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Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law [Paperback]

J. Budziszewski
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 20 2005
Voted one of 1998 Books of the Year!

With uninterrupted clarity, frequent eloquence and occasional humor, J. Budziszewski presents and defends the natural law tradition in what is at once a primer for students and a vigorous argument for scholars.

expounds the work of the leading architects of theory on natural law, including Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke. It also takes up contemporary philosophy, theology and political science, colorfully running against the intimidating tide of advanced pluralism that finds natural law so difficult to tolerate.

Throughout the volume, Budziszewski sure-footedly achieves his self-confessed aim of displaying the "subtlety, richness and intellectual surprise" of the natural law tradition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
As part of the modern revival of Natural Law thinking this book is very welcome. It is pitched at undergraduates but would also be useful in pre-university courses in philosophy, law, and politics, or for an advanced reading group. Questions for reflection/discussion set at the end of each chapter with references for further reading.
Starts with Aristotle's 'Nicomachean Ethics', correctly one step back from the Stoics with regard to the historical roots of NL philosophy, but misses that Plato was the practitioner and Aristotle the theorist. (For two contrasting approaches identifying Plato as the first NL theorist, see C.S. Lewis's 'The Abolition of Man', chapter 1, and John Wild's 'Plato's Modern Enemies and the Theory of Natural Law'. Also John Wild's 'Introduction to Realistic Philosophy', and Plato's 'Republic', Bks. I-IV.)
UNIT ONE: ARISTOTLE
Chapter 1: Politics and the Human Good.
Eight pages: concepts of ethics as a practical science, some definitions according to Aristotle. Useful and concise.
Chapter 2: Moral Excellence & Regime Design
Nine pages: why society in general and civilization in particular is impossible without moral rules underlying law of society. Briefly explains Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean (ie, moral virtue is usually intentional habitual behaviour pitched between the two extremes of vice.
Eg, Cowardice---COURAGE---Rashness; and,
Stinginess---GENEROSITY---Extravagance.)
Virtues are based on morals and are unified and interrelated. Very brief overview of the types of political regime. Useful and concise.
Chapter 3: Friendship, Justice & the Moral Significance of Law
Nine pages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Truth April 22 2002
Format:Paperback
"Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk, then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man." -John Henry Newman
Everyday we make decisions about the paths we will take in life. At times we find ourselves conflicted beyond the normal level of simple decisions making. What we often desire is obviously in direct conflict with our inner knowledge of right and wrong and no matter how we try to rationalize our decisions, taking the wrong path brings us immense internal conflict and emotional pain.
We lose our sense of peace and become filled with chaotic desires. Frustrated with our decisions we try to find self-satisfying justifications for our unethical behavior. Breaking a general precept of the natural law carries the penalty of guilt. As human beings, we find this to be a constant struggle between what we want and need, what we should do and should not do.
When our conscience accuses us of these facts, we either change the path we are on or smother the knowledge written on our hearts and keep right on walking, rationalizing to ourselves that the pleasure we will gain from this path is greater than the pain of the thorns of conscience we keep stepping on repeatedly.
"The good of a human soul lies in the activity of using and following reason, and its highest good lies in the activity of using it and following it excellently."
Sometimes the only way off a path we have chosen is a decision to just do the right thing. The conflict that leads up to that decision can at times make us set up road blocks on paths we don't ever want to take again. Even J.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Teaching Natural Law to a Lawless Society Jan. 19 2000
Format:Paperback
Since the great works of classic Greek philosophy are seldom taught either at the high school or college level, the author gives a brief but convincing grounding in Aristotle. Proceeding through other great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, he relentlessly shows the universal applicability of moral principles. The book is a very effective foil for those post-modern thinkers who believe (without proof) that mankind has moved beyond the natural law, or that there is no such thing. The book is written at a very readable level.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer on Political Philosophy Aug. 26 1998
Format:Paperback
Professor Budziszewski's defense of natural law is that, in spades, but is more. It gave me the sort of clear understanding of the basics of political philosophy that I should have received along with my B.A. in Political Science.
Written on the Heart is a must-read for anyone who "knows" that there must be universal truth, and absolute standards of right and wrong, but just can't articluate the reason for that conviction.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
116 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Truth April 22 2002
By Rebecca of Amazon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk, then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man." -John Henry Newman

