Summaries of classes - Philosophy 452

Please note that these are summaries, not 'the notes' for the class. These have been prepared by students in the class, and I have posted them here, unchanged, as a ready reference for those who could use a quick idea of what topic(s) have been discussed. But there is no guarantee of accuracy (or even proper spelling)! Caveat lector!

12 January 2015 (Sarah Beattie)


REVIEW. In the course, we will be asking the question of whether or not natural law theory is one we should adopt. Natural law theory is not standard curriculum in the English-speaking world. Why is that? Perhaps one explanation could be a challenge posed by David Hume, who proposed that simply because things have a certain nature doesn’t mean they ought to be a certain way. He argues for a gap between what “is” and what “ought” to be the case. Natural law theory moves from descriptive claims to prescriptive claims, from “is” to “ought”. Hume challenged this by saying that simply because a thing has a certain tendency doesn’t mean they ought to act in a certain way.


One possible challenge in our study of natural law would be that it draws on a tradition that might not be familiar to us. We are influenced by empiricists – if you cannot test or prove empirically the existence of God, then it is unreasonable to believe he exists. Natural law theory is often connected with the Stoic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, Maritain. Another challenge is the language used is something we may not be entirely comfortable with. Sometimes concepts are not easily or well communicated. Maritain himself says this.



LAW | What are the kinds of law? What do we mean when we talk about law?


1.       Law

a.      Science

                                                              i.      Observe

                                                           ii.      Generalize

b.      Prescriptive Human Behaviour

                                                              i.      Lawgiver

                                                           ii.      Legislation



     The types of law we discussed were (a) laws of science, and (b) Prescriptive Human Behaviour. Science is descriptive and empirical. We observe a certain phenomenon, and then we generalize. Generalizations admit of exceptions. We, ideally, would like laws to be universal, to cover all cases. From scientific observation, we move to generalization, and then to a law. We begin with observation/experience, and then it is verified by some principle. We accept that a true scientific principle would be universally true.

     In terms of (b) prescriptive human behaviour, we have legislation: laws that are promulgated by parliament or town councils. Ideally, the aim of these laws is to help the community to work better. This requires a law-giver, one or two people who care and aim at a common good. We hope that he is trying in some way to make the place better. Ideally, the lawgiver would have care for the community, and the common good.


Could parliament pass secret laws against terrorism? How would we know to obey it?


Laws should be known to everyone, that is, they should be public/promulgated.


Here, not a concern of observation.  A law is a principle, a command that tells you what you should do. Laws usually apply to everyone. Law is not supposed to apply to only one person or group. If it did, it would be discriminatory, so law should be universal.


What kinds of law are there?


Legislation à This includes laws like driving on the right side of the road, stopping at red lights. They are arbitrary in some sense, but aimed at a common good.

International à Not all countries have the same legislation. You might say, “You do your thing, I’ll do mine,” but what do you do in relations between countries? Just War Theory. Who are the lawgivers in an international setting? Is reason? Is there a rational understanding that nations should deal with each other in a certain sort of way?

National à each has own lawgivers, laws.

Human Rights à In some countries, women do not have the vote, they cannot drive, they cannot own property. Some people think that regardless of what country you live in, all individuals should have certain rights.

Customary à e.g. Aboriginal law in Canada.

The 10 Commandments à God presumably has care for all humanity. He is rational, he promulgates these commandments.


In each of these cases, we’re not talking about observation. They are ‘commandments’. The legislature has exercised its control, and the laws are prescriptive.


Thomas Aquinas: these laws must be rational, for the common good, made by a lawgiver who has care for community, and promulgated.



Will or Rationality?


1.       Lawgiver

a.      Will

                                                              i.      The Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules”

                                                           ii.      Should the law depend on just the will of the lawgiver?

b.      Rationality/intelligence


In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks whether one follows the law because the gods insist, or because they are good? Aquinas would take issue with the law being decided merely by the will of the lawgiver. There has to be some rationality to it.


The Natural Law claims to be both descriptive and prescriptive. It tells us the way things are. It is based on observation, but is also prescriptive, requiring some lawgiver.


Three ways of Knowing



Insight (sometimes)


Maritain would say that all of these kinds of knowledge are conceptual. Matters of conceptual knowledge, reason, reflection – all these are related to scientific knowledge. Philosophy can be a science. Trying to create a system – a body of knowledge. In natural sciences, ethics, we use these ways of knowing. Ethics involves concepts, reasons. Someone could know all about ethics, but not be ethical. That is because ethics is a science, an intellectual activity.


There is a distinction between morals and moral science. You can be moral without knowledge of moral science.

First Principles | Where do they come from? (1) insight, and (2) synderesis

January 14 - Madison Burton




We discussed an introduction to Natural law theories. The majority of the discussion regarded what knowledge is and how we know we know something. The discussion of knowledge included key points including the requirement for knowledge to have justification, that knowledge must be true, and that knowledge must be believed in. If one is unable to explain what they know, then they do not really know. The topic of analogous knowledge was discussed, where analogous knowledge is knowledge of one object/ concept/ idea that can be similar to knowledge about another object/concept/ idea. This knowledge can be and is different, but not radically so.  The class finished with an explanation of knowledge by/ through connaturality/ inclination/ congeniality, which is knowledge that is known but indemonstrable, and involves mystical experience.  Pages 12 and 16 of the text were referenced.


Natural law theories

-not always directly related to Maritain

How do we know things? What is knowledge?

-“analogical knowledge”


What is it to know something?

-normally, if know > believe

-knowledge is something that’s true, something believed in, and can be justified in some way

> does the justification need to be available?

-if something I believe can be false, then can’t really know.

-universally true, contingently true; some things thought were true, turn out to be false, then change knowledge

-if I have scientific knowledge/ ethical knowledge, has to be true; make claim should be justified true believe.

How do I know? à justification

> observation

> reason

> insight (aha! moment)

-know > can’t be mistaken about it


Different kinds of knowledge

-know that



knowing how

-can know some ‘that’s’ if know ‘how’

-know ‘that’ à object of know

>i.e. knowledge in science, aesthetics, ect.

>goes back to analogical knowledge


Pg. 12 text

“Analogous character of the concept of knowledge”

-analogous: something that’s similar

> not exactly the same, but not radically different.

