THE CHAMPIONS OF NATURAL LAW,
This review is from: Plato's modern enemies and the theory of natural law (Hardcover)With the current strong renaissance of Natural Law thinking, John Wild, a Harvard University philosopher, is worth the closest study as he here gives us what is effectively an advanced lecture course in natural law philosophy from Plato and Aristotle to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. If you can put a meaning to terms like 'epistemology' and 'ontology' and 'natural law' whilst reading then this book is for you. However, John Wild writes so clearly that anyone with a strong interest in any of the individual philosophers covered will benefit from just the one or two chapters of relevance. Anyone wanting the short course can safely jump in and read just Part Two, p.103-172.
The key philosophers discussed: Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Aquinas, Hooker, Grotius, Thomas Paine, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke. The first seven are shown to be standard NL theorists according to Wild's own canonical five-point rule. Hobbes and Locke are tested and proved to not to be NL believers: Hobbes fails drastically; Locke fails in the ambiguities of his free use of the term Natural Law, hence his mistaken inclusion in the pantheon by some moderns--having the term but not the concept. Wild's own technical definition of NL is given as: 'a universal pattern of action, applicable to all men everywhere, required by human nature itself for its completion'. These deceptively bland-sounding terms are carefully developed.
As the title suggests, Plato receives the lion's share of the space, as he is shown to be the first to construct an analytical Natural Law theory; the canonical test is drawn out of Plato and given for checking later theorists for goodness of fit as NL philosophers. (Stoics are generally given the credit as they use the term freely, but they followed Aristotle and laid no new foundations. C.S. Lewis in his famous short work, 'The Abolition of Man' (1943), also clearly credits Plato as the first Western NL philosopher in chapter one. This is the classic literary approach to NL.) Plato is rarely given credit for being the originator of NL theory as he has the concept but rarely uses the term, and it is a major theme of his thought as opposed to a theory direct.
Errors perpetrated on Plato by modern interpreters such as the theologian Niebuhr and the British politician Richard H.S. Crossman are explored. Sir Karl Popper's neo-positivist, 'The Open Society and Its Enemies', gets the sharpest trouncing (rather amusing if you give way to Schadenfreude). Plato is soundly defended against the usual modernist charges, as: irrational dogmatist, militarist, totalitarian, racist, and reactionary defender of a closed society. The general subjectivism and the modern relativistic separation of fact and value are briefly analysed as the root causes of the misunderstandings.
Five current misconceptions of NL are then considered in detail.
A. NL as dubious inferential teleology (ie, the shallow scientist's attack: the universe is mechanism but we do not and cannot know the meaning...but then science is just a bag of tools).
B. NL as a vague and indeterminate moral standard (ie, the sociologist/anthropologist attack: everyone believes differently...but they don't).
C. NL as confused with descriptive or prescriptive law (The commonest attack, ie, the confusion between factual scientific laws and the values that are totally separate from them; cf. naive Kantian dualism.)
D. NL as a naturalistic fallacy (ie, reductionism, if you break something down to simple parts meaning disappears, therefore there is no meaning. And the inadequacy of negative definitions.)
E. NL as a reactionary force in history. (ie, the Marxist error, NL prevents progress. But there has to be fixed goal or you can't score goals.)
The theory of NL and its history in the West. NL as moral realism; existence and value; five related meanings of the term Nature (phusis); the central tradition of NL phil. (The early Stoics; Marcus Aurelius; Thomistic ethics and the NL; the moral phil. of Richard Hooker; Hugo Grotius; and Thomas Paine.) Two modern deviations: Thomas Hobbes; and John Locke. Each of the schools/individuals is carefully shown to fit or not fit the NL canonical pattern.
Chapter 5 covers Plato as the founder of moral realism and NL phil. A detailed twenty-page analysis, a good way to get your arms round Plato as a thinker as it draws widely from the dialogues and major works to illustrate this central unifying theme. Good on the ontological foundation of Platonic ethics. Rounded off with three derived moral principles: A) universality of moral law, B) norms grounded on Nature; C) the good for Man as the realization of human nature.
Chapter 6 covers the Aristotelian theory of NL. Particularly good chapter (helpful if you ever struggled with Book 1 of the 'Nicomachean Ethics'!). Aristotle is shown to extend, refine, systematize Plato's system, retaining the canonical form. The ontological foundations of Aristotelian ethics are very close to Plato's:
A. Nature as a normative world order.
B. N. as the eidetic structure of finite entities.
C. N. as formally determined tendency.
D. N. as the correct ordering of incipient tendency.
E. N. as existential fulfilment (roll over JPS).
Also covers: the concept of Nature in Aristotle; and, derived moral principles, cf Plato's above.
All in all an astoundingly dense and rich analysis and rehabilitation of Plato as moral thinker.
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