Robert Spaemann's 'Philosophische Essays.'

By Madigan, Arthur | The Review of Metaphysics, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Robert Spaemann's 'Philosophische Essays.'

Madigan, Arthur, The Review of Metaphysics

In 1983 the Stuttgart publishing firm of Philip Reclam brought out a slim volume containing an introduction and seven essays by Robert Spaemann, then Professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich. Entitled Philosophische Essays, it presents and illustrates Spaemann's philosophical project: to understand the phenomenon of modernity, to criticize the deficiencies of modern thought, and to preserve what is good in modernity by rehabilitating the teleological understanding of nature that modernity largely rejected. A second edition in 1994 included three more essays.(1) As little of Spaemann's work has yet appeared in English,(2) the aim of this paper is modest: to present as clearly and accurately as possible his position in the Philosophische Essays.

Spaemann's project is, first of all, a venture in intellectual history: to understand modernity. Study of modernity discloses a dialectical progress of opposed abstractions. Modernity has developed in two directions: as a transcendental philosophy or philosophy of consciousness, and as a reductionist naturalism: Modernity has tended to interpret itself as a radical emancipation from what preceded it, and in particular from a teleological view of nature. But a philosophy of consciousness that tries to proceed without reference to teleology falls prey to the objections of a reductionist naturalism that spells the end of philosophy and the death of reason. The second element in Spaemann's project is, then, to rescue modernity from its own interpretation of itself as a radical emancipation from what has preceded it, and to infuse it with a teleological outlook.(3) Modernity is beset by terrible conflicts that it cannot resolve, but there is no question of returning to a premodern outlook. The task is to take the great positive contributions of modernity--enlightenment, emancipation, human fights, and modern natural science with its accompanying mastery of nature--into a kind of protective custody (10-17).


Spaemann understands philosophy as a continuing unsettlable controversy. The essay "Die kontroverse Natur der Philosophie" (The controversial nature of philosophy) examines the distinctive character of philosophical controversy, and especially the differences between scientific and philosophical controversy. All science involves controversy, but science normally operates with a degree of consensus on certain basic assumptions. In philosophy, by contrast, everything is controversial, including what counts as philosophy. Spaemann proposes three theses: (1) philosophy is by its very nature thoroughly controversial; (2) the attempt to resolve philosophical controversy only intensifies it; and (3) despite this, philosophy is neither senseless nor superfluous (106).

Spaemann defines philosophy as a continuing discourse about ultimate questions, such as we face in life-decisions, in crises, and in confronting death. As discourse, it is a matter of argument, not to be settled by religious or political authority. Philosophy has always been marked by controversy, but in the modern period the differences go even deeper (106-11). Modernity has seen three attempts to put an end to these differences: self-evident foundations (Descartes, Fichte, Husserl); drawing of boundaries between theoretical and practical (Kant, Comte); and method (Leibniz, followed by ideal language analysts in the twentieth century). All these moves presuppose that philosophy ought to make cumulative and consensual progress by following the path of mathematical natural science, but Kuhn has shown that the model of cumulative consensual progress does not apply in science (111-13). If we can no longer use that model to understand philosophy, can we use the Kuhnian model of paradigm shifts? No, says Spaemann. He gives three reasons. The first is that philosophical shifts are even more radical than paradigm shifts in science. There is no pragmatic control in philosophy. Philosophy is not defined by sets of questions to which there are agreed-on answers; it is always trying to think out and express the unspoken things that make ordinary discourse possible, but can never do so completely (113-16). The second reason is that philosophy's ideal of rationality is antidecisionist. To do science, one has to make the decision at some point to stop asking the question "why?" Philosophy, by contrast, never drops that question. Philosophy is always engaged with contingent particularity, but it is always trying to think contingent particulars universally. The third reason is that philosophy is concerned with itself in a way that science is not (the question "what is physics?" is not a question in physics). Philosophy's situation is in a way tragic, inasmuch as it is bound to raise questions that it cannot solve (120-1). To construe one philosophy as a limit case of a more advanced philosophy is precisely to deny that the first philosophy is an answer to the questions, "what is real?" and "what is good?" The three great historical forms of philosophy are metaphysics, transcendental philosophy, and linguistic analysis. But the later do not simply supersede the earlier, nor do the three come to some sort of peaceful coexistence. Each is still an independent attempt to think the whole (116-22).

Is the history of philosophy simply a history of ideologies, interpretations of reality that are really covers for particular interests? No, says Spaemann. Philosophy is sometimes enlisted in ideological conflicts, but it has no fixed ideological loyalties. It has longer-term interests or tendencies, such as the Galilean-Kantian-analytic tendency to devise ways to represent nature and so to control it, and the Aristotelian-Hegelian-hermeneutic tendency to experience the world as home, to understand ourselves as part of nature without giving up our status as freely acting beings (interests that may now be heading toward convergence). Not that the philosopher can just jump out of his or her historical particularity; the self that thinks is conditioned by a history of thought (122-5). There is no impartial, all-powerful judge in philosophy, not even history; it would not be philosophical to accept a philosophical position simply on the ground that it has prevailed, is prevailing, or will prevail (126-8). The controversial nature of philosophy is bound up with human freedom, and the definitive resolution of philosophical controversy would be the end of the free human being. Philosophy is inherently disorderly, even anarchic, for while thought requires rules, the question is, "which rules?" (128-9). "The elimination of this anarchy would be equivalent to man's resigning in favor of his products" (129).

"Philosophie als Lehre vom glucklichen Leben" (Philosophy as a study of the happy life) points out that in some twenty-five hundred years there has never been a consensus about happiness. Happiness (Gluck) is ambiguous as between fortune or luck (fortuna) and felicity or blessedness (felicitas). We can begin to reduce the diversity of views about happiness to unity by distinguishing theoretical questions, questions of what is and what it is to be real (questions about similarities, Ahnlichkeiten), from practical questions, such as what our interests are, and what we really want when we are at one with ourselves (questions of identity, Identitat). The point of asking the latter kind of question is to bring about a unity in our willing. The question of what we ought to do is bound up with the question of what we want to do. Ethics is an attempt to see our lives as wholes and thus to bring unity into our willing (80-3).

Western ethics begins with people like Antigone, who take a certain order as given. Then the sophists, in an attempt to provide willing with a principle of unity, contend that the object of willing is pleasure (83-4). But hedonism is either false or trivial. Vulgar or debunking hedonism, which says that all that people pursue is pleasure, is false, for people do act for other motives. Philosophical hedonism, which says that all that people ought to seek is pleasure, is also false, for in some cases at least people would not wish to be able to act otherwise. Hedonism reduces to the triviality that people do what they want because they want to do it (84-6). The hedonistic principle is self-refuting, insofar as it cannot explain why someone proclaims that hedonism is true. The hedonistic conception of pleasure is out of touch with reality, insofar as it does not differentiate types of pleasure or satisfaction (86-9). As Scheler pointed out, only bodily pleasures can be pursued directly. Other pleasures "piggy back" on actions and are impeded by the attempt to intend them directly. Happiness involves what Spaemann calls a reference to reality. He explains this with the example of a person on a table, having pleasurable feelings induced electrically. However pleasant the person's condition, we would not change places, and this shows that pleasure as such is not what we want. Thus hedonism fails to bring the desired unity to willing (89-91).