>methods of justification are different and can change

>>requires adequate justification

-knowledge can range in subject matter, although it may not exactly be the same.

>the way I know is different, but similar

-we can be humble about knowledge in theories/ ideas (ethics, art, philosophy), but don’t have to be skeptical.


knowledge as:

-the product (that)

-the process (how)



-coherent (know one thing, can’t know contradictory)





-insight (not always true/ fallible)


Knowledge by/ through connaturality/ inclination/ congeniality

-know, like knowledge by inclination, but not

> principle of non-contradiction applies to all knowledge, not just philosophical issues (broad/ basic principle)

>ethics, if possible, has first principle(s)

>can know immediately (true, believe them, and justified, but we don’t have evidence)

>grasp, indemonstrable, but know them.

>> know but can’t prove, not rational grasp.

-not intuition (which normally isn’t of general statements)

>not gut feeling à this is knowledge of general principles


mystical experience

-not conceptual, can’t understand fully

-participation/ united with God

-lose a sense of your individuality

> united with things as separate from me

-grows into objective means of knowing

-“to understand who I am, have to know God”


poetic knowledge/ artistic knowledge

-relation to what the artists knows of art through the artist’s expression in art

-knows something, but different in how they communicate it (vs. philosophy, history, etc.)

January 19 - Dominic Hughes

PRACTICAL REASON. What is it, and what does it do?

Practical reason is distinct from speculative or theoretical reason (Kant makes this distinction). Speculative reason concerns the essence or causes of things. You want to arrive at certain conclusions that are ideally demonstrative. For example, what is human nature? For the sake of speculative reason you would want deductive proof of this. But, speculative reason is detached from the day-to-day; maybe you can't do anything with speculative reason. Often the case that it does not have any practical applicability - it is knowing for the sake of knowing.

On the other hand, practical reason is reason applied to action in the world (praxis). How ought I to act? What rules or guidelines for living should I follow?

All this being said, these two types of reason (theoretical vs. practical) are constituted in terms of the same intellectual capacity - that is, they are both, strictly speaking, types of reason.


Two types of knowledge are reflective knowledge (science), which concerns itself with concepts, reasoning, etc., and unreflective knowledge (insight), which is immediate (i.e. you "get it"). Note that insight can also be reflective.

There is a third type of knowledge for Maritain and others: knowledge by inclination, which has a role to play in mystical knowledge, poetic knowledge, and moral experience. Crucial for Maritain's theory of natural law.

Connatural knowledge is inherently difficult to communicate; words often fail. The knower is united to the object known (e.g. the artist/viewer and the artwork; the religious person and God).

The moral dimension to connatural knowledge is especially important for our purposes. Everyone is a moral expert in their own way - humans act freely. To really be aware of one's freedom is a striking event; you are one with that moral experience.

Morality has a scientific dimension to it (that is, a conceptual or reflective dimension). Moral philosophy is a kind of moral science. Moral knowledge, however, is more than moral philosophy. People that aren't reflective of morality can still be morally aware or possess an awareness of general moral principles. Our knowledge of these general principles is immediate. The most basic moral precept is to do good and avoid evil.

Connatural knowledge is a kind of knowledge that you find in your nature but not in a conceptual way. You come to realize this without the use of reason. In some sense it is culturally inherited; you can know of it before you can express it. It is not innate knowledge. How you know something and how you come to know it are different than what is true.

You get the ought by just getting it. At a certain point (or over time) you realize the precept "do good and avoid evil," among others. But, this awareness of first principles: is it infallibly accurate? If it's knowledge, then it must be true, and if it's a first principle, then it should be infallible.

This disposition or habit to know first principles of morality is called SYNDERESIS.



January 21 –  Ryan Langevin


Pg. 27-29 – Maritain gives us a proof for natural law as an ontological theory. The conclusion is: there is a natural law for all human beings that is a moral law. What is his argument structure for reaching this conclusion?


Maritain talks about two types of reason:


à Practical

-          aims to do something

-          ethics is an example

-          tells me how to act in the world


à Speculative

-          detached from daily life

-          concerned with understanding how far knowledge extends

-          concerned with causality

-          may not have a direct practical application


We can also distinguish between different types of knowledge:


à Reflective

-          Scientific bodies of knowledge


à Unreflective

-          insight

-          inclination (ex: mystical, poetic, and moral knowledge by inclination)

-          a type of knowledge that one can have but not necessarily know how to explain it logically or discursively

-          non-conceptual

-          non- linear


Maritain explains moral knowledge by inclination with the term connatural knowledge. We can act freely, which is a striking event. And there is something in the moral act/experience which is unique. However, there is a difference between practical moral knowledge and moral science. One may be well versed in moral science and still not act morally.


The natural law can be explained in both and ontological and epistemological manner. An example of the epistemological component of natural law is synderesis – the process by which we come to list principles of it. The next section is concerned with the ontological component.




Ontological Aspects of Natural Law


Maritain has to show how there can be a diversity of thought/knowledge and still be a publicly accessible natural law (public accessibility is one of the necessary conditions for both knowledge and law).


Pg. 27-29


Man determines his own ends and it is up to him to put himself in tune with those ends which are natural to his nature (the ends demanded by his nature).


In order to know who someone is, you must know who they are in relation to others. So when we talk about nature/essence, we are not just talking about a specific person’s essence, but we have to talk about an essence common to all people. It is only through this recognition of similarity that we can see individuality and distinctiveness.


Maritain argues that to find out what our nature is, we have to find out the ends that are common to all humans and toward which we are naturally directed or inclined. All things – natural and artificial – have ends. Free, rational beings (such as ourselves) have the choice to either be in tune with these ends or resist them.


So what are these common ends (or at least goals)? Possible elements of human nature include: to live, have relationships, procreate, develop our talents, seek knowledge, seek stability, security, spiritual meaning etc.


Maritain says that by discovering these ends, we understand that there is a determinate human nature, an order, a disposition, which we should obey. We should obey it because it is evident in nature that when something follows its nature, it flourishes. When an acorn follows its nature to become an oak tree, it flourishes. Because we have ends, if we follow them, we will flourish. And although there is a natural law in all beings, only humans can really have moral laws. It becomes an ethical issue with us because of our rational nature and free will.


Where does the natural law get its force of obligation? Perhaps from Nature?


