Volume 81, Issue 4, Fall 2007
Anthony J. Lisska
On the Revival of Natural Law
Several Books from the Last Half-Decade
The last third of the twentieth century witnessed a burst of energy by philosophers sorting out the many-faceted claims of natural law theory. Natural law theory, rooted in the Nicomachean Ethics with some modifications by the Stoics, was studied in the twentieth century mainly through the writings of Thomas Aquinas, followed by those of the Salamanca school, which was central to the Second Scholasticism. The horrors of the Second World War and the trials following it, with their charges of “crimes against humanity,” prompted a renewed interested by English-speaking philosophers in natural law jurisprudence. Analytic philosophers followed Elizabeth Anscombe’s urging to venture beyond the limits of early twentieth-century moral philosophy; Alasdair MacIntyre’s writings buttressed the return to ethical naturalism; John Finnis’s “new natural law” theory also contributed to this renaissance. These many avenues form the conceptual backdrop to the eight books reviewed in this essay.