Can a person be happy at the expense of others? Plato tried to show that an unjust person could not be happy, because he would be at variance with himself. Does Plato see a guaranteed connection between being good and being happy? Not in this life--think of the just man being crucified--but only in a life after death. Still, there is the polis, which can, so long as it preserves its own freedom and self-sufficiency, try to guarantee a connection between being good and being happy. But while Aristotle's theory of philosophical happiness influenced Stoicism and Christianity, his theory of civic happiness was not immediately influential, and its two moments or aspects were unfortunately split up. These aspects were the aspect of life (self-preservation, self-sufficiency, self-assertion), which Spaemann correlates with the later political right, and the aspect of the good life (self-fulfillment), which he correlates with the later political left (95-9).

The early modern period saw another attempt to treat happiness as something that could be practically achieved--Descartes' Combination of the Stoic ideal of contentment with the project of achieving all goods through science. However, Kant and Freud dispelled the notion that the progress of civilization brings happiness, and we are left with an antinomy(4) between self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment. This antinomy takes three forms. The first is: should we increase our needs or wants (with the sophists and with Rousseau's opponents), or lower them (with the Cynics, Stoics, Epicurus, and Rousseau himself)? The way out of the antinomy is to think in terms of nature, understood as specifying upper and lower bounds for our needs or requirements--a telos that is both a boundary and a goal (100-1). The second form is: should we seek euphoria, or simply (as Schopenhauer counsels) freedom from pain? Here Spaemann speaks in favor of achieving some sense or meaning (Sinn) in the present, as opposed to deferring all to the future; if we cannot achieve some sense in the present, it is pointless to work for it in the future (101-2). The third form is: is happiness a matter of adjusting to what is (cynicism), or of trying to change what is into something else (fanaticism)? Cynicism pays no attention to the issue of sense or meaning, while fanaticism tries to create Sense out of nothing. The way out is to pay attention to the good, understood not as the goal of a productive activity but as itself the immanent norm of conduct. Happiness only results from conduct that is itself grounded in happiness (102).

Philosophy is concerned with happiness, but it is not a science of happiness. Philosophy works with a conception of good that is constantly guiding and transforming life, but one that is nonetheless never actually achieved. Happiness is a concept of reflection (Reflexionsbegriff). It is not so much something to be achieved as something already present that we do not notice. Spaemann approves Wittgenstein's remark that only the person who lives not in time but in the present is happy. Recalling Aristotle's thesis that only a whole life can be judged to be happy, and facing the experience that we enjoy only a few happy moments in our lives, Spaemann sees these two claims as consistent: our moments of happiness are the moments when we see our lives as wholes. We are happy when we notice that we have been happy all along. Life is happiness, and to speak of a happy life is to utter a tautology (103).(5)


The core of Spaemann's philosophical project is to rehabilitate the concepts of nature, natural teleology, and natural right. This project is represented by the essays "Natur" (Nature), "Naturteleologie und Handlung" (Natural teleology and action), and "Die Aktualitat des Naturrechts" (The contemporary relevance of natural right).

As Spaemann notes, the term "nature" is highly ambiguous (19). At the risk of making his exposition seem more schematic than it is, we may distinguish five senses in which he uses the terms "nature" and "natural": (1) the nature of a species, and in particular our human nature, with its natural teleology; (2) the natural world, the biosphere or ecosystem; (3) that which is naturally right, as opposed to that which is naturally wrong; (4) merely natural process or natural development (Naturwuchsigkeit), that which happens of itself apart from human reason or decision; and (5) the state of nature, a state without effective or moral government. Nature in senses (1), (2), and (3) deserves our respect.(6) Nature in sense (4) is not subject to moral evaluation, nor is it a sufficient basis for moral evaluation. Humans are continually in danger of degenerating into nature in sense (5).(7)

Spaemann's view of nature is essentially Aristotelian. Nature and human being are complementary concepts, and human nature, that which is true of humans precisely not as a result of human positing, is what makes human action possible. Human willing presupposes a natural dynamic of drives (as in the Augustinian and Thomistic distinction between natural inclination and free will) (19-22). Anaxagoras, Plato, and Aristotle held that the concept of an end or goal, borrowed from the world of human action, enhanced our knowledge of nature. Aristotle thought that the regular generation of beings adapted to a goal could not be explained as the result of natural selection. It is difficult for us moderns even to reconstruct Aristotle's view, in which the telos is one moment of a complex causal structure within which causes and goals cannot be understood apart from one another (41-8).

The most important motive for the modern rejection of the teleological understanding of nature was the Christian theology of creation, which, instead of accepting nature as something ultimate, insisted on looking behind it for its origin. This led to the view that if there is art in nature, it is due not to nature itself but to the intention of God directing nature. Here Spaemann cites Aquinas's Fifth Way, which recognizes teleology but understands it as the direction of things by an intelligent and conscious being. For later thinkers such as Ockham and Buridan, the view that things have orientations intrinsic to themselves seems to conflict with the theological affirmation of the glory of God. Natural teleology comes to be considered a form of idolatry, and the mechanical view of the world is affirmed as a vindication of divine glory (23-4, 42-4).

A further motive for the rejection of natural teleology is found in the theological antitheses of nature versus grace and natural versus supernatural. These are attempts to adapt the classical distinction of nature (the given) and praxis (what humans do with the given) to the Pauline and Johannine affirmation that humans cannot, in their de facto condition, become what it is their tendency to become (23-4). These attempts lead to alterations in the concept of nature. Once nature is identified with the flesh and blood that cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, then praxis--at least praxis under the influence of grace--has nothing to do with nature. Albert the Great has the idea of nature as curving in on itself, and Aquinas has the quite un-Aristotelian idea of an immanent teleology (the natural desire for beatitude) that is incapable of reaching its end, because that end is infinite. Later scholastics, seeing that the end cannot be reached by the species as a whole, cease to call it a natural end. Sixteenth-century theologians criticize the notion of a natural desire for salvation as making grace something to which we would have a claim, rather than a free gift. To save the gratuity of salvation, they term the orientation to salvation supernatural (24-6). They speak of a system of pure nature, with grace as something added on top. But either nature is oriented toward something, and so has a claim on it, or nature is on its own. With the system of pure nature, human action falls on the side of nature, and the kingdom of grace loses inner necessity. Given the Enlightenment critique of revelation and the supernatural order, nature becomes the totality of what is, human action is, like nature, curved in on itself, and self-preservation becomes the key concept (27-9).

