Explanations and Defenses of the Natural Law Theory    
Developed by Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, and John Finnis

The first item below is the textual study by Grisez that initiated the three colleagues’ work in ethical theory. The other items listed on this page were written to help readers understand the theory of natural law that they developed.

For that purpose, many other items are as important as or more important than these items. Early versions of the theory are in Grisez’s first two books, Contraception and the Natural Law and Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments. A somewhat simplified and popularized version of it is in the first and second editions of the small textbook in ethics he coauthored with Russell Shaw: Beyond the New Morality: The Responsibilities of Freedom (1974) and (1980). A more fully developed version of the theory, worked out by Grisez and Boyle in the summer of 1978, is in chapters 2–10 of The Way of the Lord Jesus, volume one, Christian Moral Principles (available here), and in the third edition of Beyond the New Morality (1988). Another well developed version was deployed by Finnis, especially but by no means only in chapters 1–6 of his Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980, second edition 2011) and in Fundamentals of Ethics (1983). In 1987, the three colleagues presented a common version of the theory in chapters 9–11 of Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism.

In 1998, Finnis published Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory. While he did not undertake in that volume to vindicate the interpretation of Aquinas’s views that he and Grisez proposed in their previous works, the comprehensive evidence from the texts of Aquinas cited in the book shows that their reading of his work had been accurate and that those accusing them of misinterpreting Aquinas were themselves doing so. In 2011, Finnis published five volumes of Collected Essays, many of which, especially in the first two volumes—Reason in Action and Intention and Identity—clarify and defend his version of the natural law theory developed by the three colleagues.

The theory was well understood and defended by several other scholars, among whom Robert P. George stands out, not least for the first part of his 2001 book, In Defense of Natural Law.


 

“The First Principle of Practical Reason:    
A Commentary on the Summa Theologiae, 1–2, Question 94, Article 2”

In 1960–63, this brief text of St. Thomas concerning the primary principle of practical reasoning and several secondary works dealing with it were studied carefully by Grisez. Convinced that Thomas’s account of the principle was sound and important but badly misunderstood, Grisez, who was on sabbatical 1963–64, spent all of his time during January–March 1964 drafting a detailed commentary on the text. That commentary became the starting point of his and his colleagues’ work in ethical theory.

In 2010, Grisez still regards the article as sound, except for some statements in part V regarding matters on which he has become convinced that Thomas was mistaken.

The article is copyright © University of Notre Dame 1965, all rights reserved.

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The article was translated into Spanish by Diego Poole, and is copyright © Universidad de Navarra 2005, todos los derechos reservados.

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The article was translated into Portuguese by José Reinaldo de Lima Lopes, and is copyright © Da Fundaçäo Getùlio Vargas 2007, todos direitos desta ediçäo säo reservados.

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“The Basic Principles of Natural Law:    
A Reply to Ralph McInerny”

In 1980 Ralph McInerny, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, published an article, “The Principles of Natural Law,” in the American Journal of Jurisprudence. In it, he tried to show concisely that some of the fundamental theoretical positions that John Finnis and Grisez held in common were erroneous. In 1981, they replied with equal brevity in the same journal. They showed that McInerny had misinterpreted their views and that he begged questions in favor of his own Aristotelian-Thomistic view.

The reply of Finnis and Grisez is copyright © University of Notre Dame 1981, all rights reserved.

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Despite the fact that Finnis and Grisez had taken McInerny’s article seriously and replied to it, he repeated some of the same criticisms in his book, Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he published in 1982.


 

“A Contemporary Natural-Law Ethics”    

Invited in 1985 by the Philosophy Department of Marquette University to participate that fall in a conference on contemporary ethical thought and the history of moral philosophy, Grisez contributed a greatly revised version of a chapter on moral theory he had first-drafted for the book, Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, on which he was working with John Finnis and Joseph Boyle. This paper is thus the nearest thing Grisez every wrote to a concise statement of his entire ethical theory. Of course, none of the post-1985 developments in the theory are included in this summary.

The paper is copyright © 1989 The Marquette University Press; all rights reserved.

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“The Structures of Practical Reason:    
Some Comments and Clarifications”

In 1986, Brian V. Johnstone, C.Ss.R., published in The Thomist an article, “The Structures of Practical Reason: Traditional Theories and Contemporary Questions,” in which he described and criticized Grisez’s account of natural law, focusing especially on the article, “The First Principle of Practical Reasoning.” Not given to rhetorical flourishes and blatant question-begging, Johnstone deserved a careful response, and Grisez strove to give it in this article.

The article is is copyright © 1988 by Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph; all rights reserved.

