Reason, Revelation, Universality and Particularity in Ethics

American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 53, pp. 23-48, 2008

Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 09-12

30 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2009 Last revised: 26 Oct 2009

John Finnis

Notre Dame Law School; University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2008

Abstract

This address to a philosophical conference on truth and faith in ethics engages in an extended critique of the account of truth in Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: an essay in genealogy (Princeton University Press, 2002). For any jurisprudential, moral or political theory that affirms natural law needs to respond first to sceptical denials that reason can discover any truths about what ends all human individuals or groups ought to pursue. But any such theory also needs to make clear how it differs from, even when it coincides in moral judgment with, bodies of moral teaching self-identified as part of a divine revelation addressed to everyone. It also needs to show how truths of natural law provide grounds for rejecting, as well as for accepting, particular human claims to be the bearer of such a universal revelation. Parts I to III below address these issues through a critical examination of some contemporary philosophizing which, while acknowledging the warranted universality of the predicate “is true,” withhold that predicate from the principles of practical reason. Parts IV and V address another aspect of universality and particularity about which natural law theory needs to get clear: how the moral norms of natural law, properly as universal as human nature and the community of all people and peoples, nonetheless warrant strong loyalty to specific communities, above all one’s country and one’s marital family.

Keywords: ethics, natural law, universality, particularity, revelation, reason, loyalty

Suggested Citation

Finnis, John, Reason, Revelation, Universality and Particularity in Ethics (July 1, 2008). American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 53, pp. 23-48, 2008; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 09-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1392283

John M. Finnis (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

University College
High Street
Oxford, England OX1 4BH
United Kingdom

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