The denial of natural teleology also has the latent function of legitimating mastery over nature (22-3).(8) Bacon's claim that natural teleology is useless, and Hobbes's claim that imagining a thing is imagining what we can do with it when we have it, are the reverse of the sympathetic understanding of nature that marked the teleological out look. Science is no longer theoria, it is in the service of praxis (44-6). If you want to be free to treat a thing as you please, the question of the thing's natural orientation is disturbing, but if there is no such thing as a natural orientation, then nothing you do to a thing is violence against it (22-3). Tree, the older view also regarded humans as ruling over nature. But that was in the context of a hierarchical system of nature, in which it made sense, for example, for Socrates to say that the end of the shepherd's art was the good of the sheep--something that makes no sense on the modern view. The older view supposed an objective teleology in which things are ends not simply for themselves but in themselves. The modern view recognizes only ends for themselves, that is, the end of self-preservation. Modern biology and cybernetics recognize a sort of teleology, but they understand the telos in a purely functional way, as the self-preservation of a system (44-6).

Every speculative concept becomes dialectical when it is detached from its correlative. If nature is no longer seen as oriented toward fulfillment and transcendence, there are two ways to understand it. One is as a system of needs and powers that appears when we wipe away the effects of history and tradition. Then nature takes on an emancipatory function, as it did for the Greek sophists. The case of de Sade shows the problems with this naturalistic emancipation (2930). The other way is to understand nature as an original condition that precedes history. Then nature is a starting point for freedom, but freedom is a matter of getting beyond nature, as in Hobbes. Nature and humanity are in conflict. Thus Rousseau treats being human and being a citizen as mutually exclusive alternatives (30-3).

Kant was the first to work out the status of causal and teleological statements. In physics, he held, teleological statements were purely regulative. He took a different view of biology, however, for without teleology, biology would have no specific subject matter--which Kant thought it had, though he could not justify this view. Hegel then showed that the regulative function of principles was constitutive for knowledge in the concrete, but in the progress of the natural sciences people ignored Hegel's point. The vitalists were unable to show that teleology was more than an ad hoc hypothesis. The antiteleological view went even further in behaviorism, which tried to understand even human actions as nonteleological natural events. Yet the attempt to carry out the behaviorist program is itself a case of behavior that cannot be interpreted behavioristically (46-8). Contemporary systems theory and cybernetics represent a return to Aristotle, in that they recognize directed process, including adaptation to changed circumstances, but they also tend to describe this adaptation as the result of mechanical causal processes (48).

In the final pages of "Natur," Spaemann offers a series of philosophical theses about nature. Nature is a normative concept. We should speak not only, as modernity has often spoken, of liberation from nature, but also of the liberation of nature. Nature is not just a terminus a quo. It is also a standard that we can use to judge this or that development or terminus ad quem as natural, unnatural, or counternatural. When progressive domination over nature becomes an end in itself, we fall back into purely natural process (Naturwuchsigkeit). Only the remembering of nature as a standard of conduct makes it possible to get beyond nature (33). Spaemann invokes the Kantian distinction between nature in a formal sense (the inner principle of a thing) and nature in a material sense (the world of what is experienced). The two are closely allied: the system of what is (nature taken materially) is constituted by the tendencies or principles of the things that are (nature taken formally). But the law of nature taken materially is that nature taken formally constantly suffers violence. That is why emancipation can be understood both as freedom from nature and as freedom of nature. From the standpoint of nature in the material sense, no individual or species has a claim on the system; the question of justification does not arise (33-4).

If we do not accept the law of material nature as the last word (and Spaemann thinks that we do not), then we place ourselves in contrast with the system of nature (34-5). We face the choice between increasing our mastery over nature and freely remembering nature (35-7). Our consciousness of freedom in action discloses the contrast between ourselves and nature. The laws of nature are not subject to our influence. We rely on them for our ability to deal with the world and for the continuity of our own drives and intentions. Yet it is a mistake to abandon the viewpoint of action and to regard human action, which presupposes the determinacies of nature, as though it were itself simply part of nature. If human action is simply part of nature, then control of nature includes control of human beings. "Natural science, understood as a science of domination, is indifferent to the distinction between the human being and nature" (35). A human history that is simply a history of domination of nature is a purely natural history. The distinction of natural and unnatural has no place in it. From that point of view, concern for the ecosystem is groundless, because a garbage heap is as natural as a mountain spring, and even the destruction of the biosphere would be just one more natural phenomenon (34-6). We escape this objectionable understanding of nature only when we remember nature as itself, when we cease to think in terms of progressive domination and start to think in terms of a symbiosis of humans and nature. Our growing domination of nature is now threatening the human race itself. Instead of lessening human domination of humans, it expands both the necessity and the possibilities of such domination. The supposed emancipation from all historical ways of life tends to promote a functional approach to human beings, as in behaviorism. There are attempts to justify manipulation on the ground that humans are not really free and should be rationally directed. But freedom is not something left over from the subjugation of nature. The fundamental act of freedom is to let something be (Seinlassen), that is, not to subjugate it precisely when we could subjugate it. Natural beings get beyond nature only by mutual recognition, by mutually letting one another be (36-7).

In the latter part of "Naturteleologie und Handlung," Spaemann argues for the same basic point, but along somewhat different lines. He pleads for what he terms oratio obliqua, indirect discourse, that is, for standing back and considering our first order discourse about ends both linguistic-analytically and pragmatically. If we cannot prove the existence or the nonexistence of final causes, we can at least ask what we mean when we speak of ends or goals, and we can ask what interests of reason are involved in affirming or denying them. Then we may be able to determine where the burden of the argument lies, which is the crucial consideration in almost all philosophical questions (49).

We cannot understand our teleological statements so long as we assimilate them to statements of laws, understanding teleology as a sort of inverse causality (pulling instead of pushing). Teleological processes are also causal processes, but speaking of causal processes in teleological terms means understanding them as in some way like the structures of our human action. "Natural teleology is a hermeneutic of nature" (49). Applying this hermeneutic involves a merging of horizons at the risk of error and without the possibility of precise testable predictions. When we see someone running through a train station and there is no train, we cannot tell why the person is running simply by looking. We have to interpret the action. Teleological interpretations also presuppose the notion of a normal state. When we interpret the movements of fish in a net as attempts to escape, we are presupposing that it is normal for fish to swim freely. Normality, however, is not the same as statistical regularity. The fish are trying to get out of the net even if, statistically, very few do; and pain is not the normal human condition, even if most people are in pain (49-50).

The notion of natural ends brings us into an unclear zone between undirected causal processes, which are only interpreted by an external observer as attempts at self-preservation, and conscious intentions informing action. Someone may object that there are goals only when there is conscious action; but conscious action presupposes preconscious goals: our needs, drives, and impulses (50-1). System theory tries to explain such goals as epiphenomenal enhancements of a system. To articulate the processes whereby a system reproduces itself, however, system theory has to use the notion of a goal. A system is first of all a system for us. If we construe it as a system in itself, it is still we who call it something living and interpret it teleologically. Far from being able to reduce our life to nonteleological objectivity, we fred that we cannot talk about objectivity without bringing in teleology. To state a causal law, we need the notions of beginning states and end states. To get beyond statistical regularity to genuine causality, we need the notion of someone's intervening in or coming to grips with something (eingreifende Handlung) (51-2).

