The Is ought Problem and Catholic Natural Law

What is the proper relationship of the natural world and the moral world?

The Is ought Problem and Catholic Natural Law

What is the proper relationship of the natural world and the moral world? Are they completely disconnected from each other or is nature in some way morally significant? In the 18th century the philosopher David Hume proposed what has come to be known as Hume's Law, which states that one "cannot get an 'ought' from an 'is. Stated in broader terms, morality cannot come from nature. But is this actually the case? For two centuries Hume's Law has been highly influential in secular philosophy. It is also a serious problem in Catholic natural law ethics. Because many forms of Catholic natural law attempt to derive morality from nature, those forms may be vulnerable to Hume's critique. In this dissertation I look at two solutions that Catholic natural lawyers have proposed for the is-ought problem. Germain Grisez accepts the is-ought problem and derives morality from "basic goods" instead of nature. Jean Porter allows that morality can be derived from nature, but only because nature is morally charged by God; i.e. because natural law is intrinsically theological. I propose a third solution: that the metaphysical premises of the is-ought problem are unsound and that a contemporary philosophy of nature (emergent dynamics theory) proposed by Terrence Deacon can provide a coherent framework for deriving the moral "ought" from the natural "is." Deacon's philosophy of nature draws upon natural science to ground morality in nature in ways that are compatible with the Catholic natural law tradition. This dissertation contributes to discussion of the foundational issues of natural law, and the relationship of science and religion and science and ethics.

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