Given that all things have a nature and ends toward which they are naturally inclined, there is no “ought” unless you have a rational, free agent. The force behind it comes from its foundation in the divine law/divine reason.




January 26  - Keegan Stephenson


Laws aim at the common good that is a command that we must do. What’s natural is what is descriptive of our function, a normality of functioning, and we have to seek out our ends. We find the nature of things by studying it over a period of time. What is the nature of humans? We are self-conscious, social, goal oriented, ability to act towards the good. All these features are only present to us in in particular moment, a simple example being sleeping. Like the history of men, we developed through a beginning to an end. Our natural law developed over time. If you don’t have freedom than natural law can’t be moral. To be considered as moral beings, we have to have the ability to choose.

For Maritain, the natural law is natural because it is known naturally. We can know things in different ways such as observation or rationally, which is knowledge and the scientific side or conceptual ideas we have. We can construct science that’s rational, where we can tell what the cause is. Insight however is rational and conceptual; we might not have an explanation of causes. Next we have connatural knowledge, which is still a legitimate source of knowledge that we can’t describe; yet science is still a part of this.

Polygamy is an example of something that is not a concept that we know to be wrong naturally, yet it might be rational in certain cases. Yet the idea to not kill can’t be known scientifically or through insight, but instead we know it connaturally. There’s something that can’t be rationally articulated why we find the killing of a child to be immediately repugnant.

We grasp things intuitively; the natural law is a combination of things. The natural law includes science, insight and things that are connatural. We need that connatural knowledge as a foundation to allow insight and science to even develop. We’re not born with this connatural knowledge, but we have the capacity to come to see it. It’s not the same thing as conscience. Conscience is not really basic to natural law. For us we look commonly at conscience as a feeling or intuition, that’s particular and not general. For Maritain conscience is a type of knowing, but to know something we have to know the rules. Conscience is something that is rational and intellectual, and it involves the assistance of a good will, but we must do what our conscience says. Yet the conscience is not part of the natural law.

The first precept of natural law is to do good and avoid evil. Our science and our insights differ, but we all have the same connatural knowledge but it may be different at different times.

28 January 2015 - Sarah Beattie


Monday: The Rectitude of the Will (in the new text). How can I put the natural law into practice? How does reason function in morality? How does the will function in morality?



Ryan’s Presentation


The law is an ordinance of reason. The Natural Law is not grounded in human reason (it is not arbitrary). Following Aquinas, Maritain talks about the Eternal Law.


Eternal Law

God is the ultimate creator. The eternal law encompasses the whole universe. Governed by divine reason.  God is the supreme legislator.

Maritain talks about the analogous character of the law. The eternal law is promulgated in the divine intellect. We cannot know it, but we participate in it. Every creature participates in the eternal law. Rational creatures participate in divine reason in a special way. In this way we are one with God and the divine. The eternal law is the first foundation of the Natural Law. We know our natural inclination by participation in the divine reason.

Our inclination to act in certain way, towards certain ends is how we participate in it. Eternal Law is not based on our reason. We participate in it.


Law of Nations

The Law of Nations is an intermediary between the Natural Law and the Positive Law. Reason is not the author of the Law of Nations.

The distinction between the Natural Law and the Law of Nations is not in content, but the means through which the law comes to be known. It is connected with the first principle of the natural law. The starting point and content is still the natural law, but the content is not necessarily known by inclination alone. Laws in keeping with the natural law, but found through the common reason. These laws are not just legal positivism – they are not arbitrary and are accessible to the common consciousness. This is not law which has to be promulgated judicially.


Positive Law

The Positive Law is created by human reason. Positive law is particular, contingent, and arbitrary in a sense. The author of the positive law is human reason, not divine reason. Once the positive laws are instituted, it is evil to disobey them insofar as they conform to the first precept of the natural law.

The Natural Law has left to the positive law its completion. The positive law derives its power and obligation from the natural law. An unjust law cannot be obligatory because it must conform to the Natural Law and the Eternal Law.



o   Maritain wanted to have a solely philosophical natural law system, but his system still includes God.

o   Knowledge by inclination is an integral part of his account, but this notion is vague and inconsistent with what we usually consider knowledge.




Death penalty. Why do some societies have the death penalty? Are they not morally aware enough? Sometimes certain positive laws can vary depending on the state of society. You might say that to have a law allowing the death penalty there has to be a rational justification of it (i.e. it cannot be based on vengeance. To justify the death penalty by a revenge theory would be problematic). On a theory of self-defence, perhaps the death penalty is viable.


Positive Law. Is it immoral to run a red light? The positive laws are said to be morally relevant once they are created. It is illegal to speed … is it immoral to speed? One could say yes, because you could cause harm to others. What if your wife is ill, and you speed to hospital. Is this morally wrong? One could argue that it is not immoral because you are trying to achieve a kind of higher good: presentation of life.

The positive law is designed to make the natural law concrete and effective. For safety reasons, we have a speed limit. This law has as its object safety. But if your wife dies because you drive too slow, that the positive law fails. The natural law is superior. The positive law has ethical weight, but when the positive law doesn’t do what the natural law wants to do, it’s a statute but doesn’t have the character of an ethically justifiable law. Therefore, it should not be ethically binding.  


Eternal Law. Why is it wrong to kill? Because God commands it? If God commanded adultery, would it be okay? A voluntarist would say yes. If God wills it, you must do it. However, the divine reason is not arbitrary. There is a rationality to what God does. Reason tells you the natural law. Not human reason, because human reason is fallible.

We participate in the eternal law as products of the divine reason. Because we have the capacity to reason, we’re a lot closer to the sort of being that created us. We reflect the eternal law in our capacity to think.


 Is this theological? What God is Maritain describing? Not the Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim God? He is God as eternal reason. If God’s existence can be proven by reason alone, then it is part of philosophy. Maritain says you need to prove God’s existence for the natural law to be authoritative. We ought to act in accord with the natural law because it is reasonable. Not simply because God wills it, but because I recognize that I am the product of the reason that gives me my nature, tells me what to do. If there were no God, my only source for ethics would be me. Without the connection to the eternal reason, it is potentially arbitrary. Maritain doesn’t think his eternal law argument is theological, because the God he is talking about is eternal reason. He can be proven philosophically.