The interest that leads to forgetfulness of teleology is the interest in mastery of nature.(9) But there is a contrary interest, the interest in being able to understand ourselves both as natural beings and as acting beings. If we understand humans on the analogy of a nature that has itself not been understood on the analogy of humans, then humans, along with the rest of nature, are objects of manipulation (as in Skinner). Nature in itself leaves the problem of teleology open. "In the end, teleology is a postulate of reason, reason making sense" (53). Spaemann gives the Frankfurt School credit for acknowledging the role of teleology in the human case, but criticizes the school for not extending teleology to nature in general (52-6). He quotes Leo Strauss with approval: the answer to the question whether natural right makes any sense depends on how we interpret the motions of the planets.(10) We cannot really think of motion without the notion of an anticipation of what is to come. We can master motion with the help of calculus, analyzing the motion into an infinite number of discrete states; but calculus brings us back to the thinking subject. Leibniz saw that if we wish to think of something in motion as itself, we have to use the analogy with the subject (56-7). "One may call this anthropomorphism; but to renounce the anthropomorphic view of nature leads inevitably to the point where the human being itself becomes an anthropomorphism" (57).

"Die Aktualitat des Naturrechts" outlines the ethical and political implications of remembering nature and natural teleology.(11) Here Spaemann is writing as a political philosopher and not simply as a historian of ideas. He begins by vindicating the claim that there is such a thing as natural right. People argue about whether it makes any sense to speak of natural right, but that does not change the basic facts. People do distinguish good and bad conduct, good and bad laws. People also make judgments about cases in which their own interests are not involved, and even when their own interests are involved, they try to show that these interests are justified. Some people allege that these disputes count against there being something naturally right and wrong, but the fact of dispute counts the other way. Dispute over right and wrong is different from conflict between adversaries, and it is not the same as a negotiation that seeks compromise. Not that it is necessarily clear what is naturally right. The persistence of argument over what is naturally right, however, is evidence in favor of there being some such thing (60-1).

Negatively, natural right is not a set of values in the sense invoked in post-World War II German jurisprudence, a sort of metaconstitution for a judge to use in interpreting positive law. Such an appeal to a judge's values or to society's values is no less relativistic than the appeal to positive law and brings us no closer to what is naturally right (61-3).(12) In positive terms, the first demand of natural right is that people leave the state of nature. This is affirmed by Hobbes and Kant, and by Aristotle. Aristotle, however, says more: only in something like a polis can humans become selves and actualize what they are by nature. Here Spaemann borrows from his mentor, Joachim Ritter, who countered the contemporary suprahistorical notion of natural right, drawn from an abstract picture of human needs, by going back to Aristotle and looking to the concrete realities of life, institutions, and judicial practice.(13) But Aristotle's world is not our world. We have to see what divides us from Aristotle, and how the understanding of natural law as a set or table of values became inevitable (64). As Ritter saw it, Aristotelian natural right reconciles the rupture (Entzweiung, a Hegelian term with roots in Rousseau) between the social dimension and the personal ethical dimension, the dimension of "private" freedom. Aristotelian natural right is a hermeneutic of existing law with a view to reconciling these two. Spaemann basically accepts Ritter's interpretation, but thinks that its validity is limited to a phase of modernity that is now passing, a phase in which the "emancipatory" tendencies of modernity and a more traditional outlook were fairly evenly balanced. Now the "emancipatory" tendencies are gaining in strength.(14) Contemporary society tends to judge everything in terms of whether it meets some need or want (Bedurfnis), but this system based on needs or wants is not really natural. Needs and wants provide no criterion to judge among forms of life (Spaemann points to the Marquis de Sade); and if Rousseau is right that culture or civilization means stepping away from nature, then nothing in culture or civilization can provide a criterion to distinguish natural from unnatural needs or wants (64-6).

Modern science rejects teleology in order to seek control over nature. Of course the phenomena, the facts, resist this rejection of teleology, and so, to save the phenomena, we have a series of substitutes to do the work of teleology. These are two-world theories which distinguish between a realm of causes and a realm of ends, between is and ought, and between facts and values. These theories are residues of the preceding Aristotelian notion of entelechy, of a thing's having a telos within it (66-7). The powerful interest in mastery over nature is the source of the humans-versus-nature antithesis, which opposes the traditional symbiosis. Renewal of the teleological conception of nature today involves recognizing that taking mastery over nature as an end is itself a merely natural (naturwuchsig) phenomenon. The formula "more power over nature, no power over human beings" is terribly naive, for so long as mastery over nature is not guided by respect for teleology, it is bound to be mastery of humans as well (67-9).

At this point Spaemann turns to the Old Stoa. This may seem to be a detour, but Spaemann's aim is to argue for a concept of natural right that is more than logical consistency. The Stoic conception of natural right was circular: the rational will is supposed to want what is naturally right, but what is naturally right is the rule of reason.(15) Is living consistently with nature the same thing as living consistently, period? Can the reference to nature be eliminated without loss? Rousseau seems to have thought so. According to Rousseau, whether one chooses to be a natural human being or to be a denatured citizen is a matter of indifference. The essential point is that one not try to be both at the same time; the important thing is inner unity or consistency. If this is the correct view of natural right, if there is no reference back to nature, then the only norm we have is internal consistency within a sociopolitical system that is trying to maintain itself (as in Niklas Luhmann). But then we are just talking about the interests we may have in such and such a system. Normative talk about nature makes sense only with reference to a freely acting being. It cannot be reduced to talk about goals or systems of action; it has to do rather with presuppositions of action (69-72).

Rousseau and Kant believed in a preestablished harmony between the workings of nature and what is naturally right. This presupposes that whatever goes against natural right also works against the preservation of the system in question, and suggests that we could without loss eliminate talk about what is naturally right and wrong and confine ourselves to talk about what contributes to or detracts from the preservation of the system. But such an understanding is in error, for it presupposes that the system can be described without reference to its members' convictions about what is right (72-3). Natural right transcends systems, not as a metatheory over and against positive law and individual consciousness, but insofar as human action is more than simply a function within a system. Agents have a natural identity that is more than a product of sociopsychological processes. Living consistently, then, has to mean living consistently with nature.

