Natural Law and Human Nature

Course No. 4453
Father Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
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Course Overview

This course traces the origins and consequences of the theory of natural law. Natural law is the idea that there is an objective moral order, grounded in essential humanity, that holds universal and permanent implications for the ways we should conduct ourselves as free and responsible human beings.

In Natural Law and Human Nature, you consider the arguments for natural law, the serious objections that have been raised against it, and the ways, despite all overt criticisms, it remains a vital and even pervasive force in political, moral, and social life today, even while traveling under another name.

Morality, Humanity, and Being

Father Joseph Koterski argues that views about ethics typically derive from views about human nature, and behind these, views about being itself. Thus no consideration of moral theories and their applications can be complete without an investigation of philosophical anthropology and even some consideration of metaphysical questions. These background issues will be things to keep in mind as you listen to or view the lectures.

You then turn your attention to the key arguments about justice that took place in the ancient Greek world, beginning with the pre-Socratic philosophers and the Sophists.

Classical Origins

Shaping Father Koterski's historical treatment is an appreciation of just how much thought, effort, and brilliance went into formulating and defending the crucial insights of natural law theory.

Father Koterski gives a clear example of this when he reconstructs the virtual dialogue that took place between the Ionian scientists, the Sophists, and their great interlocutors, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Dealing not only with arguments about justice but also with questions about how change can occur (metaphysics again!), Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) pushed this debate forward dramatically by framing an account of nature and causation that laid the groundwork not only for natural law theory but also for modern physical science (which edits but does not erase Aristotle's fourfold taxonomy of causes).

Father Koterski explains how Aristotle's notion of nature as an inner, goal-oriented dynamism set the stage for progress in moral understanding by allowing thinkers to distinguish more readily—albeit never perfectly—between the natural on the one hand and the merely habitual, customary, or familiar, on the other.

Aquinas: The First Systematizer

Yet Aristotle, although a major figure in the tradition, cannot be called a natural law thinker. The rise of natural law thought was the fruit of later developments, including the rise of Stoic philosophy with its emphasis on universal human dignity and divine providence, the powerful contributions made by biblical religion, and the tradition of Roman jurisprudence, particularly as expressed by Cicero.

The first thorough treatise on natural law came as part of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (1224–1272). Working with newly recovered Aristotelian works as well as the Stoic, biblical-patristic, and Roman traditions, Aquinas set out the account of natural law as that type of law through which humans take part according to their nature as free, intelligent, and responsible beings. He remains to this day the philosopher whose name is most closely associated with natural law.

The Modern Turn

Next you review the major developments that natural law thinking has undergone since the inception of the modern period about half a millennium ago. The big questions here are how and why natural law theory, which for Cicero and Aquinas had seemed a "conservative" force, became a doctrine of sociopolitical transformation and even revolution in the hands of Hobbes, Locke, and others.

At this point, the narrative "comes home" to America as Father Koterski explores the ways, by the American Founders' design, natural law thinking is poured into the foundations of our republican experiment in ordered liberty and constitutional democracy.

You look too at the criticisms leveled against natural law by Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant, pondering all the while Father Koterski's suggestion that they owed natural law theory more of a debt than they were willing to admit or than might be apparent at first glance.

Challenges and Objections

In the course's final third, you leave the narrative historical framework and turn to a series of topical discussions. Natural law theory today has many critics and faces numerous questions. No philosophical treatment of the subject would be complete without a fair and careful consideration of these.

Father Koterski asks whether modern evolutionary biology can claim to have discovered truths about human nature that render natural law theory unintelligible, whether the findings of anthropological research undercut natural law, and whether accepting the idea of natural law means accepting the existence of God and vice versa.

Controversies and Contemporary Applications

The final lectures move from principles to particulars by explaining how natural law reasoning might apply to a range of hotly debated contemporary issues. In the legal arena, you will consider the debates over human rights and the use of the courts in promoting social reform during periods when consensus has not yet developed.

In the sphere of medicine and bioethics, Father Koterski explores natural law arguments regarding the controversial questions of abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research. In the sphere of social ethics, he asks how natural law would counsel us to think about the family as well as about structures of human obligation more generally.