Everyday we make decisions about the paths we will take in life. At times we find ourselves conflicted beyond the normal level of simple decisions making. What we often desire is obviously in direct conflict with our inner knowledge of right and wrong and no matter how we try to rationalize our decisions, taking the wrong path brings us immense internal conflict and emotional pain.

We lose our sense of peace and become filled with chaotic desires. Frustrated with our decisions we try to find self-satisfying justifications for our unethical behavior. Breaking a general precept of the natural law carries the penalty of guilt. As human beings, we find this to be a constant struggle between what we want and need, what we should do and should not do.

When our conscience accuses us of these facts, we either change the path we are on or smother the knowledge written on our hearts and keep right on walking, rationalizing to ourselves that the pleasure we will gain from this path is greater than the pain of the thorns of conscience we keep stepping on repeatedly.

"The good of a human soul lies in the activity of using and following reason, and its highest good lies in the activity of using it and following it excellently."

Sometimes the only way off a path we have chosen is a decision to just do the right thing. The conflict that leads up to that decision can at times make us set up road blocks on paths we don't ever want to take again. Even J. Budziszewski lived through this process and if he could hear God's voice through the cacophony of voices in the modern world calling us in so many directions, anyone can find their way back to the inner knowledge of ancient truths.

J. Budziszewski became a Christian at the early age of ten. He the fell away from his faith after becoming caught up in radical politics. He tried to find ways to believe that God didn't exist. While earning his Ph.D. at Yale, he was convinced he had found plenty of reasons for atheism and moral relativism.

He came to believe that humans were not responsible for what they did and yet he came to feel a greater and greater horror about himself and an overpowering sense that his condition was terribly wrong. Finally his self-deception collapsed. He is now a defender of the natural-law tradition.

He believes there are universal moral principles that are knowable to everyone and if they are followed, they bring good into the world instead of evil. This belief has roots all the way back to the rabbinical tradition of the Noachian commandments forbidding sexual immorality, idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed and theft.

In this "textbook-like" discussion, he presents an intellectual evolution of thoughts from the beginning of time to the present. It shows how the Human consciousness perceives God's moral law and how we can inherently understand divine truth. The challenge is to listen to what we know to be true. To seek truth in all its beautiful forms and develop a discipline of mind strong enough to resist the temptation not to listen to what we know to be true in order to avoid evil. While we might know what is good or evil, character is not inborn and is acquired. The author shows how our human souls are designed for two things. To understand and to love. When there is a defect in one, there is a defect in the other. He describes "love" as a "constant will to the true good of another person."

Chapter Four was especially interesting as he expounds on the beliefs of Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century Dominican Monk who is regarded as the greatest of all medieval philosophers. The beliefs of Aristotle, John Locke, C.S. Lewis and John Stuart Mill make this a fascinating read.

There are discussions about "Why Government is Necessary?" and why we are born with human rights. Why a government that denies natural law is so terrible and why a state of liberty is not a state of license. He also gives the seven criteria for when a country can go to war and explains that for the first time in American history, political leaders committed themselves to following the principles of a just war during the War in the Gulf. The discussion on private property is enlightening and leads into more discussion about Tyrannical rulers and revolution, which is discussed earlier in a chapter on Human Law & Regime Design.

You will find some horrifying ideas that are balanced with sanity, so beautiful you cannot help but desire within your very being to choose truth. This book will awaken within you all that you know to be true.

The deepest part of you will recognize truth when you see it. Making the right decisions
once you awaken to the truth is the real challenge. After reading one of his books you will find yourself hungering to read everything he has written.