February 2nd, 2015 -- Madison Burton


Monday’s class focused on two main questions: ‘What is the relationship between the four kinds of law?’ And, ‘What does one do about an unjust law?’
The main points for the first question, which followed the information from Ryan’s presentation, was that if a law violates the common good, if it is irrational, and/or the one in charge is not legitimate, then it is an unjust law.
Following this discussion, the main points regarding the second question included the explanation that if someone is informed, knowledgeable, and understands the issue as clear and concise, and still think is a bad thing to do, then obliged not to obey the law.


Continuing topics from Ryan’s discussion…

Relationship of the 4 kinds of law

-positive law has to, at least, be consistent with Natural Law (NL) (Maritain)

>an unjust law is not a law

-external law: divine reason, natural law: ought to act, law of nations: interact as social beings, positive law: creation of human reason that is in line with other laws, but extends. How?

> Ex. Tax dollars are used to bomb Iraq. Why is this unjust? And why is this law not a law? Perhaps because not reasonable.

>>one condition is it must be a command of reason; if irrational, then not a command of reason.

>>not promoting a common good; what is in people’s true interest; all beings of the same nature.

>>aims at a particular good instead; violates common good.

>>parliament=authoritative, paying taxes to support government= reasonable, but using tax dollars to bomb people in a foreign country is not for the common good.

-power does not equal authority.

-if violates common good, if irrational, and one in charge is not legitimate, then it is an unjust law


What to do about an unjust law?

-Resolution in part: if someone is informed, knowledgeable, understands the issue as clear and concise, and still think is a bad thing to do, then obliged not to obey the law.

-people can disagree, so who determines whether it is an unjust law? Opinions can differ

-we all make mistakes and can sometimes and sometimes ought to be punished.

-sometimes there is not a difference of opinion, where issue does not seem to follow NL and most people agree.

>Nuremburg Trials à people who follows immoral laws, but shouldn’t have

>don’t follow indisputably corrupt law, one that is inconsistent with the natural law; by obeying unjust law, still guilty of a moral offense.

>If know law is immoral, Maritain would say obey it.

-ask self: am I acting ethically by just going along with the law?

-some actions= actions of duty (must), some actions just good to do

>to jump on grandeur à duty, or go “beyond”

>> supererogatory

-if utilitarian, no supererogatory acts, if giving as much s can, still just duty

-Kant: deontologist, duty to give to poor, develop talents, to do duty is to give to poor, develop talents to do duty is to give anything positive to charity, but to give half income= beyond duty

-what is natural law theory in this context? Does it allow actions beyond duty, or if good, than duty, or does it just ell you what not to do?

>how does NC help me when figuring out how to act?


Ch. 3 of Course Pack

How does thical reasoning work?

Inclinations and Reason


(Pg. 37-39) –sometimes reason works in “quasi biological way”

>conscious & preconscious actions

-sometimes act in a way that is not thought out/ conceived

-pre-conscious element, rational aspect

>instinct for pro-creation; not a bad thing, but different than other animal’s drive to procreate

>>don’t have instinct to marry and have kids, but not really a full rational thought through process

>>not planned, but inclination, informed


-natural rightness/ rectitude

-good thing to have family/ raise children

>not a bad thing if don’t do it

-people can give up what naturally inclined to do for other drives

-more sophisticated than basic instinct



(Pg. 38) –ethical reason à practical

-rational process through sorting how ethically ought to act

ex. Trying to figure out if we will volunteer for war

>inclination to help, but widowed mother= dependant and worryful; should stay how and take care of her, or should serve country?

-ex. Fall in love, but don’t have any money (lol BBA in leadership degree), want to peruse love, but financial dead end; do I peruse this love if can’t support serve country?

-competing obligations, how to sort situation?

-next class, try to figure out steps in diagram

>sketch out 4,5, or 6 steps of how someone gets conclusion (NLà decision)

>gives idea of how practical reasoning works


February 4th -
(Dominic Hughes)


For Maritain, anything a human does is colored by reason; even our basic inclinations. He talks about the Freudian view of inclinations (drives, passions, etc.) but modifies it: these drives are colored by reason. There's something distinct about human drives, in that they contain inclinations of reason. Here Maritain is talking about MORAL PSYCHOLOGY. The end of deliberation is conscience, and an act of conscience stemming from a judgment of conscience. Also known as a "speculativo-practico judgment"; you don't just know it, you do it.

Aquinas' view of truth is of a relation between the mind and things, otherwise known as a correspondence theory of truth. The goal is to get your mind to fit with what reality is. If my mind accurately reflects what is real, then can be absolutely certain of your knowledge. But, can I have certitude in ethics? Not mathematical certitude; instead, it's more like an inclination. Certainty here is not mathematical, apodictic certainty (i.e., objective knowledge) as much as it is certainty as a psychology attitude, or personal conviction. In the former case you cannot be mistaken, whereas in the latter case you can be mistaken. "Certainty," then, does not mean the same thing as knowledge.

I can do something in good conscience and be wrong. I have my own personal biases, beliefs, and opinions that color my conscience - therefore, there's always a chance that we'll miss out on moral truth, as opposed to mathematical truth. The will, by itself, is blind.

MORAL JUDGMENT. How does it work?

1. Consult the Natural Law. "Do good and avoid evil." Good starting place, but doesn't help too much. Merely saying "I ought to do the good thing here, and avoid the bad." Still dealing with abstract principles: judgment of conscience in a separated state. Separated             from doing something at a concrete instance.

[As we move down these steps, we move from abstract to practical]

2. Examine the particulars. This could mean a lot of things: personal, social particulars, etc. Judgments of conscience in a detailed state. We're still at the level of reason, rules, and the "ought."

3. In the practical world, it is conformity to the right appetite rather than things. Goodness, for example, is not an object of perception. You can't find the truth about goodness or moral rightness; this is a question of will, and not mathematical knowledge. A hint at "right will" is virtue, which is a habit or tendency to act a certain way. Good habits are virtues, and bad habits are vices. The point here is to be good rather than to do good, or "being" as opposed to "doing." Being good is analogous to having a disposition to be virtuous. Indeed, virtue is self contained. To be virtuous is to know the mean (for example, courage, which is the mean between foolish daring and cowardice). You need reason to give you knowledge of the mean, and therefore of virtue. Questions such as "What are my tendencies?", "What are the tendencies of others?", and "What is the standard of virtue" help to arrive at knowledge of the mean. This is all to say that the will must be influenced by reason. The right will is the will that tends to the true ends of human existence. What would promote the true ends of my human being?

