By Galston, William A.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
Richard John Neuhaus takes me to task (While We're At It, November 2001) for some remarks I offered at a colloquium sponsored by Commonweal. While I presented a formal paper on that occasion, the remarks to which Father Neuhaus takes exception represent impromptu oral comments and lack the kind of elaboration and supporting evidence that a writer can provide. I hope that the following will clarify the issue I tried to raise.
When I spoke of Catholics "reasoning within the premises of their own community," I had in mind an excellent piece by David Novak chronicling his intellectual encounter with John Courtney Murray. Novak quotes Murray as declaring:
"It is sometimes said that one cannot accept the doctrine of natural law unless one has antecedently accepted `its Roman Catholic presuppositions.' This, of course, is quite wrong. The doctrine of natural law has no Roman Catholic presuppositions. Its only presupposition is threefold: that man is intelligent; that reality is intelligible; and that reality, as grasped by intelligence, imposes on the will the obligation that it be obeyed in its demands for action or abstention."
While inspired by Murray's vision, Novak offers a searching metaphysical and theological critique of Murray's argument. He concludes that the specifics of Murray's position do not meet Murray's universalistic aspirations. To quote Novak: "The Thomistic version of natural law as presented by a theologian like Murray cannot have enough plausibility to be convincing in a social discourse outside the Catholic world in which it has been traditionally developed. …