This is the last I shall write on this topic, I promise. I do not want to become morbidly fixated upon it, after all. But a few final observations have occurred to me. Some months ago, I admitted here that I find very little natural law theory persuasive, but granted that classical forms of the tradition are cogent given the religious and metaphysical assumptions with which they work; of attempts to forge an effective natural law theory without the support of those assumptions, agreeable to the temper of modernity, I was dismissive. In a subsequent column, I laid out some of the reasons why the late modern view of reality is one to which I think no natural law theory can successfully accommodate itself and made some provocative assertions on the limits of “purely natural” ethical reasoning. Both pieces provoked some attacks: some mild and judicious, some considerably more fierce, but none that (to my mind) convincingly addressed the concerns I voiced.

Perhaps some of that is my fault. Given the necessarily condensed nature of columns with word limits, I may have been guilty of a few cryptic formulations. At least, one of my critics seems to think I was arguing for the impotence of philosophical moral reasoning in order to promote the intellectual hegemony of theology. I suppose, therefore, that both my denial of the existence of any “master discourse” on ethical matters and my rejection of any strict division of philosophy from theology were less incandescently perspicuous than I had imagined they were. I seem also to have failed to make adequately clear that my skepticism regarding the power of a “purely natural” philosophy to establish the reality of a moral dimension in natural ends arises not from doubts regarding the powers of natural reason, but rather from doubts regarding the powers of philosophical dialectic when it artificially confines itself to “purely natural” principles.

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