[Moving here from the outside world to the inside world.]

[Note also that virtuous people can still make mistakes.]

Maritain would say that there's always an objectively right response to a any ethical situation. Relative to you, but not subjective. There is a duty relative to your capacities or abilities.

4. What should I do, even though I am fallible? Every ethical action is a risk. This is what a virtuous person would do, and therefore I have to freely choose to do it (obligation to act on the judgment, but you can still not do it). When I freely choose to do the acct, it is an act of conscience. The more I do this, the more I improve my disposition (virtue).

Big points:
1) that will (habit) needs to be informed by reason, and
2) that there is an underlying element of virtue to natural law theory; simply knowing doesn't make me good.


February 11 - Ryan Langevin

What is Maritain worried about with other natural law theories?


Maritain’s version of natural law is Thomistic, as opposed to an empiricist or rationalist view. The Thomistic view holds the following tenets:


-          Nature

-          Experience

-          Transcendent (empiricist do not think transcendence is possible)

-          Natural law a basic right, which is extended by positive law




-          No natural law because they do not believe there is anything inherent to human nature. Empiricists such as Hobbes have a version of ‘natural law,’ but this really turns out to be a form of positive law that has no value without a sovereign.

-          Social contracts are the basis for law

-          Political society is arbitrary and does not need to exist

-          Knowledge through inclination is impossible


The Thomistic view holds that knowledge through inclination provides our normality of functioning and universal essence. Empiricists take issue with the idea of a universal essence and normal mode of functioning. For an empiricist, one can only examine a particular situation; there is no universal understanding of the way humans are or ought to be. There are no universal laws in physics or morality. Nature is just what we happen to see.


Cultural Relativity


-          Empiricists argue that people are simply different in different places – this manifests in different cultural values, practices, customs etc..

-          Natural law for empiricists just a way to get what you want

-          People make up the natural law based on their own desires


Thomistic Response


-          Empiricism is impoverished as a theory and worldview

-          Order, reason, and nature are absent from empiricism

-          Empiricists want to use the same vocabulary as a natural law theory, but once the theory is carefully examined, it becomes clear that they are using these words arbitrarily – order, reason, law, nature all have no real meaning


What’s freedom to an empiricist?


-          Perfect freedom would equate to something described as license

-          License is not the same as liberty

-          Law provides liberty

-          Maritain argues that if empiricists want to be consistent, there cannot be any liberty


Thomas and Maritain want to argue that we need a norm to guide our laws and nature gives us that norm. Reason is a very important component to this theory. For an empiricist, reason is at best the ability to calculate what you want. Laws are there to make people play well together. Liberty needs laws or it degenerates into license (which is essentially the state of nature). Reason for Maritain is a key tool that aids in our ability to carry out the natural law.



If we give up on reason, nature etc., then we cannot have a substantive view of freedom, value, or progress. Maritain wants to believe in the ability of humans to make progress. Empiricists just view progress as a relative thing that simply cannot be judged since we are unable to actually experience the past. Empiricists think that the ability to fulfill desires contributes to a better standard of living in society. Maritain argue that situations in the past can be judged from a modern standpoint and ethical issues can be evaluated and improved upon. To sum up, empiricists view history as ‘one damn thing after another’ and society as relativistic human construct designed around our fears and desires. On the other side of this debate, Maritain believes that this view lacks substantive content and that there is an objective moral criteria with which society can be judged.



Feb. 16 - Holiday

February 18 -   Keegan Stephenson



Last class we looked at natural law used by other theorists such as empiricists.  One problem with the rationalist and empiricist notion of law is that its concept of law is weak; it doesn’t have a sanction or morality to it. After Aquinas things went downhill, which evolved into a rationalist approach to natural law. More or less around the same time the empiricist view arose. Maritain doesn’t think empiricism has a strong idea of nature, reason and the natural law.

The rationalist tradition was the source of inspiration for the French revolution. The French revolutionaries who established the French republic had issues with traditions due to very little being based on reason. They wanted to go back to a rational method and reinvent everything. When it came to law there was no formal code of law, there were rules and customs and the king decided much. Law was therefore looked at rationally, the Code Civil, for example, would explain the relations between people in law. Reason was this tool that could enter into reality and construct principles to apply to society.

For the empiricist, reason is just a way to achieve your appetite or desire, but it didn’t tell you what was right or wrong. For the rationalists, the senses were unreliable, our desires fluctuate and change and we need reason to control these desires. Reason is the only direct access to truth, and from deduction we can achieve ideals. The biggest problem for reason was tradition, and political, religious and legal traditions can’t be rationally justified, therefore needs to be eliminated. Reason for the rationalist isn’t a divine reason because God is unknowable. The standard becomes human reason, and mistakes in reason are mainly due to traditions. Reason has to uncover what already exists in reality. Reason wants to go into the core of nature and find better ways to understand and control nature, and is to be understood conceptually.

For the rationalist, the natural law is known by all of us, waiting to be discovered, but we’re impeded by our upbringing, etc. Natural law is written in our hearts, if we use our reason we will come to find it. This is universal. A diversity of positive laws is bad, for example there actually is only one correct way to drive on the road. The positive law should be deduced by the natural law. If we let human reason unimpeded do its work, we could create the perfect order on earth.

There’s a conceptual understanding of nature for the rationalist, reason is almost mathematical. There’s no learning of natural law, we just have to rid ourselves of our prejudices to let it free. In a funny way this results in no moral progress.

Maritain thinks empiricism is conservative in that there’s no particular need to change things, you just need laws to protect us from hurting each other, or its pessimistic/realist that people can’t improve their very self. The rationalist is optimistic; if we can get to the truth of things then we are good, yet this is also conservative in that it looks for one right model.

