Magazine article Modern Age

The Nature of Man and the Nature of Human Good: The Ethics of Cosmology by John Caiazza (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012)

Magazine article Modern Age

The Nature of Man and the Nature of Human Good: The Ethics of Cosmology by John Caiazza (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012)

Article excerpt

The theme of this book is that modern cosmology reveals to us a universe with an "inescapable teleological basis," which in turn can be used to ground an ethical theory of natural right. A bold claim by any measure with potential to ignite a cultural revolution, the author, John C. Caiazza, seeks to justify it by reviewing areas of modern science, including evolution, relativity, quantum theory, and of course cosmology. His position is a variant of the well-known anthropic principle, which indeed has many variants but fundamentally asserts that "from a cosmological point of view the existence and processes of the universe cannot be fully explained unless the human species is understood as an inherent phenomenon" (55). In particular, the fine-tuning of the universe at all scales and time periods is quite remarkable, since even a slight change in almost any physical constant, physical law, or initial condition would render the development of life impossible.

This fine-tuning has been discovered by science in the course of its normal investigations; it is not an external imposition on the part of philosophers, theologians, or anyone else. As the author notes, "various mechanistic explanations for the origins of life in a fine-tuned universe have been offered, but avoiding the implication that the universe has been designed to produce life is very difficult" (65). The connection with ethics is made in the final chapters of the book, where the author argues that the mechanistic conception of the universe dating to Newton (seventeenth century) warred with the traditional teleological conception. The author agrees with (and cites) Leo Strauss's claim that "natural right in its classic form is connected with a teleological view of the universe," as exemplified by Aristotle's work, among that of others. The mechanistic view, he believes, leaves no room for natural right or any ethical theory based on it. Once a teleological basis for the universe is reasserted, a viable theory of natural right follows.

In the compass of a relatively short book such as this, no comprehensive treatment of (or even introduction to) subjects as vast as modern cosmology, relativity, quantum theory, or evolution is possible, and is not to be expected. As a result, the subject can only be treated at a fairly high level. In practice, the author just draws material from those disciplines in a nontechnical way in order to build his case. The book is aimed at general readers, so there is very little mathematics or discussion of more advanced topics, such as tensors. Having examined cosmology for the origin and development of the universe, and evolution (including abiogenesis) for its history, the author then discusses various ethical theories and attempts to connect the dots so as to end with a theory of natural rights. The discussion is a bit rambling, with the same points made many times; and there are many apparently irrelevant digressions. For example, after discussing the basis for morality in a teleological concept of the universe, he delves into the "universal beauty of creation"--an interesting topic but not immediately linked to the subject at hand.

How well does Caiazza succeed in his quest to reestablish ethics based on natural right in light of modern science? In order to make his case, the author needs to do three things: (1) establish the likelihood or credibility of the anthropic principle; (2) show that the anthropic principle entails a teleological view of the universe; and (3) show the connection between this teleological view (stemming from the anthropic principle) and a natural-rights-based ethical theory. To establish the anthropic principle, it is necessary to review a good deal of science. Unfortunately the author's acquaintance with the scientific subject matter appears to be at a somewhat elementary level. He makes many common mistakes when discussing evolution, such as the identification of evolution with natural selection (aka, "survival of the fittest"). …

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