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“Natural Law and Natural Inclinations:    
Some Comments and Clarifications”

In an article published in 1986 in New Scholasticism, Douglas Flippen criticized both the account of practical reason and the interpretation of Aquinas in Grisez’s “First Principle of Practical Reason.” In this article, published the following year in the same journal, Grisez responded to both lines of criticism. While the constructive presentation of the theory in this article is superseded by that in “Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends,” other elements of the response complement replies to other critics.

The article is copyright © American Catholic Philosophical Association 1987, all rights reserved.

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“Some Critical Notes on Russell Hittinger’s Book:    
A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory

While reading Russell Hittinger’s book crticizing the moral theory that Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, and Grisez had been developing, Grisez made extensive notes, which he used in preparing the critique he published—the item just below. He also shared the notes with people who were interested in his evaluation of that book. Although he has changed his position on some matters since he completed the notes in January 1988, he makes them available here for the use of anyone interested in evaluating Hittinger’s work.

Grisez publishes these notes here, copyright © 2010, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the work provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

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“A Critique of Russell Hittinger’s Book:    
A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory”

Some of the defects in Hittinger’s book are pointed out in the published review.

Unfortunately, this publication is marred by several typographical errors, because the editor (Ralph McInerny) neither sent Grisez proofs to check, as he had requested, nor saw to it that they were checked. The review is copyright © American Catholic Philosophical Association 1988, all rights reserved.

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“Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends”    

During the mid-1980s, John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, and Grisez worked together a great deal on the question whether the nuclear deterrent of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France was morally acceptable, and that work bore fruit in their 1987 book: Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism. Having responded to some critics of the ethical theory that they had been developing and were applying in the deterrence book, the three decided to reformulate the parts of the theory that were most widely misunderstood. In doing this, they meant to provide a resource for those striving to understand their work despite the frequent misinterpretations of it by critics.

The account of the shared ethical theory in this article was meant to improve upon and replace accounts of it incidental to the preceding items dealing with particular critics. This article was written with care, but does not lend itself to hurried reading. The understanding of statements later in the article regularly presupposes understanding of earlier ones.

The article is copyright © University of Notre Dame 1987, all rights reserved.

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In 2012, Grisez still regards the first two parts of this article as sound, although some elements have been developed more fully in later works. However, for his views on ultimate ends, those interested should study two of his later articles, “Natural Law, God, Religion, and Human Fulfillment” and “The True Ultimate End of Human Beings: The Kingdom, Not God Alone,” both of which are available here.


 

“The Derivation of the    
Modes of Responsibility and Moral Absolutes”

Grisez first gathered a list of modes of responsibility by considering various mistaken philosophical proposals of a first principle of morality, and published that initial list of the modes in the first edition of the little textbook he wrote with Russell Shaw: Beyond the New Morality: The Responsibilities of Freedom. When Grisez and Joseph Boyle worked together in the summer of 1978 on the first outline of Grisez’s Christian Moral Principles, they reworked the list of modes of responsibility in an effort to correlate eight of them with the eight beatitudes. But working with Finnis and Boyle on “Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends,” Grisez came to realize clearly that moral norms are the direction of integral practical reason against emotions (or feelings or passiones animae) that tend to fetter reason. So, since the modes of responsibility were not dealt with in that article, Grisez drafted this programmatic paper sketching out how, he thought, the three colleagues might systematically derive the modes of responsibility. Since other work always was more pressing or, at least, more appealing, they never undertook this project.

Grisez publishes the paper here, copyright © 2012, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the work provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

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In his Way of the Lord Jesus, volume three, Difficult Moral Questions, appendix 1 (available here), Grisez provides his own attempt to derive the modes. Especially interesting in that attempt is the addition to fairness of three other modes that, like it, call for expanding feelings so that they will be integrated with the direction of reason toward intelligible goods.


 

“ ‘Direct’ and ‘Indirect’:    
A Reply to Critics of Our Action Theory”

In “Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends,” Grisez, Boyle, and Finnis had not dealt with action theory. However, various attempts to describe and criticize their view of it had appeared by end of the 1990s. They therefore wrote this article with care to articulate their common view, and it can be regarded as a complement to that earlier one.

One of the critics to whom this article responds was Jean Porter, who in 1996 had published an article in Theological Studies focusing on Grisez’s action theory. So, when this article was ready for publication, they first submitted it to that journal. But it was rejected, and they submitted it to The Thomist, which, being more open-minded, published it as the lead article in the first issue of the third millennium.

The article is copyright © 2001 by Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph; all rights reserved.

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