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The Thomist 68 (2004): 507-29 WHAT IS NATURAL LAW? HUMAN PURPOSES AND NATURAL ENDS ROBERT SOKOLOWSKI The Catholic University ofAmerica Washington, DC ETHICS IN GENERAL, and medical ethics in particular, are obviously related to human self-understanding, to what we could call philosophical and theological anthropology. Our understanding of what is ethical and unethical is connected to what we take ourselves to be. The relationship, however, is not one-sided. It is not the case that we could work out a comprehensive description or definition of human nature as a purely theoretic enterprise and then apply this knowledge to practical issues, the way we might work out some ideas in mathematics and then apply them to problems in engineering and physics.1 Rather, the working out of the definition and description of human nature is at the same time the formulation of what we ought to be as human beings, because the good or perfected state of man, which is the issue for ethics, is what defines human being. The normative is also the definitional. We cannot describe what man is without specifying the human good, without showing what it is to be a good (and consequently "happy") man. To want one of these dimensions without the other would be like wanting to study physiology, whether human orsimply animal, withoutmentioning health and its various contraries, such as illness, injury, and impairment. 1 Even in mathematics, the relationship of theory and practice is not one-sided. Many innovations in mathematics arise from real problems of computation, not from abstract mathematics. The stimulus to mathematical thinking often lies in real-world questions. 507 508 ROBERT SOKOLOWSKI But human nature is more complicated than physiology. There are few disagreements about what constitutes health and sickness, but there are many opinions about what constitutes human excellence. As Aristotle says, we all agree on a name for human happiness, but we disagree very much on what makes it up.2 Still, the fact that we have at least a name in common is important; it shows that we start with some common ground in this domain. We may differ about the what of happiness, but not about the that, nor do we differ on the fact that we want and need to be happy. The reason we can argue about these differences is that they all pertain to one and the same quest and target. The just man and the hedonist might act very differently, but in some sense they are aiming at the same thing. We are all concerned not just about living but about living well, not just about life but about the good life, and this little difference, between living and living well, greatly complicates the human condition. In fact, it makes it to be the human condition. When we say that man is a rational animal, we do not just mean that he is an animal that calculates and draws inferences; we mean, more substantially, that he is an animal that is concerned about living well and not just living. I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ENDS AND PuRPOSES To explore this complexity of human beings, I wish to discuss the difference between ends and purposes. The distinction has been formulated by Francis Slade, in a striking modern recapitulation of classical philosophical ideas.3 An end, atelos, belongs to a thing in itself, while a purpose arises only when there are human beings. Purposes are intentions, something we wish for and are deliberating about or acting to achieve. Ends, in contrast, are there apart from any human wishes 2 Aristode, Nicomacbean Ethics 1.4. 3 See Francis Slade, "On the Ontological Priority of Ends and Its Relevance to the Narrative Arts," in Beauty, Art, and the Polis, ed. Alice Ramos (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 58-69; and "Ends and Purposes," in Final Causality inNatureandHumanAffairs, ed. RichardHassing(Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 83-85. HUMAN PURPOSES AND NATURAL ENDS 509 and deliberations. They are what the thing is when it has reached its best state, its perfection and completion in and for itself. Ends and purposes are both goods, but goods of...


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