Brett Williams's Reviews > Natural Law: Reflections On Theory Practice

Natural Law by Jacques Maritain
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Valuable insights, stronger without religious reference

Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) was a 20th century philosopher with deep interest in Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). The UN convened Maritain, Robert Oppenheimer, et. al. in 1948 to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The goal of this book is to carve out a space for Natural Law responsible for and dictating human morality, doing so outside conceptualizations of a skeptical age that has dismissed it. To do this Maritain argues for “connatural” knowledge, something like inclination, intuition, or faith though he doesn’t use this word. Similar to Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge theory without Polanyi’s rigorous definition of its source. Natural Law links to human nature through connaturallity, placing both outside “scientific” characterization. Connatural knowledge is gained by a life of moral learning, revealed over time which allows for errors, potentially perverted by history or culture. This does not make Natural Law an historical accident or mere social preference (postmodernism) any more than addition errors prove arithmetic invalid, says Maritain. Like athletes who train on details at first uncoordinated, practice leads to instinctive execution. Likewise, behavior of virtuous people need not consult their philosophy for rational determinations of right and wrong. As a musical instrument is bound by rules for proper play, so too for humans, as Natural Law is based on human nature. Excel at those rules, the instrument makes music. Using a violin to dig a ditch violates its rules of action and destroys it. While Natural Law for the ancients and Medievals emphasized obligation, not rights, Maritain argues rights are another product of Natural Law revealed over time. But today, he notes,“we conceive rights as divine in themselves, hence infinite, escaping every objective measure, denying limitation…with our tendency to inflate and make absolute.” Injecting Maritain’s religious belief weakens his argument. “Only when the Gospel penetrates to the depth of human substance,” he writes, “will Natural Law appear in its perfection.” Non-Christians may remain unconvinced that Maritain’s is a universal theory.
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November 2, 2015 – Started Reading
November 2, 2015 – Shelved
November 24, 2015 – Finished Reading

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