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BOOK REVIEWS Natural Law and Practical Reason: A Thomist View of Moral Autonomy. By MARTIN RHONHEIMER. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000. Pp. xxii + 620. $45.00 (doth), $19.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8232-1978-X (cloth), 0-8232-1979-8 (paper). This is a fine translation, by Dr. Gerald Malsbary, of a book published in 1987 under the title Naturals Grundlage der Moral. Die personale Struktur des Naturgesetzes bei Thomas von Aquin: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit autonomer und teleologischerEthik. As the German subtitle indicates, it is a polemical work, with two main foes: the currents in moral theology dubbed "autonomous morality" (e.g., Auer, Bockle) and "teleological ethics" (Schuller, McCormick, etc.). These currents are denounced as historically inaccurate interpretations of Thomas Aquinas and philosophically unsound accounts of moral normativity. Autonomous morality, adopting a purely spiritual conception of moral agency, involves a dualistic view of man. It reduces freedom to self-reflexivity, and the natural moral law to a formalism. Its notion of reason as "creative" of norms is not at all St Thomas's view of reason's role in the moral order. Rhonheimer grants, or even insists, that reason does in a sense enjoy autonomy. But on the whole, he judges, it would be better to speak of "participated theonomy." (His sorting out of meanings of "autonomy" is very helpful [195206 ].) Reason has an active share in the work of ordering things according to the eternal law of divine providence. He also discerns a kind of dualism infecting teleological ethics. For all the charges ofphysicalism brought by its proponents against more traditional, "neothomistic " Catholic morality, it is they who turn out to have a physicalist account of the object of the moral act. In the final analysis they substitute mere calculation and technique for truly moral reasoning, which always moves within the horizon of the dignity of the human person. In these polemics Rhonheimer is very effective. Perhaps they are now somewhat dated. However, his way of understanding "nature as a basis of morals" also involves him in another controversy. For in fact he agrees that neothomistic moral thought is often physicalist. He works hard to free Thomas's own ethics from it. This side of the book seems less dated. With regret, I must say that I also find it much less effective. 311 312 BOOK REVIEWS The physicalism that Rhonheimer finds in authors such as Cathrein, Manser, Pieper, and many others (all German, as it happens) consists in treating natural law as a "law ofnature," identical with the natural order or even the very natures ofthings. Properly, he urges, natural lawshould beconsidered a "law ofpractical reason." It is not "read off" from the "naturally given," nor is it formed in light of "metaphysical essences," even man's. It is "constituted" through practical reason's own preceptive activity. In this matter Rhonheimer has much in common with Grisez and Finnis, whose influence he avows (44 n. 7, 556). He is impressed by Hume's and Moore's charges of fallacy in any derivation of "ought" or "good" from mere speculative facts of nature (5-7, 43 n. 4). He is also persuaded that since we know a nature by its acts, knowledge of human nature cannot be presupposed to the primary acts or precepts of practical reason; rather it presupposes them (17-22, 30-31). What seems most distinctive of his view is the role he assigns to man's natural inclinations. He finds these essential in the genesis of the moral order, if not its proper "basis." It is hard to say exactly what sort of entities he takes these inclinations to be. They cannot be acts ofwill, since practical reason presupposes them (28, 75-78). Yet their objects do not seem confined to those of sense-appetite or purely physical tendency. In any case, they are said to constitute a "structure ofstriving" in which reason is "embedded" (27). This is the precondition for reason's having a practical operation at all, and so issuing any moral dictates (78, 284). Just how they influence reason, however, is not explained. The term 'experience' is used often. At one point judgment by connaturality is mentioned (53 n. 55). Rhonheimer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 311-315
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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