Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza

Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza

Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza

Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza


This edited volume examines the realizations between theological considerations and natural law theorizing, from Plato to Spinoza.

Theological considerations have long had a pronounced role in Catholic natural law theories, but have not been as thoroughly examined from a wider perspective. The contributors to this volume take a more inclusive view of the relation between conceptions of natural law and theistic claims and principles. They do not jointly defend one particular thematic claim, but articulate diverse ways in which natural law has both been understood and related to theistic claims.

In addition to exploring Plato and the Stoics, the volume also looks at medieval Jewish thought, the thought of Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham, and the ways in which Spinoza's thought includes resonances of earlier views and intimations of later developments. Taken as a whole, these essays enlarge the scope of the discussion of natural law through study of how the naturalness of natural law has often been related to theses about the divine. The latter are often crucial elements of natural law theorizing, having an integral role in accounting for the metaethical status and ethical bindingness of natural law. At the same time, the question of the relation between natural law and God-and the relation between natural law and divine command-has been addressed in a multiplicity of ways by key figures throughout the history of natural law theorizing, and these essays accord them the explanatory significance they deserve.


This volume is a collection of new essays exploring relations between natural law theorizing and theological considerations, from antiquity to the seventeenth century. This introduction presents the rationale for the book’s focus, places the essays in a broader philosophical context, and summarizes key claims of the essays. That three-fold purpose has made this is a rather lengthy introduction. The reader is welcome to go directly to the essays, but the introduction addresses conceptual and historical matters in ways that could help illuminate important topical relations between the essays and the philosophical significance of the concerns addressed.

The Project’s Rationale and Character

During the last few decades there has been steadily increasing interest in the history of philosophy. In the English-speaking world, the study of the history of philosophy is much more a part of philosophy proper than it was, say, forty or fifty years ago. At that time the history of philosophy was widely regarded as scholarship but not philosophy. In recent years it is much more widely thought that many philosophical issues are best approached in ways that involve considerable attention to the history of philosophy. In ethics, for example, there is extensive employment of resources from Aristotle, Hume, and Kant’s philosophies. There is broader interest in Spinoza than there was some decades ago, and the same is true of Hegel, the Stoics, thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, and many medieval philosophers. More and more thinkers are being recognized as important and interesting in ways that both enlarge current debates and fill gaps in our understanding of the history of philosophy.

There are several reasons for this development. Modes of analytic philosophy that had been dominant for several decades were subjected to extensive critical attention, both from within and without that tradition. That attention . . .

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