and in society. Her solution was to equalize women before the law and to encourage parents to devote the same effort in educating their daughters as they did their sons.

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