Thomism has a progressive element as well as conservative. The Thomist says human reason is important, but it relies on a divine reason. The rationalist sees human reason as the standard. Thomism talks about knowing things in a non-conceptual way, while the rationalist would disagree with this notion. Faith for Aquinas is reasonable, while a rationalist would believe this to be unreasonable. The Thomist talks about the importance of reason, while the rationalist pushes reason to its limit. Rationalism for Maritain has a narrow concept of reason and nature, and leaves no room for diversity and freedom. For an empiricist there is no freedom, while the rationalist would say there’s an ideal of how to do things and what we ought to do according to what is purely rational, which excludes freedom. Empiricist and rationalist approaches are not moral systems, it’s not just that Maritain disagrees with them, but if they are correct then we don’t have freedom and therefore do not have morality, which makes for a non-ethical system.

2 March 2015 - Dominic Hughes


We have talked about the law (that law is a command of an authority that aims at the care of the community), as well as types of law (divine, natural, common, positive); then we talked about the general meaning of the natural law. In what way is the natural law “natural?” In what way is it a law?

The end or purpose of a thing: not only what a thing can do, but what it is designed to do. What are human beings designed to do? What is the normality of our functioning? If you do not know what “nature” means, then there is no point in talking about the natural law.

Natural law is known naturally (gnoseological or epistemological dimension of the natural law). We can know things through science, but we have knowledge in other ways – we can know through reason, observation, insight, etc. The natural law is not necessarily known by reason. It is instead known connaturally. Connaturality is not intuition, but like intuition in the sense that it is indirect, non-conceptual knowledge. What distinguishes it from intuition is that intuition is of particulars, where natural law is more general or guiding. In the moral sphere there is a kind of intuitive knowledge.

“Do good and avoid evil.” How do we know what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are?

We need reasoned and connatural knowledge for morality to work.

What makes the natural law moral? We have the capacity to go along with or reject the natural law. If we have no free will, then we cannot be ethical. What does the natural law have to do with other kinds of law?

Positive law has to be reasonable; positive law has to be an ethical law. Positive law is informed by the natural law, and the natural law is informed by the eternal law. How do we know that there is an eternal law?

March 4 – Ryan Langevin


Primary question: What Happens when the positive law is inconsistent with the natural law?


Ex. Abortion:


Natural law: abortion is wrong because it is immoral to kill human beings and a fetus is a human being.

Positive law: abortion is legal in Canada.


Maritain: we obey the law not because the sovereign commands us to do something or not to do something, but because the positive law commanded by the sovereign is an extension of the natural law. Maritain proposes the following distinction:




-          Full force of the government lies behind a statute

-          Strictly speaking, statutes are not laws

-          No ethical authority attached to statute if it does not conform to natural law




-          Moral authority

-          Validity from eternal law or eternal reason

-          Not made by humans but “extended” by human or positive law


Problem: What would happen to society if everyone broke the law whenever they disagreed with it on moral grounds?


P.36 of textbook: If keeping the social fabric of society intact means following a few immoral laws, then we should follow the law. There is a secondary moral obligation to keep society together; it would be chaos if everyone broke laws which they disagreed with.


Nazi law: the statutes were passed by the government in Nazi Germany and these statutes followed the correct formal structure or procedure. The laws were thus followed by German judges who argued that their job was not to question the law on its moral basis, but to enforce the laws passed by the legislature. However, the laws in question were beyond moral reproach, which should have been blatantly obvious to the learned judges acting on behalf of the government. The fabric of German society would not have broken down if they refused to enforce laws which ordered the killing of innocent people. This was the argument used by the Allies during the Nuremburg trials; the judges should have realized that these laws were not valid despite the fact that the procedural requirements had been met. The formal or procedure requirements are only part of the picture. The judges failed to evaluate the laws based on their content or subject matter and thus failed to act morally.

There seems to be some tension in Maritain’s work in regards to first principles and dealing with situations in which positive laws conflict with the natural law:


P.21 (small natural law book): natural law deals with only those principles which are known immediately through inclination.


P.33 (textbook): natural law is not a rational set of rules and regulations. When you use reason to articulate the principles, you get the law of nations and the positive law.


Problem: the natural law is not conceptual or worked out rationally on one hand, and on the other hand, Maritain says that it is worked out, but the precepts are not. We know that the natural law has precepts or principles, but there are also things that follow from those. Maritain’s interpretation of Aquinas is that he says two different things about this. Maritain wants to resolve this apparent tension and provide a way of understanding the natural law and its precepts. To do this he makes the following distinction:


-          Epistemological: how we come to know the precepts of the natural law

-          Ontological: how the precepts are applied to humans and their objective/purpose


Why? Because how do I decide what to do when precepts conflict? For example, the patriarchs of ancient Israel had many wives, but polygamy is against the natural law. Does this mean that the great patriarchs of ancient Israel were immoral? On one hand you could say that they were simply going along with the accepted cultural practices of the day. But Maritain does not want to accept cultural practices as an excuse to circumvent the natural law. Therefore, we need a way of prioritizing these conflicting principles. For example, what if I need to steal a loaf of bread from someone who has extra in order to preserve my life? Maritain would say that preserving life is more important than the general rule, ‘do not steal.’ Preserving life is a higher priority than not stealing.


Maritain Breaks the precepts down in the following way:


1st Precepts


-          Connaturally known

-          Not really a worked out ethical precept

-          Everyone has it within them naturally to act in accordance with these

-          Ex: sacred life recognition – i.e., yelling “watch out!!” when someone is about to walk in front of a bus


Secondary Precepts in a Broad Sense


-          Generally connatural

-          A concretion but still not reasoned or worked out completely

-          Still universally available

-          Ex: preserve your life, avoid incest, return what you borrowed


Secondary in a Strict Sense


-          At this point reason kicks in

-          Reason would allow you to realize that sometimes in order to preserve your own life in the face of mortal danger, you may need to kill your attacker

-          The injunction to preserve my life might allow me to steal some food

-          There are conceptual rules with possible conceptual exceptions


There’s also another way to distinguish between precepts:


1. Being (human nature) – ontology


-          human beings are “rational animals”

-          There are some things that we share with the animal kingdom such as a desire for sexual relations

-          What separates us from animals is our innate desire for knowledge

-          Ex: we desire to know what a just society would look like


2. Ends of actions


-          We can distinguish between ‘actions’ which have ends, and ‘acts’ which are involuntary

-          Ex: an action would be waving my hand with a desired end; an act would be an involuntary biological function like my heartbeat

-          Some ends are primary and some are secondary

-          A side effect from a prescription drug is an example of a secondary end

-          In marriage, having children would be the primary end and love would be the secondary end (for Maritain)



March 11th, 2015 - Madison Burton


Dr. Sweet Introduction:

-Ch. 5 &6 à theoretical understanding of Natural Law (NL)

>knows objections/ challenges; diversity of cultural practices

>>how to explain differences & create a NL?

