American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 75, Issue 4, Fall 2001

Janet E. Smith
Pages 585-595

Reclaiming or Rewriting the Tradition?

My assessment of Jean Porter's Natural and Divine Law is mixed. She provides a generally accurate account of the scholastic theory of natural law, since she steers clear of the erroneous notion that its understanding of "nature" was confined to the physical or biological and rightly notes that "nature" refers to the fullness of human nature. Her account of modern natural law theory is less reliable; for she ignores the work of several prominent contemporary natural law theorists and regrettably caricatures the natural law theory employed in Church documents. I found most illuminating her claims that biblical themes influenced which issues became the focus of scholastic natural law. Her entire project, however, is flawed in serious ways: 1) surprisingly, in light of her previous work, she neglects nearly entirely the role of virtue in natural law theory; and 2) the trajectory of her work is designed to lead the Church to change its teaching on sexuality, even to the point of claiming that scholastic natural law theory has principles that justify homosexual celebrating of the erotic in the gay lifestyle.