Finally, he compares natural law theory to the relativist and positivist views that are commonly encountered today, particularly in the academy, and argues that natural law, to its credit, retains an emphasis on human reason that is not to be found in the many forms of contemporary thought that treat humans primarily as willing, rather than thinking, beings.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Philosophical Approach
    As far back as Sophocles' and as recently as the Nuremberg Trials and Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, humans have appealed to unwritten, universal standards of justice that laws must respect. What does it mean to think philosophically about these experiences? x
  • 2
    The General Nature of Ethics
    Here you will learn how to locate natural law within the larger universe of theories about ethics, and consider both the basic assumptions of natural law thinking and the basic challenges that have been raised against them. x
  • 3
    Law, Nature, Natural Law
    If you're going to talk about natural law, you need a clear understanding of just what you mean by "nature" and just what you mean by "law." Thomas Aquinas gave classic definitions of each, which offer a starting point for thinking through. x
  • 4
    Principles of Natural Law Theory
    The history of thought confronts you with a profusion of "natural law" theories. This lecture is designed to help you see the basics—the family resemblances, if you will, that allow us to group together all the theories for which the name "natural law" makes sense. x
  • 5
    Greek Ideas of Nature and Justice
    If the natural law is unwritten, how did it ever come to be known? The story—like all stories about the philosophical way of grappling with basic questions about being and human life—begins in the ancient Greek world with some pioneering Ionian thinkers, their thoughtful critic Socrates, and his student Plato. x
  • 6
    Aristotle's Clarification of "Nature"
    Plato's student Aristotle described four types of causes (material, formal, efficient, and final) at work in the world. His notion of "nature" as the dynamic inner principle of a being's structure, development, and typical activities played a key role in his own thought, and would prove hugely influential thereafter. x
  • 7
    Aristotle on Justice and Politics
    Despite his importance to the natural law tradition and his own use of the concept of "nature" in his great works on ethics and politics, Aristotle cannot be called a "natural law" thinker. How, then, does he think about "nature" and "law" as they apply to moral and political—that is to say, to human—life? x
  • 8
    The Stoic Idea of Natural Law
    What did the Greek Stoics teach about moral order, human life, and "right reason" that made them giants in the history of natural law thinking? How did the Roman statesman Cicero give supreme expression to their insight, as for instance when he distinguished between just and unjust warfare? x
  • 9
    Biblical Views of Nature and Law
    We know of course that the concept of "law" is a major one in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but how about the concept of "nature"? Does it make an appearance, and if so, where? Do any Scriptural books use anything like the idea of natural law? x
  • 10
    Early Christians, Nature, and Law
    How did Christians adapt the philosophical concept of nature generally to their own religious beliefs? Why did they find the specific premises of natural law theory compatible with their beliefs about creation, sin, grace, and redemption? x
  • 11
    Roman, Canon, and Natural Law
    Roman law and through it the thought of the Stoics exercised an enormous practical and theoretical influence over natural law thinking. What led the Roman jurist Ulpian (died ca. A.D. 228), to find slavery contrary to natural law despite the Roman tendency to identify natural law with the "law of nations" that had always allowed slaveholding? x
  • 12
    The Thomistic Synthesis
    Why does Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) see natural law as one type of law among several, and natural law thinking formed as one important strand in the larger tapestry of ethics? How does he work with the newly rediscovered works of Aristotle to argue that natural law goes well with a "virtue-based" approach to human excellence? x
  • 13
    Late Medieval and Early Modern Views
    How did natural law go from being part of a larger hierarchical vision to being a part of ideologies of political and social transformation, or even revolution? Why did some early Protestant thinkers take the view that natural law can be shown to be binding whether or not one believes in a God who authors nature? x
  • 14
    Hobbes and Locke
    How does Hobbes, with his famous "state of nature," understand natural law as a set of rules for survival? Why does Locke refocus natural law on a theory of natural rights? How does Locke's notion of the social contract rest on the defense of such rights? x
  • 15
    Natural Law and the Founding Fathers
    What led the American founders to call upon "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" in declaring independence, and to write a Constitution whose very status as the supreme law of the land rests upon its stated purpose of "establish[ing] Justice"? x
  • 16
    Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant
    Modern thinkers such as Descartes with his methodological skepticism, Rousseau with his social contract, and Kant with his categorical imperative and insistence on the autonomy of human reason appear on the surface to be among the tougher critics of the natural law tradition. But is that the whole story? x
  • 17
    Can Rights Exist Without Natural Law?
    Though the fact isn't noticed much today, when you hear appeals to "human rights" based on claims about what "human dignity" requires, you are hearing natural law reasoning—whether anyone calls it this or not. x
  • 18
    The Question of Evolution
    What are some of the questions that the modern natural sciences, and especially evolutionary biology, raise for natural law theory? How are "natural law" and the scientific concept of "laws of nature" related, and how are they distinct? x
  • 19
    The Paradox of Cultural Relativism
    In the 20th century, anthropology was often an arrow in the rhetorical quiver of relativism. But recent studies have cast doubt on the accuracy of even famous researchers such as Margaret Meade. Is the tide turning toward a position closer to something like what natural law theory has long claimed? x
  • 20
    The Problem of God
    Does natural law count as evidence for the existence of God? Or should you put it the other way around and reason that universal moral duties can only be said to follow from rather than establish God's existence? Or do you, even if you are a believer, need to bring God into the argument at all? x
  • 21
    Current Applications—Jurisprudence
    Are courts and judges purely creatures of positive law? Can they ever use natural law principles? These questions have come up in Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominees. Less controversially, we can see natural law principles at work in tort law, penal law, and the graduated income tax. x
  • 22
    Current Applications—Bioethics
    This field is replete with some of the most heated and complex debates in our public life today. How does natural law ethics understand and weigh these controversies? x
  • 23
    Current Applications—Social Ethics
    In modern societies, vast differences of opinion over a slew of issues are a fact of life. In such a situation, just finding a common basis for reasoned discussion can be a major achievement. Does natural law theory have anything to offer here? x
  • 24
    The Eternal Return of Natural Law
    Although modern political theorists change some terms (human rather than natural rights, etc.), they are still arguing by positing an ideal concept of what it means to be human. In other words, whether they admit it or even realize it or not, they are still "doing" natural law reasoning. x

