by Greg Krehbiel on 6 March 2013
… that if you really want to think and reason about things, classical natural law theory is your only live option.
That’s not actually the point he’s making in A Christian Hart, a Humean Head, in which he responds to an essay criticizing the usefulness of natural law arguments in the public square. But it’s what I was thinking about as I read it.
He points out, for example, that the fact/value dichotomy pretty much undermines any attempt at making moral arguments. At all. Period. Because at the bottom of every moral argument is “but why should I prefer the good?”, which cannot (Feser seems to be saying) be defended without rejecting the fact/value dichotomy.
He doesn’t come right out and say it, but you can infer it from this passage.
[Hart] supposes that even if our nature directs us to certain ends that constitute the good for us, reason could still intelligibly wonder why it ought to respect those natural ends or the good they define. But this implicitly supposes that reason itself, unlike everything else, somehow lacks a natural end definitive of its proper function, or at least a natural end that we can know through pure philosophical inquiry. And that is precisely what classical natural law theory denies.
IOW, natural law theory would say that reason is directed towards helping us see and embrace the good. That’s what it’s there for. So you cannot “intelligibly” wonder why reason should respect natural ends.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t prove that final causes exist. You can infer their existence if you assume certain other things.
(I realize I’m assuming that there are only two choices here — Hume or final causes / natural law. It would be possible to reject the fact/value dichotomy on other grounds, but … I’m not worrying that for the time being.)
It seems increasingly likely to me that if you insist on not believing in final causes, you’re left with a tangle of unconnected stuff hanging in mid air, supported by nothing, that gets nowhere, precisely because without final causes reason can always say, “so what? I don’t care. Nyah on you and your silly arguments.”
On the other hand, you could say that the natural law assumption that things do have final causes is also hanging in mid air on just as much nothingness.
True that, as the kids say. But there seems to be one small distinction. We do seem to think and operate according to the assumptions of natural law theory. We seem to believe that things have purposes, including our reason, and no matter how hard we try to pretend we don’t make those assumptions, they sneak in.
So the argument seems to come down to this. You can’t prove anything. But if you assume that nature is not trying to trick us, but is there for our instruction, then you can reason from that point and make some progress. If you don’t make that assumption, you pretty much can’t prove anything — at least morally speaking.
-- 2013-03-06 » Greg Krehbiel