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Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law Paperback – June 14, 1997
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"A highly readable and stimulating survey of the natural law tradition from Aristotle to the present." (Philip Johnson in Books in Culture)
From the Back Cover
Written on the Heart expounds the work of the leading architects of theory on natural law, including Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke. It also takes up contemporary philosophy, theology and political science, colorfully running against the intimidating tide of advanced pluralism that finds natural law so difficult to tolerate.
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I have a few qualifications and comments on the book.
*I still remain unconvinced to a degree. On one level I agree with Budziszewski--as a medievalist in the tradition of Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas, I believe there exists an objective moral realm and that natural man is accountable before God for his actions. I have to ask, though, what is the *content* of natural law?
*Budziszewski scores major points in pointing out the differences in natural law theory. Many Reformed scholars think they can posit some vague natural law theory and everything is just peachy, not realizing the major differences in natural law over the centuries.
*Budziszewski gives a higher view of Locke than I do. While Budziszewski has some insightful comments on private property and the rights (or not) of armed rebellion, I simply must disagree with him that John Locke's liberalism promotes an ultimately free society. Locke wanted religious freedom for all groups provided--and this is the key point--they underwrote the State. Simply, as long as they are not annoying they can have religious freedom.
There are some other philosophical ambiguities that haunt natural law discussion. He also didn't mention the current warfare in Thomist studies concerning the neo-platonism and participatory ontologies. In other words, for Thomas natural law participates in the divine law. For Hugo Grotius, natural law could be true even if God were false. The latter secularized the former.
Also, if God's nature isn't contradictory, then would not natural law and biblical law agree? If that is the case, and biblical revelation is more specific and clear than natural law, and God's laws were just, then why not use biblical law?
Units one through four take the reader through a nicely summarized progression of natural law philosophy from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, then John Locke and John Stuart Mill. This chronological presentation helps one understand the development of natural law theory in the context of world history. With Aristotle being the first philosopher discussed, natural law is appropriately introduced from the perspective of one who was a pagan; therefore, his viewpoint and understanding is based on pure observation of mankind. Thomas Aquinas follows and improves upon Aristotle, with his chief advantage being the special revelation of the Bible. This allows him to not only observe, but to incorporate the authoritative source on the matter. While Budziszewski affirms that Aquinas's theory is more correct, it is not without flaws. The third philosopher, who should be familiar to all Americans, is John Locke. As many well know, Locke had a profound influence on the "Founding Fathers" and geared his theory on natural law much more towards politics. His views on revolution were of particular importance. It was not until the fourth philosopher, John Stuart Mill, where a disturbing path begins that shows clear signs of humanism. His utilitarian and mathematic approach to ethics would justify almost anything. Particularly disturbing is the discussion on Kinsey.
Unit five and the intermezzo tie everything together and are where Budziszewski gives his position on natural law. Again, his style of writing engages the reader as if sitting in a classroom. He highlights strengths and weaknesses from each of the four philosophers, then follows up with some more recent theories and their challenges.
While the case for natural law is not presented in one continuous build-up to an overwhelming conclusion, there are gems of its truth dispersed throughout the book. This is not a drawback, but rather a result of the author's chronological organization. Strong points of the book were the critical analyses of each philosopher and how they related to each other, as well as the thought-provoking issues inherent to each theory on natural law. One key takeaway was how natural law and ethics has been so twisted over time that any discussion of it today requires a person to remove their over-intellectualized notions and get back to the foundation. This is, after all, how Aristotle had to approach the topic. As Budziszewski points out, our pompous scholarship has only made the topic more obscure, not more clear.
Most recent customer reviews
I especially liked going back to the beginning with Aristotle, Socrates and Plato.Read more