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Intractable Disputes about the Natural Law

Alasdair MacIntyre and Critics

edited by Lawrence S. Cunningham

Publication Year: 2009

Both as cardinal and as Pope Benedict XVI, one of Josef Ratzinger’s consistent concerns has been the foundational moral imperatives of the natural law. In 2004, then Cardinal Ratzinger requested that the University of Notre Dame study the complex issues embedded in discussions about “natural rights” and “natural law” in the context of Catholic thinking. To that end, Alasdair MacIntyre provided a substantive essay on the foundational problem of moral disagreements concerning natural law, and eight scholars were invited to respond to MacIntyre’s essay, either by addressing his work directly or by amplifying his argument along other yet similar paths. The contributors to this volume are theologians, philosophers, civil and canon lawyers, and political scientists, who reflect on these issues from different disciplinary perspectives. Once the contributors’ essays were completed, MacIntyre responded with a closing essay. Throughout the book, the contributors ask: Can a persuasive case for a foundational morality be made etsi Deus daretur (as if God did not exist)? And, of course, persuasive to whom? The exchanges that take place between MacIntyre and his interlocutors result, not in answers, but in rigorous attempts at clarification. Intractable Disputes about the Natural Law will interest ethicists, moral theologians, and students and scholars of moral philosophy.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

In a letter dated October 13, 2004, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith, wrote to the president-elect of the University of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. In that communication Cardinal Ratzinger expressed the Church’s concern about the difficulty of finding a “common denominator” for the moral principles held by all people....


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pp. xiii

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Chapter 1: Intractable Moral Disagreements

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pp. 1-52

Reading through what I have written about moral disagreement—and more generally practical disagreement—during the past thirty years, I find that an overall view of what such disagreement is, and of how far it can or cannot be resolved, does emerge, but it is one that I have never stated systematically in a single piece of writing. This lacuna I now seek to fill. I do so in order to address...

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Chapter 2: Does the Natural Law Provide a Universally Valid Morality?

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pp. 53-95

For some time now, it has been apparent that Western societies are divided by deep, seemingly intractable disagreements over moral questions, especially but not only those pertaining to sexual expression, marriage, and family relations. More recently, we in the West have begun to see that we are divided from much of the rest of the world over still more fundamental questions having to do...

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Chapter 3: Moral Disagreement and Interreligious Conversation: The Penitential Pace of Understanding

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pp. 97-129

A warning offered by Pope John Paul II about the difficulties that inevitably accompany ecumenical dialogue provides a helpful frame of reference for an examination of intractable moral disagreements: “Christians cannot underestimate the burden of longstanding misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient...

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Chapter 4: Prophetic Rhetoric and Moral Disagreement

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pp. 131-165

In his groundbreaking book, After Virtue, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that “the most striking feature of contemporary moral utterance is that so much of it is used to express disagreements; and the most striking feature of the debates in which these disagreements are expressed is their interminable character.”¹ In support of his claim, he gives examples from three well-known...

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Chapter 5: After Intractable Moral Disagreement: The Catholic Roots of an Ethic of Political Reconciliation

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pp. 167-193

Moral disagreement is at its most intractable when it descends into interstate war, genocide, civil war, dictatorship politics, massacres, bombings, torture, rape, unlawful detentions, and ethnic cleansing. Such descents abounded in the twentieth century and have not abated in the twenty-first. Their global profile has evolved gradually, from grand ideological struggles between liberal democracy...

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Chapter 6: Moral Disagreement and the Limits of Reason: Reflections on MacIntyre and Ratzinger

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pp. 195-226

Persistent moral disagreement seems to be a characteristic feature of modern liberal democratic societies. In the United States the polarization between people with diverse moral views on issues such as abortion, research using embryos, homosexuality, and the structure of the family and its role in society may finally be subsiding after more than two decades of rancorous debates, but...

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Chapter 7: Ultimate Ends and Incommensurable Lives in Aristotle

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pp. 227-251

In Will, Freedom and Power, Anthony Kenny sets out a very convincing understanding of the practical syllogism, according to which it functions quite differently from the standard syllogism. If a standard syllogism is of valid form, its premises give rise necessarily to the appropriate conclusion; if, on the other hand, a practical syllogism is set out as such a syllogism ought to be set out,...

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Chapter 8: The Foundation of Human Rights and Canon Law

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pp. 252-272

The increasing recognition of human rights in state and international systems of law constituted one of the most significant legal developments of the twentieth century.However, even as this development continues to mature in the legal theory and practice of the twenty-first century, disagreement persists about the moral foundation of human rights. Alasdair MacIntyre writes about some...

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Chapter 9: The Fearful Thoughts of Mortals Aquinas on Conflict, Self-Knowledge, and the Virtues of Practical Reasoning

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pp. 273-312

Some years ago now, Leonard Boyle proposed that Aquinas devised the Summa Theologiae as a corrective to the genre of confessors’ manuals prominent in the early period of the Dominican order.¹ What worried Aquinas was a penchant for narrow casuistry and a tendency to isolate moral matters from the rest of Christian theology. Boyle’s accent on Thomas’s relocation of practical, concrete...

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Chapter 10: From Answers to Questions: A Response to the Responses

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pp. 313-351

In my opening essay I did not invite agreement, but hoped to elicit from others who share the philosophical and theological concerns and commitments of Catholic Christianity both criticism of the theses that I defend and the articulation of alternative perspectives. In these respects I succeeded and have reason to be extraordinarily grateful to all the contributors. They have provided a remarkable...


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pp. 353-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780268076849
E-ISBN-10: 0268076847
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022990
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022992

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2009