Natural Law Part II

One criticism aimed at natural law is that it falls foul of the naturalistic fallacy, but as we will see there are good reasons both for doubting the validity of this very term, and that it could be applied to natural law.

John Finnis, in a conversation with Peter Vardy, says that the neo-scholastics were confused by the order in which we come to know nature and the ontological order itself. We understand human nature by understanding human goods, BUT these goods do depend on the way we are. We look to objects, act, capacities and therefore to nature. The failure to make the distinction between these two ways = the naturalistic fallacy.

Vardy says:

“Controversially, Finnis starts with the argument that Aquinas, properly interpreted, was an ethical non-naturalist. He argues that the ‘basic goods’ of natural law appeal directly to reason without any need to make particular observations of nature”

But Finnis is simply noting that Aquinas’ first principles are axiomatic. If they were derived from some prior observations then those observations themselves would require further underpinning.

Thomas Storck says in the post I linked to from here, that:

“Moral goodness is in fact a subset of ontological goodness, a part of ontological goodness applicable only to creatures with intellect and will”

and

“Moral goodness and badness are simply that part of ontological goodness or badness which is more or less subject to our free choice. And because our possession of intellect and will is what specifically distinguishes us from the other animals, who lack those endowments, the goodness or badness which depend upon our intellect and will mark out a human being as good or bad more clearly than any mere ontological deficits, deficits which have absolutely no moral aspect. Thus a bad man is not someone who is blind or lame, but someone who steals or cheats and so on.”

Finally, Phillipa Foot, in her commentary on ‘thick concepts’ argues that some terms such as ‘rude’ ” undermine the is-ought gap: calling something rude is evaluative because it expresses condemnation in the same kind of way as bad and wrong do, but this evaluation can be derived from evaluative description. “

(https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/#NatFal)

In summary, criticisms of natural law which rely on some version of the naturalistic fallacy should be used with care.

 

Natural Law

StPaul

Image: Sir James Thornhill, St. Paul preaching in the Areopagus, 1729-31

Natural Law at A Level is often treated as one more ethical theory which can be applied to an issue such as pre-marital sex and placed alongside Kantian ethics, Utilitarianism, or Situation ethics. Of course the spec requires this sort of approach, but a simple historical look at the development of each of these ethical approaches shows how different Natural Law is from the rest.

It will help students to bear this in mind when writing essays. It would be easy to get the impression that Natural Law is the theory of Aquinas rather than seeing it, more helpfully, as a set of related but remarkably diverse ethical frameworks stretching back over 2000 years. It has its roots in an Aristotelian conception of telos and flourishing which also gave rise to what is known as virtue ethics. It has been articulated in various forms by people like the Stoics, Cicero, St Paul, Aquinas, Suarez, and in the modern era John Finnis.

By contrast, the other ethical theories studied in the OCR spec all date from the Enlightenment period onwards. The most recent theory, situation ethics, was formulated in the 1960s and grew out of liberal Biblical scholarship by people like Rudolf Bultmann.

Anyway, I am going to link to Thomas Storck’s account of Natural Law, which should help you to get an idea of the richness I am talking about:

An Approach to Natural Law

Possible DCT Questions 2019

There have been a few areas that haven’t come up over the last two years – From the year 1 modules:

Augustine – original Sin and Grace

Death and the Afterlife – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

Knowledge of God – Natural Theology

Christian Moral Principles – Bible/Agape

The Year 2 modules:

Pluralism

Gender and Society

Liberation and Marx

This makes it rather tough to have any kind of an educated guess as the field is so wide. I would be surprised though, if Pluralism didn’t come up, as that is essentially two topics. Perhaps also a question on Liberation. You could do worse than do some practice questions in these areas anyway. In future posts I will attempt to write some exemplar answers for the three modules.

Possible Ethics Questions 2019

Ethics is the least easy area to guess at possible questions. Most of the topics in it have already come up. However, situation ethics and utilitarianism are possibilities, as they have come up the least. I would guess perhaps something on the rejection of absolute moral rules by situation ethics, and maybe something on whether it is possible to measure good. In the year 2 Ethics topics, sexual ethics has not come up yet. Therefore a question on whether religious beliefs should have a bearing on sexual morality might come up. You might want to have a go at doing an essay on each of those topics to practise.

Possible A-Level Exam Questions 2019

Having had a look at the questions which have come up in the last two years for both AS and A Level, I have arrived at a list of topics and sometimes questions for each area which could possibly come up. Some of these are more likely than others to do so.

PHILOSOPHY

Two topics have never come up at all – Plato and 20th Century approaches to religious language. I think it is likely that one of the year 2 questions will be on either falsification, verification or Wittgenstein. A question on Plato’s understanding of reality or his theory of Forms is possible.

Other areas in philosophy might be Mind body and soul – materialism, Anselm’s ontological argument or one of the theodicies.

Edit: I’ve decided to add some possible questions:

To what extent does Plato’s theory of the Forms make sense of reality?

‘Religious texts are best interpreted non-cognitively’ Discuss.

‘Aquinas view of religious language is no longer valuable’ Discuss.

Critically evaluate soul-making theodicies.