>should be able to have a NL independent of the divine

-Question of history in Ch. 7 à think about what Maritain says, but also what he would say to objections and challenges


Dominic’s Lecture on Ch. 7:

(numbers correspond with the hand out provided)

-If NL theory is universal, then must be embedded in human nature (HN)

-if precept of NL is human flourishing & freedom, then why not always present in cultures, i.e. slavery or genocide as examples in history

-use NL & problem of history and development

>how are inclinations developed in NL?

-Humans are animals of culture (political/ rational animals)

>morally indebted to history

2)- at most primitive, human beings demonstrate a state of ignorance

>done so except first precept (do good and avoid evil)

>only precept that is constant throughout history

3) –distinction between NL and proper and awareness of NL

>gain moral awareness b/c of more moral action

>precepts discovered through experience

4)-conforming through inclinations

>unjust practice eliminated over time

>in hat way to measure progress?

5)-desire to purify self/ imperfections

-if now aware, then not ignorant, so if still choose evil, then blame-worthy.

7)- have not achieved dearness of NL, then NL partly known = daylight state

-before known = twilight state

>unclear if end or where end will be is unclear

>will always continue to progress into future

8)-structures that remain ambiguous in chapter

-could have other structures that could inhibit awareness of the NL

-can at any moment limit self or be limited to awareness



1)-concepts of good and evil relative to cultural context

-yes, cultural beings, but culture has history

-concepts of good and evil do change; can regress in awareness of NL

-different cultures/ civilizations can develop differently

-could have more response to moral relativist

2)-Maritain unclear; answer likely know, but we may not know what is limiting because may not know what they are (in terms of NL)

>can’t know definitively

-natural for structures to be in place that limits NL à accidental

-ignorance and blameworthiness

>connatural knowledge develops/ expands over time as gain more moral experience

>process of trial and error of suffering

-precepts have developed over time

>develop from allow moral injustice à forbid

>with the passage of time, more moral experience

>>general principles = rules/ precepts

>inclinations = knowledge by inclination/ non-conceptual knowledge à can take form of rules

-more laws over time

-progress of awareness = due to reflection (perhaps)

>part of it, can learn from history

-who counts as a person/ citizen has changed

-understanding of what it is to be human has expanded; recognized rights

>what am i? What is it to be me?

>>recognized if someone like me, if share so much in commen, then no reason to exclude from benefits of person/ human

-know more about what good is and what is good for human beings

-development of technology (p. 124 “some have wondered…”)

>sometimes things happen in civilization that weren’t able to be aware of before

>awareness of the individual over time

>understanding of human/ living beings becomes richer

-there are regressive societies (ie Nazi’s)

-why does regression occur/ happen?

>moral blindness, or excited by evil, natural phenomena

>different people, different places

>complicit, get ahead, law over ethics

-overall, general trend Maritain would say human beings are moving ahead

-concepts of good and evil change over time


pg. 128-129

-synderesis/ fragmentary

-twilight/ daylight state of moral conscience

-more comprehensive understanding of human flourishing/ inhibition

>leads to oppressed and not oppressed to flourishing

-objective notion of human flourishing

>opportunities to flourish become more available

-ancient Romans = violators of rights and barbaric? No à coarseness of human beings/ primitiveness

>this being natural, and if don’t know any better, then not guilty

>>did not think of human beings in the same way


pg. 127 “moral conscience can be…”

-not intentionally ignorant, just are

>>what they did was wrong, but can’t blame them for it (if not practicing, wrong)

>not relativistic, but understand



16 March 2015 - Sarah Beattie


Precepts and Implications of Natural Law


            Maritain has to explain exactly what the Natural Law is. Why? Because people would object to it as it seems as though the existence of cultural diversity shows that no Natural Law exists. Slavery, polygamy existed in cultures where people were intelligent. Today, there are different cultural practices. In terms of how we treat people.

            Maritain also mentions certain hard cases. What is the morality of the concentration camp? The way he talks about the Natural Law allows us to answer some of these challenges.


1.      1st Precepts

a.      Connaturality à moral imperative (basic, connatural grasp of a moral imperative)

2.      2nd Precepts

a.      More concrete, implications


We have a sense of right and wrong, by giving heed to this we can make them more concrete.


p. 120-121

            Natural Law is not just a set of rules. We have a grasp of the Natural Law, which is absolutely universal, but does not yet have much content. 1st precepts are more general ideas, and they imply 2nd precepts which are more concrete. Should you have more than one wife? At one time, this was acceptable. Should you kill strangers? Should you have sexual relations outside of marriage? There has been a shift in what seems to be legitimate or illegitimate.


Table II (p. 128-129)

            There are basic inclinations which are found everywhere. Over time, we progress and move from the twilight phase. We begin to use reason to express these things more concretely.

            In early phase, we see human sacrifices, cannibalism. These are things we do not approve of any longer. From the twilight phase, we develop a sense of moral consciousness to a daylight phase. Does this change in our awareness prove relativism?


Ch. 6-8

            Maritain tries to talk about a development and variation without relativism. One might say that relativism is wrong, because it suggests no objectivity to ethics. Because something that is wrong now may have been acceptable in the past. This view is problematic, because it seems to deny objectivity, i.e. that relativism is subjectivism.

            Maritain would say that subjectivism is not the same as relativism. What is relative is opposed to what is absolute. What is subjective is opposed to what is objective. Objectivism is not opposed to relativism.

You must do what is right, but what you must do is relative to the kind of being you are, the kind of skills you have.

Ex: If someone is drowning, a lifeguard has duties in a different way than a passerby. This is not a subjective choice. Because of who you are, you must act in a certain way. You must do what is right, but this is relative to the kind of person you are. A lifeguard couldn’t observe someone drowning, and say, “I don’t feel like doing anything.” He has a duty because of his skills. Relativism is not opposed to objectivism.


