Early Essays

The publications listed on this page are mostly tentative and exploratory. None of them contributed significantly to the developments that led to Grisez’s mature philosophical and theological works. Quite often, propositions affirmed in these early essays are inconsistent with positions taken by Grisez in his mature writings.

Grisez would not have written some of these papers had contributing a paper not been required to obtain reimbusement for the costs of participating in meetings and had publishing papers not been a condition for eventual promotion and tenure.


“Kant and Aquinas: Ethical Theory”   

While doing his coursework for the Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, Grisez wrote this article as a term-paper in a course on Kant’s ethical theory. The professor, Warner Wick, considered it an excellent piece of work. So, even before Grisez began teaching at Georgetown in 1957, he revised the paper and submitted it to the Thomist, whose editors accepted it without changes.

Denouncing the theory of natural law that Grisez later developed in collaboration with Joseph Boyle and John Finnis, some careless critics label it “Kantian.” This treatment of Kant and Aquinas clarifies the similarity and difference between their accounts of the principles of practical reason: for both of the great philosophers, practical reason has its own proper principles that are not deduced from theoretical truths—pace misinterpreters of Thomas—but for Kant those principles are purely formal, while for Thomas they are self-evident insights into one’s experience of natural human inclinations toward the goods that constitute the well-being and flourishing of human persons and communities. On this central issue, Grisez, Boyle, and Finnis agree with Thomas.

The article is copyright © Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph 1958, all rights reserved.

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“Moral Objectivity and the Cold War”   

During the later 1950s and through the 1960s, an association of philosophers who taught or worked (some for the federal government) in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., met regularly. Grisez began participating fully in the fall of 1958, and contributed this paper, which won him the respect of many members of the group.

Grisez submitted it to Ethics, whose editor, Charner M. Perry, had been the chairman of the philosophy department at Chicago while Grisez was working on his Ph.D. Perry had once said he initially doubted that Grisez and other faithful Catholic students would be able to do sound work in philosophy but that several of them proved to be among the best students in the department.

The article is copyright © 1960 by the University of Chicago, all rights reserved.

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“Can Unconscious Factors Influence Every Judgment”   

Social scientists and psychologists sometimes overgeneralize from data and make a claim about non-rational determinants of judgment that implies an indefensible relativism. Still, the data cannot be ignored by a sound epistemology. This paper explores the problem and points to some of the conditions for an adequate treatment.

Grisez became an active member of the American Catholic Philosophical Association in 1959. This paper was delivered at the 1961 meeting, published in the Proceedings, and is copyright © American Catholic Philosophical Association 1961, all rights reserved.

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“A Tentative Problematic for a Philosophy of the Social Sciences”   

Around 1960, as Grisez began seriously studying ethical theory, he also began reading widely in the social sciences and reflecting philosophically upon them. That reflection was nurtured by coffee-hour discussions with Georgetown colleagues working in the social sciences, especially history, economics, and political science. For a time, Grisez considered trying to work out a systematic, philosophical treatment of all the social sciences. This tentative problematic for such a treatment was a first step. Other projects, however, proved to be more pressing, with the result that he never took the second step.

A group of Dominicans in the United States had been interested in the philosophy of science, and the editors of the Thomist were intrigued by this essay, despite its tentativeness and irrelevance to matters generally treated in the journal. The article is copyright © Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph 1962, all rights reserved.

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“The Logic of Moral Judgment”   

Grisez began exploring the logic of moral reasoning in 1959, and in this paper he tries to work out an account of moral judgment. However, he did not yet understand the principles of practical reasoning. However, the paper evidences the Aristotelian and Thomistic framework out of which he was about to develop his later, original thought.

The paper was delivered at the 1962 meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, published in the Proceedings, and is copyright © American Catholic Philosophical Association 1962, all rights reserved.

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“The Concept of Appropriateness:   
Ethical Considerations in Persuasive Argument”

One of Grisez’s Georgetown colleagues, who taught public speaking and belonged to the American Forensic Association, was asked to organize and chair a session at its annual meeting. Concerned, as Socrates and Plato already were, about the tendency of persuasive argument to proceed with amoral pragmatism, he and Grisez had talked about ethical norms of persuasion, and he asked Grisez to write a paper for the session he would be chairing.

The paper was published in the Association's journal and is copyright © 1965 American Forensic Association, all rights reserved.

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“The Moral Basis of Law”   

In the fall of 1967, the annual symposium of the Boston Interfaith Society was on the social challenge of crime. Rev. John C. Ford, S.J., Grisez’s friend, was both active in that society and critical of jurisprudence that rejects the moral grounding of law. So, Ford arranged for Grisez to be invited to give this paper.

The editors of the Thomist welcomed the paper, and it is copyright © Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph 1968, all rights reserved.

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“The Right to Be Educated: Philosophical Reflections”   

For the twentieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a set of books was produced, a volume on each of the rights mentioned in that document. Editing the volume on the right to be educated, Rev. Robert F. Drinan, S.J., invited Grisez in 1967 to write a chapter of philosophical reflections on it. The book duly appeared in 1968. The essay is copyright © 1968 Germain Grisez; all rights to republication for sale are reserved; anyone may make and distribute copies provided no charge is made and this copyright information is included.

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“The Relevance of Metaphysics to Contemporary Unrest”   

Grisez was invited to participate in a symposium at the March 1969 meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America: Metaphysics, Politics, and Contemporary Unrest. He regarded metaphysics as only remotely relevant to the widespread unrest of the 1960s, and so devoted his paper to explaining why he was unwilling to offer a straightforward answer to the question.

The contributions to the symposium were published in the very first issue of a new journal: Metaphilosophy, and the essay is copyright © 1970 Metaphilosophy Foundation Inc.; all rights reserved.

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