Matthew O'Brien and Robert C. Koons
A notion of “social practice” should guide the way we think about morality and politics. The first in a three-part series.
Whenever philosophy seems abstruse, hairsplitting, or frivolous, it’s worth meditating on G. K. Chesterton’s definition of what philosophy is all about:
Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out.
In the interest of thinking through our thoughts—specifically, our thoughts about how we ought to live—this article is the first in a series of three about natural law ethics. In this first installment, we give a general account of some problems about ‘social reality’ for ethics. In the next article, we apply the account sketched here to the issue of abortion as well as other difficult moral problems, and show how to apply the principle of double effect. In the final piece in the series, we address some of the main big-picture objections to the project of natural law ethics.
Natural law ethics is perhaps unique among competing contemporary moral theories in the degree to which it attempts to respect the distinctiveness of moral experience while, at the same time, fitting its account of that experience into a general picture of the world. To be committed to the project of natural law ethics is to be committed, at least to some extent, to the thesis that ethical principles draw their content from natural facts, facts about the essential constitution or ‘natures’ of things, especially human things. These natural facts include, first, the facts about the nature of human beings as individuals—that is, as rational animals comprised of body and soul—and second, the facts about the relationship between individual human beings and the societies in which they participate. Natural law theorists and their sympathizers have recently revisited the first of these issues in an impressive number of important books. Indeed, Philippa Foot, Kevin Flannery, J. Budziszewski, Rosalind Hursthouse, Anthony Lisska, Timothy Chappell, David Oderberg, Robert George, Christopher Tollefsen, Patrick Lee, Mark Murphy, and Alasdair MacIntyre have all written books in the last few years that examine individual human nature and the moral goods which perfect it.
Read it all here.