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Monday, September 27, 2010

Zeno, Natural Law, and a Roman Catholic Professor

Recently, I have been studying the topic of natural law. The concept of natural law has been discredited more and more since the Enlightenment for a variety of reasons. From my earlier post on Adiaphora, it is apparent that I have been interested in Zeno, the Stoic philosopher who taught of natural law -- a noble pagan (well, no, I'm not Zwingli). While Zeno argued against adultery on the basis of natural law, he "euthanized" himself by strangulation (doesn't sound like a "good death" to me) after he fell and broke his finger -- his conception of natural law didn't rule out suicide, at least under the circumstance of an old man falling and breaking his finger.

Zeno in Fragment 244 wrote against adultery:

ἐκκλίνουσι τὸ μοιχεύειν οἱ τὰ τοῦ Κιτιέως Ζήνωνος φιλοσοφοῦντες … διὰ τὸ κοινωνικόν· καὶ <γὰρ> παρὰ φύσιν εἶναι τῷ λογικῷ ζώῳ νοθεύειν τὴν ὑπὸ τῶν νόμων ἑτέρῳ προκαταληφθεῖσαν γυναῖκα καὶ φθείρειν τὸν ἄλλου ἀνθρώπου οἶκον.

"Those who pursue the philosophy of Zeno of Citeus avoid engaging in adultery on account of ideas that are commonly held.  For [they say that] it is even against nature for the creature of reason to engage in adulterating a woman who is still legally married, and to engage in ruining the home of another man."

(For the record, Dr. Jim Voelz helped me revise the translation -- although the above translation is "looser" than Jim would render it.)

In any case, came across this video of Professor Charles Rice from Notre Dame. He is a law professor and in the video below he provides a brief overview of natural law. Other than his opening prayer to the Regina Coeli, I didn't have much to disagree about in his presentation. He helpfully described what natural law is and the shift that has happened since the Enlightenment -- relativism and individualism. It is worth the 9 minutes or so he takes to explain it.


  1. Thanks for the info.
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  2. John Finnis's works are excellent, and superior to most natural law writing. Aquinas: Moral, Political and Legal Theory, and Natural Law, Natural Rights, are both excellent.

  3. I would be most interested in Dr. Rice's definition of "natural law." Unfortunately, he bypassed this important first step and proceeded directly to the cultural contrast as a means of definition. This does not do justice to the initial premise; is the concept of a "natural law" valid?

    Dr. Rice established the initial condition of "natural" being joined to a moral condition at the onset. The question that should be first addressed is how does a moral condition originate? In our current society, we are left with two possibilities; the teleological response or the darwinian response. Either God has written His law on our hearts or we learned these precepts from a pond of mud (given enough time and chance interactions.)

    Secularism chooses the simpliest answer in denying God's existance but is unable to respond to why laws exist or why does morality exist. Why is killing wrong; why is adultery wrong; why is lying wrong? Darwinists can not state these are wrong (nor right or good) without denying their belief. This is the philosophy which generates the Columbine killings. The christian points to the first table of the Law for the justification of the second table. These practices are wrong because God creates and substains us. Know first your God and you will answer the why of what is good as Jesus taught the lawyer in Mark 10:18.

    The refutation of relativism was given in Dr. Rice's lecture; can you be absolutely sure you can not be sure. Given the thoughts of some of God's creation, I can only laugh at the folly of Descartes "cogito, ergo sum." This is far removed from the "ego eimi" the Lord repeats throughout His interaction with us (and ironically, is the prime reason the sanhedrin convicts the Second Person of the Trinity of blasphemy.) Without God, there is no "good" nor evil, hence no right nor wrong; ergo, no law can be established according to Darwinism.

    The final testiment to our futility is individualism, aka a return to Garden ethics. We become our own god and act accordingly. Didn't work out too well for Adam and Eve and will not work for us as well. For your law is not my law nor can it be binding upon me without denying my principle of individualism. A rather pointed exposition of this principal came at the onset of the Nuremburg trials when the prosecutors desperately sought to establish a basis for prosecution of the German military establishment. A critical examination of the "law" they applied leads only to exoneration of the defendants - the German military establishment was within their "rights" to pursue whatever actions they deemed best for their society. Since no appeal was proferred to an established "good" whatever was imposed was superficial and arbitary. This is the foolishness of individualism; we can lay no claim to "good" apart from the true God.

    The current philosophical environment can no more establish a basis for "right or wrong, good or evil" apart from appealing to christianity (which they are more than willing to steal!) To limit our knowledge to what our reason can discern is a severe restriction on our very existance. While modern physicists struggle with the cosmos, the biologists have come to a impasse in the DNA studies. We simply could not be absent the intervention of a force beyond our understanding which reason can not define. But the answer is know to men of faith for God himself has given to us His Logos; for our hearing, our faith and our life.