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on Ethics questions.

DCT June 18th

Well it’s the last exam and in many ways I believe the trickiest. Development of Christian Thought, especially in year 2, covers a vast area including such topics as secularism, pluralism and its influence on society as well as theology, and feminism’s influence on theology. There is also a topic on Marx and Liberation Theology. These are all areas which most teachers will not have taught before 2 years ago, even if they have studied them before. I found the year 2 DCT to be a genuinely fascinating area to study with my students – our discussions covered so many interesting themes such as gender politics and feminism, Christianity and its relation to our culture and so on. But I have to admit it  is a challenge getting students ready to actually answer questions in these areas.

I will give some question examples which are really not predictions, but just topics that I will explore how to answer questions in.

‘Ruether’s approach to theology does not go far enough to be truly feminist’. Discuss

To what extent is Western culture Christian culture?

‘Universalism is incoherent.’ Discuss

‘Christ is more a teacher of wisdom than a political liberator’ Discuss

Over the next few days I hope to post some answers to these questions.

A Level Philosophy Exam 2018

So the exam is tomorrow. Remember there will be 4 questions and you answer 3. They will be marked out of 40, 16 marks for AO1 and 24 for AO2, which means you must be evaluative and have an answer which is driven by answering the question rather than reciting a list of views. The questions could be from year 1:

Plato and Aristotle

Mind, Body and Soul

Arguments for God from experience

Arguments for God from reason

Religious Experience

Problem of Evil

or from Year 2:

Religious Language – traditional approaches

Religious language – 20th Century approaches

Nature of God

As this is the first year of this exam I have nothing to go on for a prediction as no areas have come up yet. However, I think it would be odd if they didn’t have at least 2 questions from the second year, perhaps even three. In that case there is likely to be a question on God’s nature, and one on religious language. So here we go, here are my four guesses – no idea if anything like this will come up, but it’s always good to have a focus, and as I say, there should be something in at least a few of these areas.

“The conflicts between the divine attributes make belief in the classical view of God impossible” Discuss.

Critically assess non-cognitive approaches to religious language.

“Tillich’s view of Symbol is incoherent” Discuss.

To what extent can teleological arguments be defended from the challenge of chance?

Update: The questions were:

Boethius on eternity and free will

Hume on arguments from observation

The Cataphatic Way

Corporate Experiences

 

DCT AS OCR exam part 4

I have two more possible questions (see last post for the Augustine one):

 

“God cannot be known through reason alone.” Discuss.

For this you would be able to use people like Calvin and Aquinas, who viewed things differently but who would both agree with the statement. The question is about the validity of natural theology, and whether it is enough for knowledge of God.

 

Critically assess the extent to which Christian ethical principles can be based on the Bible alone.

This question involves looking at Protestant views based on ‘sola scriptura’ or the principle that the Bible alone can be an authority, or looking at the Catholic belief that Bible, tradition, and reason have to all be involved in moral decisions.

OK, good luck!

DCT exam 2018 part 3

The previous post included a possible question for the Augustine topic, and a link to my mind map on the pre and post-lapsarian will (pre and post Fall).

Some things to bear in mind when looking at how Original Sin corrupts humans and societies:

  • The will is key to it in Augustine. The will is seen as love, love of self and love of neighbour. Before the Fall these are in harmony.
  • These are respectively, cupiditas and caritas. They can work together in the friendship of Adam and Eve before the Fall. No lust or concupiscence has entered into that relationship and brought about strife and conflict.
  • The will orients itself in friendship as a cohesive force over soul and body – there is no division in the will in the garden of Eden.
  • After the Fall pride drives itself as a wedge between caritas and cupiditas such that there is now a division in the will. Human beings begin to experience a conflict between their own desires and what should be accorded to others.
  • Pride is both the sin of Adam and the sin of the fallen angels (chiefly Lucifer). Now true friendship is only possible by putting Christ first, then love for neighbour is generous, forgiving and removed from cupiditas.
  • So Christ is the remedy for the weakened will.

Next post: Knowledge of God’s Existence question.

OCR AS DCT Exam June 2018 Part 2

In this post I want to look at some elements of Augustine’s view of human nature, as we identified in part 1 that this topic is likely to come up in the DCT exam.

I did previously write an answer to the questionTo what extent has Augustine’s teaching on human nature caused more harm than good?’ Click on the link to have a read of it. It may not be exactly how you would answer a question in the exam, but it should provide food for thought on this topic.

In this answer I reject the idea that Augustine has been responsible for the guilt and sexual hang-ups of people in the West. I also consider other accusations against Augustine such as his ideas on women being responsible (his ideas being responsible!) for gender inequality and patriarchal structures, or that these patriarchal structures have caused Western Imperialism and conflict. These are obviously fairly heavy charges to lay at the feet of one man! Augustine was influential on Christian thought however, so it is possible that he contributed to these things, but only if you consider that these things are attributable to Christianity rather than, say, industrial capitalist societies.

Let’s consider a different question:

Critically examine Augustine’s view that human nature and societies are corrupted by Original Sin.

Have a look at this mind map then try and write a timed essay as revision on this topic.