How, then, can nature be a norm of action? Having argued for the necessity of a reference to nature, Spaemann then argues against the view that this reference can be unmediated, that it is a simple matter to look to nature and read off what is right. That view prescinds from human freedom and subjectivity. To say that nature simply gives, without mediation, a teleological conception of the human, telling us what makes a human being happy, would mean giving up the whole modern notion of a subject, as well as the whole linkage between happiness and freedom that has been constitutive of our conception of the subject since the start of Christianity. Imposed happiness is not happiness. A political eudaimonism that prescinded from freedom would be just a tyranny of the intellectuals who defined what happiness was--a parody of Plato's Republic (73-4). But if we cannot simply inspect human nature and read off the norm of what is naturally right, what sense does it make to speak of such a norm? It seems impossible in modernity to take nature as a norm without violating the claims of autonomy and subjectivity. Further, the being that acts still has to recognize the presuppositions of action before they can really count as presuppositions. Natural right is not something unmediated: "Even natural right is right only if it is willed" (74-5). Nevertheless, if we do not presuppose natural right, the alternative is to fall back into nature. According to Spaemann, "freedom has reality only as remembered nature, just as it only makes sense to talk about nature given the presupposition of freedom" (75).

There are two moments to natural right: the right to freedom and natural fight in the strict sense. The right to freedom is "the set of a priori conditions for mutual recognition and justification on the part of agents, that is, the conditions required, from the very nature of the case, for the formation of any kind of consensus" (75). Natural right in the strict sense is "concerned with those conditions of action that are presupposed in all formation of consensus and that can be violated only at the cost of self-destruction" (75). The distinction between the two is not so clearly explained as it might be, but this much at least is clear, that for Spaemann natural right in the strict sense introduces a reference to nature and the natural conditions of human existence that goes beyond the right to freedom. He criticizes the attempt to separate the fight to freedom from its natural conditions, on the ground that this leads to the utopian conception of "masterless communication" (herrschaftsfreie Kommunication). This conception ignores the conditions that enable some people to dominate others, such as skill in speaking, stamina, possession of information, being on the scene, and the fact that decisions have to be made within limits of time. The utopian conception results from the attempt to have the right to freedom without accepting natural right in the strict sense (74-5).(16)

Natural right is not a catalogue of norms or a metaconstitution. It is a mode of thought that tests legitimations of action. Its basic premise is that the notion of a total freedom in opposition to nature is illusory. Our only choice is whether to remember nature, bearing it in mind as we act, or to forget it and to fall back into it (78).


Given Spaemann's view of natural teleology as a hermeneutic, and his view of natural right as a mode of thought rather than as a table of values, it would be a mistake to construe his positions on practical questions as strict logical deductions from his views on nature, natural teleology, and natural right. Nonetheless his appeal to pragmatics invites the question, Where does "remembering nature" lead us?

At the close of the essay on natural right, Spaemann sketches three practical applications of natural-right thinking. The first is respect for the environment. In opposition to the utopian view that all damage to the environment can be remedied by further technical measures, natural right requires that human freedom respect its natural conditions, including the environment. Natural-law thinking does not yield a list of prescriptions and prohibitions, but enjoins a certain style or procedure for thinking about environmental issues, namely, to shift the burden of the argument to the side of those who favor expansionist measures (75-6). A second application goes against genetic manipulation. We cannot legitimately make the biological form of future human beings the object of our own willing, for we lack legitimate criteria to do so (76). Again the burden of the argument falls on those who would manipulate nature, and in this case Spaemann finds that the burden cannot be met.

A third application concerns the moral implications of biological humanity. We might conceivably determine who is a subject of rights and duties on the basis of someone's contribution to society. But then the Indians of the Amazon Basin would have no claim to recognition, and the citizens of Brazil would be free to exterminate them, for they make no contribution to the Brazilian system. On the other hand, we might accord recognition on the basis of possession of reason and freedom, excluding the unborn, the very young, and the mentally ill. But it is difficult if not impossible to specify the criterion or criteria of freedom; and it is circular to use freedom as a criterion of recognition. For freedom is not a bare fact independent of recognition, but something that arises within a context of recognition.(17) The third possibility is to take membership in the human biological species as the criterion for recognition as a subject of rights and duties. Spaemann does not try to validate this third approach directly, but argues that it is at least not open to the objections that hold against the first and the second (76-8).(18)

The issue in "Moral und Gewalt" (Morality and force), first delivered in 1970, is whether individuals are ever justified in using violent means to resist the power of government and to bring about political change. Spaemann begins with Kant's arguments against revolution. Kant distinguishes between a state's being rechtlich, a system in which there are laws and they are enforced, and its being rechtsmaBig, a system in which the laws are just. The former represents, independently of the latter, both the departure from the state of nature and the condition of possibility for any deliberate progress toward the latter. Violent revolution cannot be justified, because it does away with the legal order--the subject that the revolution was supposed to have improved and the necessary context for moral justification (159-65). The attempt to legitimate force morally amounts to justification of means by ends; but moral justification cannot be teleological, even if the end in question is a moral one. Illegal force amounts to return to the state of nature (169-73).

In the main Spaemann follows Kant, but he recognizes three cases in which an authority has itself caused a return to the state of nature and the victims may be justified in using force: the state's suppression of free criticism (174-5), the denial of peacetime emigration (175-6), and the legal or constitutional impossibility of improving the laws in the direction of reducing discrimination (176-8). He then argues that morality in warfare is not a matter of refusing to defend oneself but of how one defends oneself. The first rule is not to use right and wrong as weapons of war. The enterprise of moral justification presupposes the distinction between discourse and force, and resort to force means abandoning that enterprise. People who exert revolutionary force against society should not make moral claims on society (178-80). Of its very nature force is something mechanistic. Resort to force means the right of the stronger and represents the failure of reason. One may look on force as the midwife of a new age, but all that really means is that the new age will be one more variation on the old (180-1).

One might question the relevance of "Moral und Gewalt" to the American context, which has been marked less by revolutionary violence than by nonviolent civil disobedience, in which those who violate the law do so in a way that underlines their fundamental allegiance to the legal system. The relevance of the essay, "Unter welchen Umstanden kann man noch von Fortschritt sprechen?" (Under what conditions can we still talk about progress?) is more obvious. Spaemann distinguishes two types of progress: A-progress, in which a given development is only justified as a step on the way to a goal; and B-progress, an actual improvement in the life of an organism, a human being, or a society. A-progress presupposes a fairly clear distinction between means and ends, whereas in B-progress means and ends tend to blend together. The model of A-progress is the manufacture of a product. The model of B-progress is the development of a living thing. For human life to make sense, A-progress has to be subordinated to B-progress, or at least A-progress ought not to occur at the expense of B-regression (130-4).

Since the eighteenth century, there has been a tendency to speak of "progress" in the singular, with the human race as its subject, but we should not be taken in by this talk. Tree, history has seen a development in the stock of available information and the possibilities of mastering nature, first through writing, then through printing, now through data processing. As the ecological crisis suggests, however, this is not progress without qualification (135-7). First, there is a disproportion between the scientific subsystem and the social system taken as a whole. The case of Marx illustrates this point. Marx looked forward to a period of A-progress leading to the classless society. Once that goal was reached a new period of B-progress would begin, in which increasing mastery of nature by science would bring about substantive improvements in human life. Marx was assuming that scarcity could be overcome, but now we know that scarcity cannot be overcome. We have no prospect of an A-progress leading to the overcoming of scarcity, only of B-progress. Science cannot provide a standard by which to measure progress. Insofar as science prescinds from teleology, it cannot tell us what anything is good for. Advances in science and technology are not the same thing as progress tout court (138-41).

