After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Views

After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Views

by John Lawrence Hill


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The "natural law" worldview developed over the course of almost two thousand years beginning with Plato and Aristotle and culminating with St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. This tradition holds that the world is ordered, intelligible and good, that there are objective moral truths which we can know and that human beings can achieve true happiness only by following our inborn nature, which draws us toward our own perfection. Most accounts of the natural law are based on a God-centered understanding of the world.

After the Natural Law traces this tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas and then describes how and why modern philosophers such as Descartes, Locke and Hobbes began to chip away at this foundation. The book argues that natural law is a necessary foundation for our most important moral and political values – freedom, human rights, equality, responsibility and human dignity, among others. Without a theory of natural law, these values lose their coherence: we literally cannot make sense of them given the assumptions of modern philosophy.

Part I of the book traces the development of natural law theory from Plato and Aristotle through the crowning achievement of Thomas Aquinas. Part II explores how modern philosophers have systematically chipped away at the only coherent foundation for these values. As a result, our most important moral and political ideals today are incoherent. Modern political and moral thinkers have been led either to dilute the meaning of such terms as freedom or the moral good – or abandon these ideas altogether. Thus, modern philosophy and political thought are leading us either toward anarchy or totalitarianism.

The conclusion, entitled "Why God Matters", shows how even the philosophical assumptions of the natural law depend on a personal God.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781621640172
Publisher: Ignatius Press
Publication date: 05/15/2016
Pages: 309
Sales rank: 757,451
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

John Lawrence Hill is a law professor at Indiana University, Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, where he teaches constitutional law, torts, civil procedure and legal philosophy courses. Formerly an atheist, Hill came into communion with the Catholic Church in 2009. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree both from Georgetown University.

Table of Contents

Introduction 13

Part I The Classical Worldview

1 The First Materialists 21

The Origins of Western Philosophy 21

Materialism 24

The Moral and Political Consequences of Early Materialism 28

The Fate of Materialism 32

2 The Classical Worldview before Christianity 34

Plato and the Teleological Worldview 35

Naturalizing Teleology: Aristotle 39

Aristotle's Ethical Philosophy: Teleology and Virtue Ethics 45

The Stoics: The Origins of the Natural Law 49

3 Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law 55

The Limits of (Greek) Philosophy 55

Thomas Aquinas: Christianity Meets Aristotle 57

Aquinas' Ethical Theory 64

The Natural Law 68

Natural Law and the Dilemma of Moral Obligation 72

Three Objections to Natural Law Considered 76

4 The Classical Conception of the Person 84

Introduction: The Significance of the Self 84

The Materialist and Platonic Theories of the Soul 86

The Hylomorphic Theory of the Person 90

St. Augustine and Free Will 95

Aquinas' Theory of Decision Making 100

The Care of the Self: Moral Virtue and the Psychological Integration of the Person 104

Part II The Moral and Political Consequences of the Decline of the Classical Worldview

5 The Birth of the Modern: Four Seminal Thinkers 115

William of Ockham and the Rise of Nominalism 116

Descartes: Between Two Worlds 125

John Locke and the Decline of the Natural Law 132

Thomas Hobbes: The Rebirth of Materialism 139

6 The Problem of the Disappearing Self 145

Dualism and Its Discontents: Descartes and the Rationalist Tradition 146

Dissolving the Substance of the Person: Locke, Hume, and the Empiricist Tradition 151

From the Spiritual Soul to the Secular Self 158

Dissolving the Secular Self 164

The Self in Modern Psychology 169

The Triumph of Materialism? 174

7 Doing without Free Will 180

Broken Machines 180

The Classical Theory of Freedom, Responsibility, and Punishment 184

The Decline of Free Will in Modern Thought 189

Indeterminism 194

Scrapping Freedom and Responsibility: Hard Determinism 196

Redefining Freedom and Responsibility: Soft Determinism 200

8 The Disintegration of Moral Truth and the Unraveling of Law 208

Natural Law without Teleology 211

Moral Objectivity without Natural Law: Utilitarianism 216

Some Problems with Utilitarianism 221

Kantian Morality 225

The Slide into Moral Subjectivism 230

The Triumph of Nihilism 234

The Divorce of Law and Morality 238

9 The Lost Foundation of Our Modern Moral and Political Values 242

Freedom and the Natural Law 243

Free Will and Liberty 249

Responsibility 255

Human Dignity 262

Conclusion: Why God Matters 267

Acknowledgments 273

Bibliography 275

Index 287

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