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Your professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J.

About Your Professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
A member of the Society of Jesus, Father Joseph Koterski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, where he specializes in the history of medieval philosophy and natural law ethics. Before taking his position at Fordham University, Father Koterski taught at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He earned his doctorate in Philosophy from St. Louis University, after...
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Reviews

Natural Law and Human Nature is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very useful introduction and overview Very thorough and useful presentation of the subject. Goes into detailed discussion of various approaches to natural law. Especially useful to those who are not biased against the idea of the existence of a natural law that follows from human nature.
Date published: 2012-10-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't buy it This course was very disappointing, abounds in contradictions, and provides circular discussions that provide no insights or educational gain. The course can reduced to perhaps 6 lectures starting with #20 that immediately states that Natural Law is handed down from the Divine to man. It takes Father Koterski 19 lectures to get there. Fr. Koterski incorrectly imposes his 20th Century Natural Law perspective on Greeks, Romans, and other societies as early examples of Natural Law. He rejects cultural relativism yet he constantly refers to societies where cultural relativism prevails as examples of Natural Law. For example, he quotes Cicero as a source of natural law; yet 90% of the population was slaves, the Emperor was viewed as God, and Rome ruled by force. John Locke was guided by the English revolution and societal events to change his views that people have a right to revolt over unjust government rule, yet this change is caused by cultural relativism. Being Catholic, I probably expected that he would use the Jewish/Christian view of Divine as the Law Giver, but how about other religions. Do their God (Islam, Hindu, Buddhist) also provide the same Divine Laws? The problem with a Divine Law giver, is that God is unknowable . And those who say they know God, are suspect, with emperors, kings, and politicians being good examples. Fr. Koterski suggests, but does not provide much discussion, that atheists could also provide similar Natural laws. This is an area where he could provide more discussion to support a Natural Law case. Rather than proposing that Natural Laws are fixed, he should make more of a case that Natural law evolve as societies evolve, and more human rights become apparent. The evolution portion is silly and wastes the discussion on intelligent design and DNA. He should have also noted “in his opinion” why the Designer didn’t exclude birth defects, better physical health, and smarter brains for all, in the DNA. I have also read that the both humans and bananas have 50% of their DNA in common, so we do have a natural law evolutionary connection to fruit. This lecture should be deleted or significantly revised. To be positive, there are some tidbits of valuable discussion, such as Augustine and original sin, and a few other sections. Overall, the majority of lectures are disappointing and a waste of time compared to other Great Courses.
Date published: 2012-06-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Dull AND Too Polemical I bought this course on CD, and I have two complaints. First, Father Koterski’s lecture style is unusually roundabout, wordy and dull, so much so that I found myself having to fight the urge to fall asleep while driving on the highway. Second and more seriously, the course is not an objective history of natural law theory, in the sense of trying to avoid undue bias, but a polemic at multiple points against abortion and in one lecture for “intelligent design” creationism. As to the latter, perhaps Father Koterski would benefit from watching Teaching Company lectures on biology and geology. I will return this course.
Date published: 2012-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An outstanding introduction I enjoyed the series. I thought Koterski's treatment of Natural Law through historical review from PreSocratics to Aristotle to St Thomas to the Modern philosophers to recent events of human and civil rights was effective. To me, Koterski had a balanced approach. The first 18 lectures were really outstanding and the last six were still pretty good