Second, the whole idea of scientific progress is in crisis. Modern science, guided by interests in mastery of nature and in emancipation from nature, has tended to wipe out mind, life, feeling, willing--anything anthropomorphic--and to reconstruct living things, even human beings, on the model of a dead nature, so as to objectify and control them. From this point of view, the goal of progress would be computerized euphoria. If we reject that outcome, then we have to take the term "progress" in a more modest sense. We have to stop talking about universal A-progress toward a goal (A-progress in the singular), and talk about B-progress, that is, improvement(s) in the lives of human beings who are already goals in being (142-5).

Third, the concept of emancipation has broken down. There is a tendency, especially in biology, to suppose that evolution is a process of increasing complexity, and that the human race is one stage in this progress, a stage destined to be superseded as humans become superfluous. But that would not be progress, because there would be no conscious subject of the supposed progress. Such a future situation has no claim on us, as though we ought to work to make it a reality. Further, if we are told that we ought to abandon such notions as "better" and "worse" as archaic, it is not clear why we ought to do anything (145-6).

Fourth, scientific knowledge has become so vast and differentiated that it cannot be mastered by a single conscious subject. This is not progress. (Neither is the acceleration of the tempo of life to the point where people in the second half of their lives cannot understand their world.) This so-called progress of science is really the advance of particular interests, and it is better to recognize these interests than to suppose that some entity called science demands great expenditures to learn this or that (147-8).

There is a kind of knowledge that gives its possessors the power to control other humans. It is not enough for this knowledge to be under democratic control. That just means that whoever democratically controls the knowledge can use it. An increase of technological control means a decrease in the concrete freedom of coming generations. Nature is turning out not to be an inexhaustible reservoir of resources. The only genuinely progressive approach is to let nature be. The notion of progress in the singular has become an instrument of human self-alienation, standing in the way of progresses in the plural. We have to give it up (148-50).

"Sein und Gewordensein. Was erklart die Evolutionstheorie?" (Being and having come to be: what does evolutionary theory explain?) discusses the implications of evolutionary theory for human self-understanding. Evolutionary theory acknowledges human subjectivity but construes it functionally, as an evolutionary adaptation or means of survival. This is circular: the person who claims that subjectivity is a means of survival is making a truth claim, not just employing a means of survival. Still, when people today speak about subjectivity, they tend to presuppose that our ordinary language is only preliminary to a scientific language that can do without talk of subjectivity. But this scientific language is not an adequate translation of our ordinary language. For example, "good" as we use it cannot really be translated into the functional "good for..." Evolutionary theory can reconstruct the basic contents of human ethics in functional terms, but it cannot derive the form of ethics, its unconditional character, or the nonrelational sense of "good" (191-5). Human subjectivity and moral awareness have indeed developed under certain evolutionary conditions, but they are themselves unconditioned. We have at least three kinds of awareness that cannot be explained as adaptations for survival: the experience of pain as something that ought not to be the case, the awareness of the other as other, and the conception of the absolute (196-200).

Evolutionary theory does not regard evolution as moving in a predetermined direction, and some people think that the thesis of directionless evolution undermines human awareness of the self as an end. Spaemann disagrees. Our awareness of the self as an end in itself is not awareness of the human species as an end in itself, and it does not depend on whether the human species is the end of a teleological process oriented to produce it. Human dignity is rooted in what Spaemann calls acosmism, namely, the human ability to reflect, to distance oneself from natural ends, and to accept or reject them (200-2). The scientific paradigm of evolution is essentially neutral as regards human self-understanding. The ideology of evolutionism is another matter. This Spaemann explains by contrasting "evolution" and the older term "descent." To speak of descent supposes that ancestor and descendant are distinct. To speak of evolution suggests that some one thing is evolving and taking on different forms. Evolutionism understands everything as a state of an underlying substrate, and that conflicts with our self-understanding, for we cannot understand ourselves as properties of something else (203-4).

The essay "Funktionale Religionsbegrundung und Religion" (The functional explanation of religion and religion itself) criticizes the attempts of social-scientific functionalism to understand religion. Functionalism tries to understand forms of behavior not by treating human motives or intentions as irrelevant, but by situating them within a further horizon that abstracts from them. It tends to Construe actions and practices as having the latent function of preserving a group or a situation (for example, a rain dance as strengthening the unity of a group). Developed to interpret behavior in foreign cultures, functionalism becomes a problem when applied to its own culture, because articulating the functionalist interpretation undoes the latency of the function (209-13). That does not make much difference for elementary cases like eating and having sex, but it does affect social contexts such as meals and love relations. In the cases of passion, artistic and aesthetic experience, and scientific activity, the functional interpretation is just incommensurable with the subject's self-interpretation, though not necessarily incompatible with it. But in philosophy, moral experience, and religion, functional interpretation is incompatible with self-understanding. A functional interpretation of philosophy is the end of philosophy. A functional interpretation of ethics, an interpretation of ethics in nonmoral terms, is equivalent to the destruction of ethics (213-18). A functional interpretation of religion is a relativization of the absolute, and that is equivalent to its disappearance. One may try to interpret religion as a way of preserving society, but for a religious person society itself is not something ultimate. One may try to interpret religion as a way of mastering contingency, but that is too general and too external to be an adequate interpretation of religion. Religions of creation, at least, even heighten the problem of contingency by taking the world as a whole to be a contingent fact. There is a sense in which religion is concerned with self-preservation, but thematizing this function is not the core of religion (218-24).

Spaemann thinks that religion does have a function: it gives human dignity content. It "keeps things open," in opposition to liberalism, collectivism, and perfectionisms without a conception of the good (224-5). But religion can only perform this function if it is understood in categories compatible with its own self-understanding. The Christian religion can only be interpreted in ontological categories; functional categories are not an adequate replacement. We can ask, for instance, about the function of belief in eternal life for human conduct, without being committed to this belief. Religion, however, is a matter of taking eternal life as real. The presupposition of modern science ("even if there were no God") has been fruitful for science, but when applied to religion it tends to destroy its object, for religion looks at the world precisely under the aspect of divinity. A scientific understanding of religion apart from belief in God is like a solipsistic theory of love. If philosophy of religion is not to misconstrue its object, it has to be religious philosophy, a "theory of the absolute" (2259).


The essay "Ende der Modernitat?" (An end to modernity?) pulls together many of the themes of Philosophische Essays. The term "modern" often conveys the notion of superseding what went before, of emancipating humankind from its previous condition. If we take modernity in this sense, then the end of modernity seems to mean the failure of this project and regression to what was before. It need not mean this, though, if we grant two assumptions: that modernity has achievements that deserve to be protected, and that the end of modernity does not mean giving up these achievements. Spaemann grants these assumptions, and hopes to protect these achievements against the self-destructive tendencies of modernity itself (232-4).

