St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives

John Goyette
Mark S. Latkovic
Richard S. Myers
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt285340
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  • Book Info
    St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition
    Book Description:

    To explore and evaluate the current revival, this volume brings together many of the foremost scholars on natural law. They examine the relation between Thomistic natural law and the larger philosophical and theological tradition. Furthermore, they assess the contemporary relevance of St. Thomas's natural law doctrine to current legal and political philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2052-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
    John Goyette, Mark S. Latkovic and Richard S. Myers
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    We are in the midst of a great revival of interest in natural law. Much of this thinking is traced in one degree or another to the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the area of moral philosophy and moral theology the works of Father Martin Rhonheimer and Servais Pinckaers, O.P., come to mind. In recent years, Aquinas has also influenced the works of leading political and legal philosophers. John Finnis’s book—Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory—is just one example, although there is much debate about whether Finnis’s work can be said to follow the teaching of Aquinas....

  5. PART I. PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE NATURAL LAW
    • 1 THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE NATURAL LAW: A Thomistic Engagement with Modern Science
      (pp. 3-16)
      Benedict M. Ashley

      The nature-nurture debate goes on acrimoniously today among experts in different fields. Thus E. O. Wilson, the sociobiologist, tries to explain human behavior by evolutionary genetics, while another expert, Richard C. Lewontin, denounces sociobiology as a pseudoscience.¹ The debate usually ends with the banal agreement that nature and nurture “interact” in such a complex way that no workable criteria can be found to determine their respective contributions to human behavior. This agreement, however, does not put an end to the controversy. Why this impasse? The term “nature” is inescapable in science since by “science” we mean natural science not the...

    • RESPONSE
      • CHARACTER AS AN ENABLER OF MORAL JUDGMENT
        (pp. 17-24)
        Janet E. Smith

        Father Ashley has done well to point out that a variance in moral judgments from culture to culture does not mean that there are no universal objectively true moral judgments. He makes the point well in the context of the difficulty in proving gravity and the gravitational pull between things; chance intervening forces may skew the reading of the data, but with careful enough observation and calibration one can substantiate one’s claim about gravity. One needs the proper instruments or standards to make a correct judgment.

        I have much appreciated a technique I once saw Steven Covey use. He asked...

    • 2 THOMISTIC NATURAL LAW AND ARISTOTELIAN PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 25-40)
      Ralph McInerny

      I shall approach my subject in an Aristotelian fashion, a fashion familiar to students of St. Thomas. First, I will make some general remarks about the attitude of Thomists to Aristotle. Second, I will indicate how misgivings about Aristotle affected thoughts on moral doctrine. Finally, I will arrive at the specific issue of Aristotle and Thomistic natural law.

      Dante, at the end of La Vita Nuovo, tells us that in order to write of Beatrice as no woman has ever been written of before, he would first devote himself to serious study of philosophy and theology. This seems reasonable enough...

  6. PART II. NATURAL LAW IN A THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT
    • 3 MAIMONIDES AND AQUINAS ON NATURAL LAW
      (pp. 43-65)
      David Novak

      It is indisputable that Moses Maimonides was an important influence on the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Whether agreeing with him or disagreeing with him, Aquinas always refers to Maimonides with the same respect he pays his Christian theological sources and his Greek and Arabic philosophical sources. A number of insightful modern studies have been written that show the depth of that influence and how deeper and more comprehensive understandings of Aquinas’s thought must take it into account.¹ Furthermore, Maimonides seems to be the only Jewish thinker Aquinas took seriously, perhaps because he was the only Jewish thinker he had ever...

    • RESPONSES
      • NATURAL LAW IN MAIMONIDES?
        (pp. 66-73)
        Martin D. Yaffe

        To begin with, I must express my admiration for the serious efforts of David Novak in raising the question of the kinship between Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides in matters concerning our common well-being as law-abiding citizens nowadays. I have in mind that our Founding Fathers appealed to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and to the “Protection of Divine Providence” in establishing a government of laws dedicated to the proposition that all human beings are “created equal and … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and also bequeathed a constitution designed, among other things, to “secure...

      • NATURAL LAW AND THE METAPHYSICS OF CREATION
        (pp. 74-78)
        John Goyette

        I would like to offer three relatively brief comments on David Novak’s stimulating comparison of Maimonides and Aquinas: First, I want to raise a question about his assertion that Maimonides has a natural law doctrine. Second, I have a question about his suggestion that one can defend natural law without engaging in metaphysics. And third, I want to highlight the importance of his claim that “Judaism’s continued validity for Christians lies in its superior constitution of natural law” (Novak, p. 57).

        Can one find a natural law teaching in Maimonides? Martin Yaffe has raised some questions about finding a natural...

    • 4 WHY AQUINAS LOCATES NATURAL LAW WITHIN THE SACRA DOCTRINA
      (pp. 79-93)
      Romanus Cessario

      The purpose of this paper is to show that the theologian can speak with competence about the natural law. This proposal may seem like an odd exercise until it is recalled that in the recent literature constructive attention to natural law derives mainly from Christian philosophers and professors of jurisprudence. Yves Simon, Ralph McInerny, Russell Hittinger, John Finnis, and Robert P. George are some names that come immediately to mind. It is of course possible to cite a theologian or biblical scholar who has turned his or her attention to the topic of natural law, for example, in the context...

