A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural Law Ethics

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A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural Law Ethics. By Craig A. Boyd. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007. 272 pp. $24.95 (paper).

Craig Boyd's book on natural law and the virtues may be one of the best arguments in defense of Thomistic ethics and in light of contemporary challenges. Though Boyd shies away from debates in natural law and its relationship to legal philosophy, which has been characteristic of modern natural law thinking, he shows a keen awareness of the problems that all natural lawyers must now face: naturalistic understandings of evolution, divine command theories, postmodern relativism, and the "naturalistic fallacy" (which has come mainly from analytic philosophers). All of these are addressed here. I can think of no other book that includes all of these topics in an introductory work on natural law ethics with excellent responses by a traditional Thomistic philosopher.

One of Boyd's major contentions is that natural law cannot be separated from virtue ethics if it expects to be faithful to Thomas Aquinas's position. This contention is most welcome, especially considering that natural law moralists and virtue ethicists have largely ignored one another in the twentieth century. As Boyd notes: "In addition to these basic precepts of morality, we also seem to have die obligation to make ourselves better persons. According to Aquinas, a basic precept of natural law is the pursuit of virtue. Natural law seems to speak to the issue of good ends and specific kinds of actions in pursuit of those ends. However, it does not speak directly to questions of character apart from our need to pursue it" (p. 241). It is only natural for human beings to pursue the virtues, and this is evident to all normally functioning individuals. Correlatively, the virtuous person fulfills the natural law by acquiring the virtues.

One of Boyd's specialties is the relationship between evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, and ethics. While some Christians today reject any theory of evolution in response to what might seem like a dilemma between evolutionary change on the one hand and an unchanging human nature on the other, Boyd's chapter on the scientific challenge is one of the few attempts to find consonance between these two paradigms in light of Thomistic philosophy (see pp. 79-120). In rather shortsighted fashion, too many scholars and other intellectually engaged Christians associate these sciences with atheism. What is sorely needed in response to the lack of serious dialogue between these two camps is a constructive conversation that seeks to build bridges. Unfortunately, die Thomist position has been largely ignored and should be included more often. As Boyd observes: "Although many Christian theists . …