Modernity has seven characteristics: (1) It understands freedom as emancipation from something rather than as the ability to move toward something (234-5). (2) It believes in the myth of necessary and unending progress toward an optimal point (235-7). (3) Its paradigm of progress is natural science, understood as an instrument for progressive domination of nature (237-8). (4) It posits a sharp distinction between subject and object. Modernity does not recognize ends as immanent in objects, but regards objects simply as means to human ends. When humans themselves become objects of science, they too are objectified, and humanity is reduced to a mere anthropomorphism (238-40). (5) It takes scientific experiment as the paradigm of experience in general. Modernity does not recognize what does not fit into this type of experience, for example, substantial change or miracles (240-2). (6) It treats everything as hypothetical, and so is disinclined to make definite truth claims (242-4). (7) It believes in the unity of humanity, but this universalism is naturalistic. The only arguments modernity recognizes are arguments from human needs, so that religion, for example, is only justified insofar as it meets human needs. This kind of thinking rules out any unconditioned reality (244-7).

Modernity has always been accompanied by a critique of modernity. There were always doubts about the domination of nature, and criticisms of reductionism and of the deformation of the human reality, and so on. What is new in our day is that ecological awareness has thrown into question the very possibility of objectifying and mastering nature. The Marxist utopia of overcoming scarcity was emblematic of modernity. Now this utopia is dead, and with it the concept of unitary world progress. These are signs that the kind of consciousness that is typical of modernity is coming to an end (247-9). Ecological awareness knows that mastery of nature takes place in a context that binds subject and object together. This awareness throws modernity into crisis, but the crisis is ambiguous. It may mean a revival of respect and letting be (Seinlassen) in the face of what is. But it may also lead to a universal utilitarian program of optimization, an attempt to solve all the problems of the world through central planning (249-53).

The reduction of experience to planned experiment is over. The experimental type of experience has been relativized. The popular interest in all sorts of other forms of experience is a symptom of the crisis of modernity. But again the crisis is ambiguous. These other forms of experience may be assigned their own niches or commercialized. The experience that cannot be homogenized, however, is the experience of the world as a limited totality, of persons, things, and situations, as unique and unrepeatable. Such an experience does not contradict experimental reason, but the two are incommensurable. An integral view of experience has to include the unconditioned: the religious, the moral, and the artistic. That is the only way to protect the achievements of modernity (253-5).

Science may be hypothetical, but the ecological consequences of our actions are not hypothetical. Religion and ethics have always recognized that there was something irreversible about our actions, but now it is clear, at the ecological level, that we cannot count on "mother" nature to reverse the effects of our actions. Instead of modern probabilism, with its doctrine that in doubtful cases we should stand for freedom, we need a new tutiorism that is risk averse on the large issues, though open to risk on lesser social and political issues, precisely in order to avert larger risks. Once again, however, there is ambiguity. Even in the ecological movement there are functionalist tendencies, tendencies to treat the patrimony of the earth, nonhuman life, and even human life in the womb, as means to satisfy the needs or wants of the current generation (255-7).

Naturalistic universalism is also in crisis. Consensus is not an adequate standard to tell us what is right by nature. Naturalistic universalism tried to neutralize particularity in the name of universality. It tried to do away with particular normative convictions, in favor of a common minimum based on the requirements of abstract human nature. These attempts have failed (257-9). Spaemann closes with a fanciful illustration based on Mozart's The Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night does not go along with enlightenment, and Sarastro, the incarnation of totalitarian modernity, orders her liquidation. The Queen survives, however, only unreconciled. Modern rationality had pretensions to reconcile the other, but it has not reconciled the other, nor has it recognized that the magic flute itself is a gift of the Queen of the Night. If only the Queen and Sarastro would come to an understanding and get married! This is not a prediction. As Spaemann admits, he has given an improbable tale an even more improbable ending (259-60).

An adequate evaluation of Spaemann's thought must be based on the full range of his work.(19) The evaluation offered here, based as it is on the Philosophische Essays, is preliminary and tentative.

Spaemann is not an easy thinker to categorize. He is an assiduous student of modernity, but (to borrow a distinction from Charles Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity) he does not fit easily either among the "boosters" or among the "knockers" of modernity. He thinks that we can, indeed must, pick and choose among the many elements that go to make up modernity, rejecting or revising some precisely to protect others. One might have expected Spaemann to elaborate an ethical system, but his conception of philosophy precludes system building. He sees philosophy as an ongoing conversation. His ethics is dialectical and ad hominem. He aims to expose error, to foster certain attitudes and habits of thought (the hermeneutic of nature, the remembering of nature, the alertness to teleology, the denial of teleological justification, the critique of hedonism, the insistence on present sense, mindfulness of the distinction between A-progress and B-progress, and so on), rather than to posit first principles and to deduce conclusions.

Spaemann's thinking is suggestive and full of promise. Theorists of natural law in the Anglo-Saxon world have in recent years been divided by the controversy over the so-called new natural law theory of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Joseph Boyle. At its root this is a controversy about the meaning or meanings of nature, the meaning or meanings of reason, and the relations between nature and reason. With his nuanced understanding of nature and of the workings of practical moral reason, Spaemann has something to contribute to this debate.(20) If Spaemann's style of ethical reflection (the hermeneutic of nature, and so on) can take us beyond the all too familiar dichotomies of deontological ethics versus consequentialist ethics, of Kantian versus utilitarian ethics, that would be a gust of fresh air both for metaethics and for applied ethics. Of course the question whether Spaemann's ethical reflection fulfills these conditions can only be answered after an examination of his other works, especially Gluck und Wohlwollen(21) and Personen.(22) In North America today, the discussion of human responsibility for the natural environment and the discussion of human life issues such as genetic engineering, abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide tend to proceed in separation from one another. Many people hold fairly strict views of our obligations in some of these areas but fairly permissive views of our obligations in others. Spaemann maintains that our stance toward the biosphere and our stance toward the members of our own species are two sides of the same coin. This claim needs more argument, but the linkage between respect for the environment and respect for even the weakest members of the human species deserves attention.

Philosophische Essays leaves some unfinished business. For Spaemann, merely natural processes do not ground moral claims, but as we act we have to be mindful of our nature; natural right is not a list of duties but a way of reading nature; we have a duty not to fall back into the state of nature; we ought to treat the natural world with reverence; and so on. The relations among these different senses of nature and the natural need to be worked out in a more systematic way than takes place in the Philosophische Essays. Spaemann asserts that we have knowledge of right and wrong, but also that philosophy does not yield final definitive truths. The relation between these two claims needs to be clarified. The same is true for the claims that ethical thinking has to bear natural teleology in mind but that moral justification cannot be teleological. The distinction between the right to freedom and natural right in the strict sense could also stand clarification. The thesis of a worldwide and possibly terminal ecological crisis is an important element in Spaemann's case that modernity is over and that humanity needs an outlook that is more respectful of nature, but nowhere in Philosophische Essays does he attempt to substantiate the claim that there is such a crisis. Perhaps this thesis is taken for granted in European philosophical circles, but I am not sure that the same is true in North America. This side of Spaemann's argument needs more work.

