O’Brien & Koons on A Hylomorphic Critique of the New Natural Law Theory

Matthew B. O’Brien (Rutgers U.) and Robert C. Koons (U. of Texas, Austin) have posted Objects of Intention: A Hylomorphic Critique of the New Natural Law Theory. The abstract follows.

The “New Natural Law” Theory (NNL) of Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, and their collaborators offers a distinctive account of intentional action, which underlies a moral theory that aims to justify many aspects of traditional morality and Catholic doctrine. In fact, we show that the NNL is committed to premises that entail the permissibility of many actions that are irreconcilable with traditional morality and Catholic doctrine, such as elective abortions. These consequences follow principally from the NNL’s planning theory of intention coupled with an implicitly Cartesian conception of human behavior, in which behavior chosen by an agent has no intrinsic “intentionalness” apart from what he confers upon it as part of his plan. Pace the NNL collaborators, we sketch an alternative hylomorphic conception of intentional action that avoids untoward moral implications by grounding human agency in the exercise of basic powers that are either essential to human nature or acquired through participation in social practices.

Pussy Riot and WEIRD Values

Last week’s post about WEIRD values (that’s “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic”) drew a number of comments over at First Thoughts, where I cross-posted. Readers focused on the implications for the West’s relations with the Muslim world. It’s worth noting, though, that the clash is not limited to Muslim-majority societies. Most of the world is non-WEIRD. Events is Russia last week demonstrate what I mean.

By now, most readers are familiar with Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band that stormed the main altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to protest collusion between the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin. Three members of the band were convicted of “hooliganism” and sentenced to two years in prison. Last week, authorities released one of the three on appeal, in response to evidence that she had not, in fact, participated in the cathedral protest. The other two band members continue to serve their sentences.

In the West, Pussy Riot has become a cause célèbre, with human rights groups protesting the authoritarianism in Putin’s Russia. This is not surprising. From a Western perspective, the band’s punishment seems unduly harsh. Yes, Pussy Riot insulted a place of worship – one with important, and sad, historical associations – but no one was harmed. At most, the members should have been fined for a misdemeanor and let go. Within Russia, however, support for Pussy Riot is remarkably low. Although some Russians believe the band members made a valid point about church corruption and have served enough time, the large majority of Russians apparently believes the sentences were appropriate, Read more

Lewis on Religious Freedom, the Common Good and the Contraception Services Mandate

V. Bradley Lewis (Catholic U. of America) has posted Religious Freedom, the Good of Religion and the Common Good: The Challenges of Pluralism, Privilege and the Contraceptive Services Mandate. The abstract follows.

The right to religious freedom is properly grounded in religion’s status as a fundamental and irreducible human good, which is nevertheless related to other goods and social in character. Its protection for persons and groups is therefore also a component of the common good of political society. After arguing for these propositions on broadly Thomistic philosophical grounds, the article discuses and answers three recent challenges. The first is based on a perceived conflict between recognition of the good of religion and pluralism and I argue that this objection can be met by distinguishing between different kinds of pluralism, most of which pose no problem to the thesis. A second objection comes from those outside the Thomistic tradition, who either reject the status of religion as a good deserving of explicit legal recognition and protection or accept it on inadequate grounds. The objections, I argue, are based on accounts of religion that are inadequate to the role it plays in sound practical reason. Finally, I discuss an argument from those within the Thomistic tradition who accept some limitations on religious freedom in the name of the common good. This third challenge is linked to the current controversy over the application of the US federal government’s insurance mandate to religious organizations and the US Catholic bishops’ response to it as an issue of religious freedom. Here I argue that the objection is based on a misunderstanding and misapplication of Aquinas’s account.

Lon Fuller on Negative and Positive Liberty

Here’s an interesting series of passages from a piece by the eminent law professor Lon Fuller: “Freedom — A Suggested Analysis,” 68 Harvard Law Review 1305 (1955).

The deterioration of the meaning of freedom has been caused in part by a shift of interest away from the notion of “freedom to” in favor of “freedom from.”  Let us for a moment indulge in a somewhat abstract analysis of the meaning of the phrase “is free from.” X, we say, is free from Y. What is asserted? We are saying that a something, X, is not subject to the influence of, or does not contain within itself, something called Y. We are verbally setting Y off from X, asserting that Y does not touch upon or enter into X . . . .

[S]ince “freedom from” is essentially a negation, we can, by substituting different nouns for the Y of our formula, make “freedom from” assume contradictory or mutually exclusive meanings. The objectives of the welfare state and of Buddhism can with equal facility be stated in terms of “freedom from,” the one promising freedom from poverty, the other freedom from the desire for worldly goods. We can praise knowledge as giving us freedom from the handicaps of ignorance and extol ignorance as conferring freedom from the discomforts and responsibilities of knowledge. If one writer recently set up “freedom from the forces of nature” as an objective of governmental policy, others of a different bent have been trying for ages to free us from the artificial restraints of society. Finally, there is, of course — in a perfectly meaningful sense — freedom from freedom.

Thus the concept of “freedom from” represents a turn of thought ready to fit almost any context and capable of conveying almost any meaning. It is no accident that such awkward totalitarian advances as have been made in the direction of the word “freedom” have been in terms of “freedom from,” as where it is asserted that the masses must be “freed from capitalist exploitation” or “from colonialism.” So far as I am aware, there is little inclination by the enemies of freedom to embrace, or to tamper with, the notion of “freedom to.”

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