Natural Law Ethics

Natural Law Ethics

Natural Law Ethics

Natural Law Ethics


The natural law tradition, which takes as central to moral discussion an appeal to our common humanity, provides a sustainable and attractive approach to problems of ethics and morals. This volume presents a contemporary version of natural law ethics, one that does not rely on the authority of Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, however much it is indebted to them and their followers for inspiration and arguments. The author discusses the mutual relations of four key moral concepts--good, virtue, duty, and rights--as well as their application to various issues, including environmental concerns, homosexuality, and suicide. While examining the role of morality in a way of life and the relation between morality and religion, Devine defends the natural law tradition against a range of philosophical and theological opponents.


This is a book about grounding ethics and morality in human nature. In my view, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are right about the core issues, though I do not commit myself to following their judgments in detail.

One of the most persistent issues in ethical theory is to what extent we can expect to resolve moral issues by reason, and to what extent emotions, and the contingencies of an individual's moral formation, are decisive. Even the most determined rationalists admit persistent obstacles to moral rationality, and sophisticated emotivists concede that our attempts to sort out our feelings at least mimic reasoning. In my own view, moral judgments are like judgments about controversial historical events, and about the character of historical actors (including the way in which they would have behaved had circumstances been different). One's position reflects the sort of person one is, but reasons can be given for our positions, and we have no reason to deny the existence of truth.

Another much discussed issue concerns the mutual relations of goods, virtues, duties, and rights. Traditionally, the first three of these concepts were closely linked. Rights can also be fit into this frame, though their political ramifications place them further from the center of ethics proper than goods, obligations, and virtues.

I also discuss selected moral issues -- lying, suicide, sexual questions including homosexuality, and the claims of nonhuman nature -- selecting them, not merely for their inherent interest, but for their strategic position, without, however, claiming to be able to deduce concrete moral positions from principles of ethical theory. Issues of social justice must await an attempt to apply the theory developed here to political and jurisprudential questions.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.