Spaemann often combines historical narrative and philosophical argument. Yet none of his books or essays gives his reading of Western philosophy as a whole, or even of modernity, in the way that The Closing of the American Mind presents Allan Bloom's reading, or that Sources of the Self presents Charles Taylor's reading, or that A Short History of Ethics, After Virtue, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry allow us to trace the development of Alasdair MacIntyre's reading. If Spaemann himself, or someone thoroughly familiar with his work, were to weave from his many studies a single connected narrative, its wealth of detail and persuasive power might win for Spaemann's insights and arguments the wider attention and closer scrutiny that they certainly deserve.(.23) Correspondence to: Philosophy Department, Boston College, Carney Hall, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167-3806.

(1) Robert Spaemann, Philosophische Essays (hereafter, "PE"), 2d. ed. (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1994). All references appearing in parentheses in the text are to this work. All translations from this work are my own.

(2) Spaemann's Moralische Grundbegriffe (Munich: Beck, 1982) is available in English as Basic Moral Concepts, trans. Timothy J. Armstrong (London and New York: Routledge, 1989). Four of Spaemann's essays are also available in English: "Remarks on the Problem of Equality," Ethics 87 (197-677): 363-9; "Side-effects as a Moral Problem," trans. Frederick S. Gardiner, in Contemporary German Philosophy, ed. Darrel E. Christensen, Manfred Riedel, Robert Spaemann, Reiner Wiehl, and Wolfgang Wieland, vol. 2 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983), 138-51; "Remarks on the Ontology of `Right' and `Left,'" Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 10, no. 1 (1984): 89-97; and "Is Every Human Being a Person?" trans. Richard Schenk, O.P., The Thomist 60 (1996): 463-74.

(3) Spaemann evaluates the emancipation brought about by modernity both positively, as a recognition and expansion of freedom, and negatively, as a disregard of norms of good and evil. In the latter sense he speaks of the Marquis de Sade as a figure of naturalistic emancipation (PE, 29-30), and of the National Socialist period in Germany as an era of radical emancipation (PE, 65).

(4) An alternative or disjunction of two abstractions; see PE, 102.

(5) More on Spaemann's conception of philosophy may be found in "Philosophie als institutionalisierte Naivitat," Philosophisches Jahrbuch 81 (1974): 139-42.

(6) Spaemann maintains that attentiveness to natural teleology is essential to ethical thinking, but he also insists that moral justification cannot be teleological in a utilitarian or consequentialist sense, a justification of means by ends. He discusses this point at length in "Uber die Unmoglichkeit einer universalteleologischen Ethik," Philosophisches Jahrbuch 88 (1981): 70-89. Spaemann is particularly critical of the tendency of some Roman Catholic moral theologians to give up the classical notion of teleology in favor of a utilitarian approach to moral justification; see "Uber die Unmoglichkeit," 88-9, and PE, 253.

(7) The key issue for Spaemann is not whether the state of nature was a historical fact or a theoretical construct, but the practical issue of political philosophy: how do we keep from degenerating into a state of nature?

(8) A latent function of a belief is a consequence of the belief, but a consequence that the person holding the belief does not intend and of which he or she may not even be aware; see PE, 209-13.

(9) See PE, 22-3 and 44-6, discussed above.

(10) Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 8. In this English version, Strauss cites Aristotle, Physics 2.4.196a25ff, and 2.8.199a3-5.

(11) I translate Naturrecht as "natural right" rather than "natural law" in order to preserve the connection between Naturrecht and das von Natur Rechte, "that which is right by nature" or "that which is naturally right" (see PE, 60-1).

(12) See also PE, 78.

(13) Ritter's interpretation of Aristotelian natural right may be found in the essay ">Naturrecht< bei Aristoteles," in his Metaphysik und Politik. Studien zu Aristoteles und Hegel (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1969), 133-79.

(14) Spaemann understands the period of German National Socialism as a period in which a movement of "radical emancipation" was dominant, and the fifteen years after World War II as merely a breathing space before the current (the essay first appeared in 1973) renewal of the tendency toward radical emancipation.

(15) Spaemann says that this circularity is also found in the Christian conception of natural right, and that it is the source of the current (1973) crisis in Catholic circles over natural right.

(16) This is a criticism of Jurgen Habermas's discourse ethics. More on this point can be found in Spaemann's essay, "Die Utopie der Herrschaftsfreiheit," Merkur 26 (1972): 735-52, in Habermas's reply "Die Utopie des guten Herrschers," Merkur 26 (1972): 1266-73, and in Spaemann's rejoinder, 1273-8. All three pieces are reprinted in Spaemann's Zur Kritik der politischen Utopie (Stuttgart: Klett, 1977), 104-41. For an account of Habermas's discourse ethics, see David M. Rasmussen, Reading Habermas (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1990), 56-74.

(17) For an elaboration of this point, see Paul W. McNellis, S.J., "The Family and the Analogy of Gratitude: The Role of the Family in Johannes Messner's Thought" (Ph.D. diss., Boston College, 1993), especially chapter 4. McNellis argues that gratitude, specifically gratitude for all that we receive in the context of family, is the way to what Spaemann terms remembering nature.

(18) Does Spaemann have to argue directly for the third approach? He might well answer no. At PE, 8 he says that certain things, such as that good is one thing and evil another, are simply given. People know these things even as children. They do not really have to be taught them. What they have to do is not let themselves be talked out of them.

(19) A bibliography of Spaemann's published work to 1987 is found in Oikeiosis: Festschrift fur Robert Spaemann, ed. Reinhard Low (Weinheim: Acta Humaniora, 1987), 321-39.

(20) Ulrich Steinvorth sees Finnis and Spaemann as representing two species of what he calls "classical ethics," with Finnis standing for a plurality of basic values and Spaemann standing for a single basic value: the life of reason and freedom. See his Klassische und moderne Ethik. Grundlinien einer materialen Moraltheorie (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1990), 122-33.

(21) Gluck und Wohlwollen (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1989). Jeremiah Alberg, S.J. is preparing an English translation of this work.

(22) Personen: Versuche uber den Unterschied zwischen >etwas< und >jemand< (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1996).

(23) Prof. Spaemann received an honorary doctorate at the Catholic University of America on 7 October 1995. The address that Richard Schenk, O.P. delivered on that occasion is an excellent introduction to Spaemann's work as a whole. It deserves prompt publication and wide readership.

This article has been much improved by the comments and suggestions of Jeremiah Alberg, S.J., Andrew Krivak, S.J., Alasdair MacIntyre, J. Patrick Mohr, S.J., James Swindal, and especially Paul McNellis, S.J.

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1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

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Robert Spaemann's 'Philosophische Essays.'


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