While most modern secular thinkers reject the natural law and are constantly having discussions on such fundamental issues as morals, there does seem to be a desire to go back to the idea that there is a moral standard known by all. The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson is a book the author also recommends. If you are new to the works of J. Budziszewski, I would recommend "The Revenge of Conscience" as the first book you read as it deals with moral neutrality, liberalism and conservatism.

Everyday we are faced with paths that will lead us to a more enlightened human existence or a path that will cast a shadow over the laws written on our heart. This book will show the way to more enlightened thought and shows why our civilization is in an advanced state of decay.

~The Rebecca Review
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Teaching Natural Law to a Lawless Society Jan. 19 2000
By W. Patrick Cunningham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Since the great works of classic Greek philosophy are seldom taught either at the high school or college level, the author gives a brief but convincing grounding in Aristotle. Proceeding through other great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, he relentlessly shows the universal applicability of moral principles. The book is a very effective foil for those post-modern thinkers who believe (without proof) that mankind has moved beyond the natural law, or that there is no such thing. The book is written at a very readable level.
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer on Political Philosophy Aug. 26 1998
By moswald@acuity.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Budziszewski's defense of natural law is that, in spades, but is more. It gave me the sort of clear understanding of the basics of political philosophy that I should have received along with my B.A. in Political Science.
Written on the Heart is a must-read for anyone who "knows" that there must be universal truth, and absolute standards of right and wrong, but just can't articluate the reason for that conviction.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written natural law survey and terse critique May 21 2005
By Erik Gfesser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While Budziszewski offers a well-written CliffsNotes-styled survey of natural law thinkers, it is important to note that he avoids allowing his Christian worldview or Weltanschauung to interfere with the discussion - it is only in the concluding third of the text where Budziszewski relates natural law theory of the past and present to the Christian belief system. The text covers natural law thinkers Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, as well as one of the great modern opponents of natural law, John Stuart Mill. Following these four units, the author offers a critique of these thinkers. This critique is very well done, and is a bit terse - only 9 pages long - but the following chapter on recent natural law thinkers is roughly twice the length and offers an excellent survey-within-a-survey that includes sections on Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and secular reconsidersations of natural law (Budziszewski argues that the philosophy of natural law is experiencing a renaissance, and he illuminates some of the current directions that these varied perspectives are taking). Of particular note, the author writes that "...the secular way of thinking is just as full of theological commitments as the other three - just as full of faith, but of a different sort...". Some readers may be interested in the fact that Written on the Heart includes an appendix on elementary reasoning.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why man is without excuse - good read, but difficult April 13 2007
By Dan Panetti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Written by The University of Texas government and philosophy professor J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart is a very deep and complex look at the issue of natural law using Romans 2:15 as the foundational concept that God has written the truth on the hearts of every man, but that this truth while apparent and undeniable to all is obfuscated to the unregenerate. Budziszewski then examines some of the great thinkers on this issue starting with Aristotle, moving to Aquinas, followed by Locke and ending will Mill. Examining each philosophy and how it relates to this concept of natural law, Budziszewski breaks down these four intellectual giants showing where he believes each supports and strays from the natural law theory.

Finally, Budziszewski ties all the loose ends together by presenting his concept and understanding of natural law grounded in the divine revelation of God's Word. In essence, God's general revelation of natural law is only made clear by God's special revelation of His Word. Budziszewski supports the notion that law originates with God who has given man enough information about His nature and the nature of man to relate to Him and each other in the most productive and effective manner. Yet, since most people suppress their knowledge of the truth by their sin nature (as well as their sins), mankind faces great difficulty producing and sustaining harmony and community.

Written on the Heart is written for the serious thinker and student - probably only for high school seniors and above, this book is a difficult read not only in the depth of the concepts addressed, but also in the vocabulary used and its length. However, for those wanting to know more about the concept of natural law, Budziszewski is one of the best modern thinkers on this subject and this book is well worth the time, energy and effort required to read.
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