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What We Can't Not Know: A Guide Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press; Rev Exp edition (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586174819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586174811
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Once upon a time, Budziszewski contends, a common moral ground existed so that all cultures could agree on moral absolutes. In contemporary society, however, such mutual ground has given way to shifting moral sands and new "situational" ethics. According to Budziszewski, an associate professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, none of these new systems offers strong moral foundations. Very simply, he argues, we all have deep inside us a moral regulator-our conscience-that tells us right from wrong. This conscience is part of our human nature, and the law that it writes on our hearts is the natural law of God. Thus, contends Budziszewski, we all know it's wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery or have abortions because our conscience tells us so. No matter how we justify cheating on a spouse, he argues that "we can't not know" the activity is wrong. Budziszewski finds fault with every ethical system but his own because they fail to account for this natural, absolute law written in our hearts. He also egregiously misrepresents certain philosophical positions to make his case. He mistakenly presents utilitarianism, for example, as an ethical system guided by the principle of pleasure instead of emphasizing utilitarianism's focus on the greatest good for the greatest number. Despite his tendency to make straw men out of the systems he opposes, Budziszewski passionately and polemically challenges what he sees as the moral shortcomings of contemporary society.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

According to the natural law, a concept Christianity adopted and modified from Greek and Roman philosophy, knowledge of God's existence and of fundamental moral principles constitutes humanity's universal common sense. It isn't innate, however, but must be inculcated through traditional moral systems, such as the Tao, the dharma, and the Ten Commandments. Budziszewski invokes the last as best known to most of his potential readers and cites Judaic and Christian scripture, yet this is no religious tract but a philosophical exposition and a disputation on current moral attitudes and issues, especially abortion. Framing the entire presentation in terms of a lost world of moral consensus, Budziszewski says the natural law grounds a rational worldview that has been discredited by sin and guilt, and displaced by worldviews grounded in sensation (he is particularly cogent on the varieties of modern atheistic or agnostic feelings). But the natural law weltanschauung could be reestablished, and Budziszewski concludes his superb "guide" with broad advice on how to do so (for one thing, "we must repent abortion"). Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This book is about moral law or natural law.
A. K. Borenstadt
Anyone who has doubts about faith and God's existence will find this book inspiring and full of the answers so many are searching for today.
MLP
Even though this book is chock-full of interesting ideas, it is easy to read.
David Marshall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 139 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ever hear a moral position advanced at a cocktail party or on the TV, and thought, "I know there's something wrong with that.... but I just can't quite figure out exactly what?"
This book may help.
J. Budziszewski mixes systematic moral philosophy from a natural-law point of view with specific arguments on the life/death issues of our times (abortion, euthanasia) and on the state's interest in preserving privileges of marriage to one-man-and-one-woman couples. At times the effect is a little frustrating -- as a reader I sometimes found myself longing for the "pure" natural-law position-paper unencumbered by specific examples. However, it is clear from the book that the integrity of the author demands that he address these specific, most consequential moral issues of contemporary U.S. culture, as examples and instances of the general argument.
Most useful to me was the "conversational" chapter near the center of the book, in which Budziszewski answers various objections to Natural Law. One suspects this "conversation" is very like exchanges he has with his students daily. His ability to point out the flaws in various presentations of moral relativism was particularly satisfying.
Budziszewski himself says this book is not intended to convince the opponent or the skeptic, but rather to strengthen the "common sense" and natural conscience-awareness of the already convinced, and those who wannabe convinced. If you fall into the latter two groups, this book is worth a read.
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104 of 112 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on February 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have read hundreds of books on religion, morality, and philosophy, but Budziszewski has taught me much that I did not know, or at least realize. C. S. Lewis' Abolition of Man is wise warning to an age in which we tinker with the formula for man: but Dr. B goes beyond Lewis. His work is like the anti-dote to a deadly pandemic.

In my book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, I asked, "Where did Marx go wrong?" I pointed out that Marxists created a three-fold hierarchy of moral values for "the classes, the masses, and the enlightened." They criticized capitalists for oppressing the poor, nagged ordinary people to work hard, don't spit, and take thought for comrades, and justified their own actions by a loose "end-justifies the means" code. The existence of these three systems side by side I found not only hypocritical, but ironic, since Marx himself said communism "abolishes" all morality. But I did not have an explanation for the phenomena, beyond noting that moral law seems hard to abolish.

Budziszewski does not say much about Marxism, but he does explain this, and similar, behavior. He argues that "deep conscience" exists in everyone, and that ultimate values -- neatly summarized by the Ten Commandments -- are indestructable. His writing is lucid and brilliantly (and perhaps deceptively) simple. Even though this book is chock-full of interesting ideas, it is easy to read.

I found two main weaknesses, one negative, the other positive. The negative weakness is that Dr. B's case would be not only easier to digest, but also stronger if he referred to non-Western cultures more. (Having lived many years in and studied several Asian cultures, examples that confirm his argument spring to mind.) The positive weakness is that Dr.
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66 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Craig K. Galer on November 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the last few years, I've been looking for a good book on Natural Law, and Budziszewski has written three of them (see also his 'Written On the Heart' and 'The Revenge of Conscience'); 'What We Can't Not Know' is the best, most complete, popular-level treatment I've seen.

Budziszewski emphasizes the Natural Law as 'built into' (or, more properly, 'designed into') the universe, and 'built into' our own human nature (ie, 'written on our hearts'). As such, the force of Natural Law doesn't depend on whether or not one 'accepts' it (this reminds me of Churchill's famous quip when told that Lady Astor had "accepted the universe" - "she'd better"). Transgressing the Natural Law has inevitable consequences, some of them quite unexpected, or with long time lags.

Budziszewski states at the beginning that he is writing for a Christian audience, which is fine, as far as it goes, but it leaves me waiting for his next(?) book, in which he states his case to those "outside the household of faith". It seems to me that Natural Law ideas could be very helpful for public discourse, at least insofar as they can show that Judeo-Christian moral reasoning doesn't depend solely on matters of faith or revelation.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Brad Shorr on May 24, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Budziszewski combines his talents as philosopher and psychologist in this deep yet eminently practical analysis of the natural law. His basic premise is that natural law is what it is--an inescapable fact of life whether we accept it or not, whether we like it or not. To the extent we deny or defy the natural law, we consciously or unconsciously fall prey to all manner of psychological and spiritual corruption--denial, rationalization, overcompensation, etc. He describes many "real world" examples of how this plays out, often describing various responses to the issues of abortion and homosexuality. As I read, I found myself continually thinking, "Yes--that is how I responded to that," or "That really is what people do." His arguments, supported by powerful appeals to common sense and written in plain everyday English, are very persuasive. If you are having trouble comprehending the seemingly incomprehensible positions people take with regard to issues of life and faith, this book is for you!
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