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The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflection.

Simon, Yves R. The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflection. Edited by Vukan Kuic. Introduction by Russell Hittinger. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992. xxxii + 194 pp. $19.95--This clearly written and finely argued text is based on a course taught by the late philosopher Yves Simon at The University of Chicago in 1958. The lectures and discussions were edited and published in 1965. This book handles the topic in six concise chapters which probe the problems confronting natural law theory in terms of definition, history, doctrine, and its future. The value of the text is heightened by Russell Hittinger's crisp introduction that focuses Simon's effort by noting, "Simon believes that the greatest danger to the tradition of natural law is not its cultured critics, but rather the tendency of its allies to reduce natural law to an ideology in order to form a political or legal consensus about objective values" (p. xviii). Despite this danger, which Simon outlines in detail, the distinction between ideology and philosophy need not imply a radical separation of the two, for "the content of an ideology is not necessarily at variance with the truth of philosophy" (p. 24).

Simon uses analogies generously to render highly abstract concepts concrete, and to make the more densely reasoned sections of his arguments clearer. Notice this pedagogy (pp. 47-8) in his discussion of why scientists frequently fail to grasp the logic of natural law: "Who questions that an acorn and an oak tree are related as nature folded and nature unfolded, as nature in its initial condition and nature in its accomplished condition?" (p. 47). The clarity of this essential proposition fails to cause unanimous assent, in part because "there are no natures and no final causes in mathematics" (p. 47); thus "whenever the interpretation of nature is mathematical, and insofar as it is mathematical, final causes are out of the picture" (p. 48). This line of reasoning raises, in turn, the juxtaposition of values to nature, as in the subjective notion of value in economics, as opposed to a more objective view of the value of things in themselves.

Simon's insights have application for some of the most pertinent issues and common philosophical mistakes of our day. On the topic of the common good, for example, he is careful to identify the myth of the common good as something external to man. He describes this as the temptation to think of the human community as if it were a work of art, the aesthetics of which are independent of any moral judgment on the means that might have produced it. (There may be bad means, as in the case of Gauguin abandoning his family to create his paintings.) The power of the politician is not final, Simon asserts, because the "final decision concerning the affairs of the state belongs to moralists" (p. 95). Asking if a particular instance of positive law is just or unjust implies a higher or natural law, and this principle extends to the whole of the political system (pp. 112-13). In countering the pragmatists who would argue that a natural law defense of democracy is obsolete and who see democracy vindicated by the mere fact that "it works," Simon asks what it means to say that something "works." He answers that "working is the most teleological thing in the world," which brings us back to natural law, if we believe in a reality that has meaning (p. 114).

In his discussion of how one comes to know the natural law, Simon explores the paradox of everyone's acting as though there were a natural law, yet not being able to incorporate it intellectually. Simon's epistemology holds that cognition and inclination are "two ways in the determination of judgment. . . . [T]he inclination leading to the knowledge of natural law is not a purely intellectual affair [but includes] the honest will, and the expert is the prudent, the wise" (pp. 125, 131). Simon's epistemology is somewhat reminiscent of John Henry Newman's holistic approach in his "Illative Sense," as outlined in A Grammar of Assent, as well as of Michael Polyani's epistemology in Personal Knowledge. The reasonable philosophical framework of natural law is lucidly outlined in the pages of this fine collection. It should be of great value to those seeking to grasp the depth and richness of this ancient yet enduring tradition--Robert A. Sirico, The Acton Institute.
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Author:Sirico, Robert A.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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