    • RESPONSES
      • NATURAL REASON IN THE SERVICE OF FAITH
        (pp. 94-101)
        Robert Fastiggi

        Father Cessario’s paper is rooted not only in Scripture and the writings of Aquinas, but he makes a constant effort to situate his reflections within the central mysteries of the Christian faith: the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is this recognition of the Christological and Trinitarian “ordering of human existence” that leads Cessario to his central thesis. Aquinas places natural law within the framework of the sacra doctrina because the natural law flows out of the eternal law that is the wisdom of the Triune God revealed in Christ who is the exemplar of all creation and the teleological principle...

      • THE CHRISTOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF NATURAL LAW
        (pp. 102-110)
        Earl Muller

        Father Romanus Cessario has situated Thomas’s discussion of the natural law squarely within the Thomistic understanding of sacra doctrina. This location, as Cessario rightly observes, necessitates the correlate location of “the regulative pattern for all right human conduct ultimately … within the blessed Trinity” (Cessario, p. 81). I concur whole-heartedly with these two points and propose to pursue this issue in the comments that follow. I must necessarily return to the topic of a previous paper, the anthropological foundations of the natural law. The reason is clear: those anthropological foundations themselves are placed by Thomas within the context of sacra....

  7. PART III. THE NEW NATURAL LAW THEORY
    • 5 CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON THOMISTIC NATURAL LAW
      (pp. 113-156)
      William E. May

      Many significant studies offering new perspectives on Thomistic natural law cry for attention. I believe that an in-depth study and comparison of a few of the more important such studies will give us a far better grasp of what natural law, and in particular natural law in the Thomistic tradition, is all about and why it is of central importance to our lives as moral beings than would a survey of a host of different viewpoints. I have therefore decided to center attention on the work of Pamela Hall, Benedict Ashley, Ralph McInerny, and Germain Grisez and his school of...

    • RESPONSE
      • NATURAL LAW AND SPECIFIC MORAL NORMS
        (pp. 157-164)
        Mark S. Latkovic

        William E. May’s paper shows us that the Thomistic natural law tradition is very much alive and well. Over the last twenty years or so, especially with the publication of John Finnis’s Natural Law and Natural Rights,¹ but also due to the writings of May himself and the authors that he treats in his paper, and others left untreated such as Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon, as well as many of the other authors in this volume, natural law thinking has experienced a well-deserved revival.

        How does one respond to a paper with which one is in fundamental agreement? I...

    • 6 NATURAL LAW OR AUTONOMOUS PRACTICAL REASON: Problems for the New Natural Law Theory
      (pp. 165-194)
      Steven A. Long

      The authors of the “new natural law theory”¹ famously distance natural law—as something putatively merely practical—from speculative knowledge, metaphysics, and theology. While moral truth is ontologically rooted in nature, they argue, it is epistemically independent of any natural truth.

      It has been the gravamen of many arguments against their doctrine that this separation has no parallel in the classical account of natural law to be found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Practical reason derives its principles from the unfolding teleological inclinations of nature. However, these inclinations themselves presuppose knowledge of their ends, a knowledge that is...

  8. PART IV. LAW AND POLITICS
    • 7 THOMISTIC NATURAL LAW AND THE AMERICAN NATURAL LAW TRADITION
      (pp. 197-228)
      Christopher Wolfe

      In this paper, I would like to ask, “What is the relation between classic natural law, in the Thomistic tradition, and the American natural law tradition?”

      A preliminary question that might be asked is: “Why should we care?” The reason I think we should care is that (1) Thomistic natural law provides the best rational framework for understanding political and social life. It embodies the truth about human beings living together in community and points out the best way to attain the common good. (2) We should, therefore, want to know where contemporary American political life stands vis-à-vis Thomistic natural...

    • RESPONSE
      • AQUINAS, LOCKE, AND LINCOLN IN THE AMERICAN REGIME
        (pp. 229-236)
        William Mathie

        Several years ago I visited a seminar class on John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government at a small Catholic college distinguished both for its devotion to the teaching of Thomas Aquinas and for its commitment to the seminar method of education. I had been hugely impressed by the enthusiasm students at the college had shown in discussing Dante, the Bible, and even Euclidean geometry. But Locke’s treatise drew a very different response. The students I saw seemed unable, or perhaps unwilling, to find anything that excited their curiosity in this text. Reflecting upon what I saw in this class, I...

    • 8 KELSEN AND AQUINAS ON THE NATURAL LAW DOCTRINE
      (pp. 237-260)
      Robert P. George

      The fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Hans Kelsen’s influential essay “The Natural-Law Doctrine before the Tribunal of Science”¹ provides an occasion to revisit a work in which the leading European legal theorist of the twentieth century outlined and strongly criticized the tradition of natural law theorizing. Contemporary scholars on the Continent and in the English-speaking world will, no doubt, examine Kelsen’s essay from a variety of angles. I am struck, however, by the fact that it makes no reference whatsoever to the thought of the most famous and influential of all natural law theorists, namely, St. Thomas Aquinas. Kelsen...

    • 9 THOMAS AQUINAS ON NATURAL LAW AND THE COMPETENCE TO JUDGE
      (pp. 261-284)
      Russell Hittinger

      In the only question of the Summa theologiae devoted solely to the virtue of judgment, Thomas observes that the word judgment (iudicium) originally meant a decision about what is just, but was extended to “signify a right decision in any matter whether speculative or practical.”¹ In its broadest sense, iudicium is the act whereby “a cognitive power judges of its proper object.”² Given the natural capacity of the intellect to apprehend and to particularize universal forms,³ everyone has some competence to render judgment: to say that such and such is the case, or ought to be the case.⁴ Thus Aristotle’s...

  9. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 285-294)
  10. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 295-308)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 309-311)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)