J. Budziszewski presents and defends the natural-law tradition by expounding the work of leading architects of the theory, including Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke.
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,
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
UNIT TWO: THOMAS AQUINAS
Chapter 4: The Grand Design of Law
Nine pages: introduces ideas of the great Aquinas on NL, and the relation of Aristotle and the Pauline analysis of Law in Romans. Particular reference to Aquinas' 'Treatise on the Law'. [For which I recommend philosopher/jurisprudence expert R.J. Henle's outstanding Latin text, translation, and commentary 'The Treatise on Law': ISBN: 0-268-01881-2. A good introduction to Aquinas' jurisprudence, theology, and philosophy combined. Supplies essential background notes in clipp'd Aquinan style]. An excellent chapter.
Chapter 5: The Law of Nature & The Law of Man
Twelve pages: common theoretical objections to NL discussed with ref. to Aquinas. Explanation of relation of general morals to their practical implementation as specific law and statute in a national setting. Good debunking attack on Margaret Mead/Samoan mythmaking. Good discussion point on Prohibition. Good chapter.
Chapter 6: Human Law & Regime Design
Thirteen pages: bad laws and what to do about them. The forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy), their good and bad forms.
UNIT THREE: JOHN LOCKE
Chapter 7: The State of Nature & The Social Contract
Nine pages: summary of Locke's theory of government by social contract; Kant and other sundries. [Locke's theory not coherent, so mere summary as opposed to refutation is also less than coherent. See John Wild's 'Plato's Modern Enemies' pp.127-133 for better analysis.]
Chapter 8: Two Views of Natural Law
Twelve pages: pot-pourri. Theology-and-political theory-and-practice discussion of the putative ancient v. modern positions on NL. Unfortunately Hobbes', and especially Locke's, use of NL terminology is taken as proof simpliciter of their proper belief in the essential tenets of NL theory: not true. They have the form of words but not the power thereof. (See John Wild, 'Plato's Modern Enemies', pp.123-133, for decisive proof of their subjectivist tendencies. Hobbes entirely lacks NL foundations, but the equivocal Locke hath them secundum quid. Locke may quote Hooker, but only agrees with him in practice, not in ontology. [Consider Locke's simplistic 'blank slate' theory of mind. Can a blackboard understand the difference between a chalk scribble and a quote from 'Romeo and Juliet'? Would it care if it could?]) Incidentally, Tom Paine is shown to be a full-blown NL theorist and practitioner. A bore, but a good bore.) Useful summary of Just War dogma.
Chapter 9: Private Property & Revolution
Eight pages: discussion of ownership of property, taxation, trade, etc. Discussion of Revolution (internal conflict), not properly distinguished from 'Just War' (international conflict).
UNIT FOUR: JOHN STUART MILL
Chapter 10: The Pleasure Principle
Six pages: hedonism/utilitarianism.
Chapter 11: The Problem with the Pleasure Principle
Twelve pages: the cruel calculus of hedonism.
Chapter 12: Utility & Justice
Five pages: J. S. Mill's shortcomings discussed.
INTERMEZZO: THE ART OF TEACHING
Four pages: on dealing with difficult modern students due to the decay of common sense from: 1) false anthropology/sociology, ie spurious teaching of moral relativism across societies; 2) outright attack, eg J.S. Mill; 3) presentation of artificial ethical quandaries deliberately contrived to cause moral deadlock and confusion [a real second-rater's technique]; meta-ethics--ignoring the facts and just discussing opinions about ideas, eg presenting NL as just another theory of morals, as if there could be any other [there's just NL and degrees of falling away]. Blunt technique for re-inculcation of common sense. It works. An incisive chapter.
UNIT FIVE: WRITTEN ON THE HEART
Chapter 13: A Christian Appraisal of Natural-Law Theory
Seven pages: centrality of concepts of General Revelation, the NL 'written on the heart' (Rom. 2: 14-15) is stressed as essential in witness, in that it is relied upon even when not discussed: without knowledge of sin there can be no salvation. NL is universally understood as it is universal to human nature in all times and place. Basic problem of the human condition is not just lack of knowledge [hence humanistic "education" mantras], but also volitional. A key chapter.
Chapter 14: A Reprise of the Older Thinkers
Eight pages: Aristotle critiqued.
Sophocles' play 'Antigone' attributed to Euripides (p.188)...oops.
Aquinas' critiqued (!).
Confused on Plato: read it yourself instead. 'Apology', then 'Republic'.
Locke's theories attacked. [This should have appeared in ch. 7-9.]
Chapter 15: A Sampling of Recent Thinkers
Twenty pages: modern Catholic thinking.
Modern Jewish thinking.
Calvin and Luther shown to NOT be anti-NL by direct quotation, despite some modern Prot. commentators. [Short section on antinomianism would be helpful here.]
Secular reconsiderations: review of book, 'The Moral Sense' by James Q. Wilson, sociologist.
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.