            Maritain would say that in the past, people didn’t know fundamentally what human behaviour is. The more I understand what it means to be human, the better I know how to treat others. If I have a sense of what it means to be human, I know how to appropriately treat someone.

In the time of the patriarchs, in ancient times, they just didn’t yet understand what it is to be human (which is why things like polygamy were practiced). At one time, these things were allowable, now they are restricted. This marks a change from an old way of doing things to a contemporary way.



Real Infractions and Apparent Infractions


Apparent Infractions

            In the Daylight phase, it is considered wrong to go to war. But, there is always a case of legitimate self-defence. The Natural Law doesn’t command one to not kill and, in so doing, let oneself be killed. In the case of theft, if you take food from someone, but you do so because you are starving to death, though it may appear to the observer as murder or theft, the intentionality behind it changes the nature of the act.

            In spite of certain cultural variations, the Natural Law is universal and applicable at all times. However, if I do not know what human inclinations are, then I cannot be blamed. Yes, now we recognize polygamy to be contrary to reason, but they didn’t realize it at the time. Natural Law is always true, but it doesn’t always tell you who is guilty and who is innocent. Romans didn’t have conceptual framework to know that slavery is wrong.


There are several ways we can go wrong in living according to the Natural Law. For example:


1.      Reason is corrupted

a.      We know that we should respect our parents, or the elderly. In different cultures, the way this is practiced can vary.

                                                              i.      (p. 138) Maritain discusses a society in which they put their aged parents to death. The view is that you are doing them, in a sense, a favour. Who wants to be old? Who wants to be vulnerable? In one sense, the same value is present. It is not that they do not understand the precept “respect your parents”, but rather that this is a case where reason is mistaken in applying this.

b.      Variation may not be indicative that the value itself is different, but the application of value.

c.       In the case of incest, the prohibition has little to do with biology. Incest does not just refer to sexual relations with blood relatives. It also includes marrying a sibling, a father-in-law, your mother’s sister, even marrying someone within the same clan. The reason for the prohibition is that incest destroys the unity of a family. If you marry your ex husband’s son, you destroy the unity of the family. It is a social unity that you must preserve.

d.      Reason, but also inclination, is corrupted.

2.      Inclination is corrupted

a.      Cannibalism takes place not typically because of hunger, and there are no other food sources. Rather, in some cases, it is a desire to completely annihilate an enemy. They do not merely want their enemy to be dead, a desire for safety, self-preservation, and preventing further attacks on their own community, but rather they want to completely subsume their enemy so that there is nothing left of them. This is not a case of bad reason. This is a corrupted inclination.

b.      Human sacrifice is a fundamentally irrational act. Again, a corrupted inclination.


Some infractions result because of faults in reasoning (such as taking your elderly parents for a long walk, and simply leaving them). In other cases, they are due to a corrupted inclination (moral blindness), such as in cannibalism.

Moral Blindness – for example, workers in Nazi death camps did not see the other human beings as persons. In moral blindness, you almost are not aware or do not even understand what you are doing.


Maritain wants to show us how his analysis of the Natural Law explains cultural variation and historical difference. You can be both relativist and objectivist. Relativism says whether you like it or not, this is what you must do.



March 23. – Keegan Stephesnon


Natural laws and Rights
In a way this question of rights follows from the laws, laws are what we do and rights are what gives us the right to do these laws.

Ought --> Can

If you ought to do something then you have the ability to do it.

Natural law deals with rights and duties, natural rights are also connected to human nature. We have a right and obligation to develop our talents, we can find out our rights by our human nature. Human natures tells us the things that are suitable or unsuitable.


Definition of right (found on page 60):

-others can’t legitimately interfere with our rights -rights to life-rights of the pursuit of perfection of moral life-right to freedom-right to property


pg 65. Private property defense, we need property to live. Nature is a common good, labor gives us ownership or something.


Pg 67. We have inalienable rights, if we have an inalienable right we can’t give it away to someone else. Maritain would distinguish between possessing and exercising rights. We can possess a right but that doesn’t mean we can exercise it. We might have the right to get married, but we can only exercise it if we have another person to marry. We have rights but only to the extent that country has the ability to exercise this right (free education). Once society has the ability to give you that right, they should allow you to exercise it.

There are the rights of the human person and the civic person. The civic persons rights spring from the positive laws that depend indirectly on the natural law. The rights of the civic person are the right to vote, marriage, due process, etc. Rights of the people in society(pg 80) and then there are rights of the working person. How do we prioritize these rights?


April 7 Seminar Notes – Ryan Langevin


What’s the best political system for the natural law?


à Not the difference between persons and individuals. Individuals have a horizontal relationship to other people in the social community. Persons have a vertical relationship to the truth. In a way, the community is subordinate to the person, but the individual is subordinate to the community.


à If you’re looking for inherent value in human beings, you need more than just a materialist point of view.


à Maritain believes that we seek knowledge, peace, spiritual transcendence, progress toward flourishing – i.e., the good – all of which are objective goods that all humans strive toward. This is opposed to the liberal-individualistic political model, which holds that all goods are subjective and thus left up to the individual to decide for themselves; people can do whatever they want as long as they do not infringe on other’s ability to do so.


à The rule of law is fundamental to any society and trumps the will of the sovereign (according to Maritain). The common good is objective and one which all human beings seek. If you do not accept that unity, society has nothing to base itself on and will eventually collapse. The soviet union is an example of such a collapse due to a lack of a unifying objective structure on which to base the political apparatus.


à Maritain argues for an “integral humanism” or “personalism,” which is pluralist, grounded in the natural law, and oriented toward the common good.


à It is normal for us to vote for our leaders, but those leaders are supposed to aim for the common good. The majority is not always right; minorities have to be protected and have a voice because they might be right. Even if they are wrong, sometimes it is good to have the other side of an argument, if for nothing more than to show how they are wrong. The political leadership must the common good for the community in mind when decisions are made – not just what is right for 40% of the population. Maritain proposes a species of liberalism aimed at achieving the common good.


à Alternative to Christian political parties: secular political groups aimed at achieving the natural law. Maritain talks about small political flocks or teams, which achieve political ends without alienating the common person from politics. How do you manage these small political factions? By having an international faction.


à For Maritain’s system to work, people must voluntarily separate private and public interests. What’s good for the community may not be good for the individual, but the common good must come first. This is key – can it be done?