Sunday, February 12, 2006

The first step in natural law

Here's the first step of Natural Law 101 for dummies. So: there are certain human goods arising out of human nature, and these goods are reasons for action: they make action intelligible. But how do you find out about these goods, these reasons for action, in the first place? There are two competing theories: derivationism and inclinationism.
  1. Derivationism holds that practical judgments regarding these natural ends of human flourishing are not self-evident, and need to be derived form theoretical proofs about human nature. We know certain things about humans from speculative reason. From these facts we can characterize what's good for humans. This tightly links what "kind" of thing you are with what your "good" is through analytical truths.
  2. Inclinationism, on the other hand, believes that the basic forms of good can be adequately grasped by anyone who is of the age of reason. So basic goods are per se nota (self-evident), and since they are indemonstrable, one doesn't need a metaphysician to demonstrate them. One becomes aware "by a simple act of non-inferential understanding" that certain objects are goods to be sought. Practical reason can grasp first principles, contra those who think that all practical reason is about weighing means. One is inclined towards something, and one then understands that the thing one seeks is a specific example of a general good, such as knowledge.
Aquinas and, to some degree, Aristotle, were derivationists. Inclinationism is generally the way most modern natural lawyers go. It states that the first principles of the good are indemonstrable, and relies on inclinations, or tendencies to act, for understanding what is the good. The goods thus discovered are part of a coherent system of ends, and one can affirm that something is a good because it renders other important claims intelligible. What sorts of object must be affirmed as good to render our acts intelligible? Inclinationism doesn't "derive" new knowledge about goods: it is a way of making explicit what we already know implicitly.

This is a summary of the first chapter of Murphy's Natural Law and Practical Rationality. He continues with discussions of how this process can go wrong, of objections to (1) and (2), and gets into a very elaborate, and important, discussion of the "function" of something, and how it relates to the functions of its parts. Can't summarize that now!

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