Date published: 2012-03-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from As others have said, very biased. While I think this course started out strong, giving a decent overview of natural law and natural law history, it quickly went downhill. It soon became clear that this course would be informed much more by theology and the professor's personal religion than actual philosophy. In particular, he made it very clear that he did not think a natural law was possible without God, but gave very little (much less convincing) evidence to support this view. He also spent much of the lecture on evolution and natural law regurgitating pseudoscience from Michael Behe's long discredited book Darwin's Black Box. In addition, he spent much of the course attempting to find natural law support for standard Catholic doctrine. I suggest that anyone looking for a real source of information on natural law should find a less biased source than this.
Date published: 2012-02-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was expecting, or perhaps hoping for, a course similar in outlook to several others I have enjoyed in the intellectual history fields offered by The Teaching Company. I found the presenters tendency to, perhaps unwittingly, preach Catholic doctrine a detriment to a neutral and objective presentation of the history of Natural Law. It is one thing to explain the history that certain types of supernatural or dogmatic thinking has had on a subject, as do many of your fine presenters, it is quite another to incorporate that sort of thinking into the content.
Date published: 2012-02-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed at not being able to listen I've been trying very hard to listen and get accustomed to Father Koterski manner of speech, but it is near impossible for me. I can easily imagine him reading aloud a bedtime story to a child, just so that they would doze off quickly. It annoys me that I cannot listen and follow; Father Koterski seems to be reading aloud with affectations that distract from the flow of ideas. The subject matter he presents is of much interest to me and is well organized, but the course is getting lost in the listening (I admit to a hearing loss problem, but other Teaching Company courses have not presented this problem for me. I listen while driving.).
Date published: 2011-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Uneven The series provides a fairly thorough survey of the forms and issues that have shaped concepts of natural rights in western philosophy. The lecturer is excellent and attempts to portray all sides of these issues with equanimity. But the lecture on the question of evolution was, unfortunately, woefully misinformed about the status of evolution in science and biochemistry. Koterski is not a scientist and seems to have swallowed whole the claims made in the book "Darwin's Black Box", which he twice recommends as "Suggested Reading". Koterski accurately describes the arguments made in the book, but both it and the pseudoscientific premise of "irreducible complexity" put forth therein have been thoroughly rejected (and derided!) by the scientific community from the moment it was published. That this thoroughly discredited attack on evolution features so prominently in Koterski's analysis of natural law in light of evolutionary theory is an unfortunate blot in an otherwise solid lecture series. The course is nearly 10 years old now, and I would urge Koterski revise the course and stick to what he knows best-which is philosophy/theology and obviously *not* science.
Date published: 2011-10-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Profound View of Human Nature I approached this course with an open mind, curious about the tenets of Natural Law, which I had supposed were based on natural philosophy. (I was wrong.) I was also interested in the underpinnings of the ideas upon which the Founding Fathers of our country had invoked through "Nature and Nature's God." [Declaration of Independence] Professor Koterski explains that Natural Law actually refers to a "higher law" based upon an objective analysis of the nature and purpose of man. The foundations for the theory of Natural Law are to be based on "universality, objectivity and intelligibility." However, it was upon just such things that I found the course to be rather inconsistent and unclear. For example, Koterski invokes the ancient Greeks' experience of higher law in the duty of giving the dead proper burial. (Sophocles' story about Antigone's burying her brother and Priam's begging Achilles for the body of Hector in the Homer's Iliad are just such instances of this higher, transcendent, unspoken law.) But, later in the course, (after introducing Christianity in a rather unapologetic way) Koterski says that ultimately, Natural Law actually depends on the existence of God for its relevance, despite the fact that the Greeks had no monotheistic outlook. What, then, is Koterski's purpose of invoking the Greeks to illustrate Natural Law, if Natural Law depends on God, and the Greeks had no monotheistic faith? Conversely, if the Natural Law is based on the Judeo-Christian God, then how is Natural Law illustrated when Abraham is called upon to sacrifice his son Isaac, when the Israelites commit genocide in the Promised Land, when Saul or Samson commit suicide, when David commits adultery or when the people of Samaria start eating their own children? [2 Kings 6:28-30] Christians might see a hypostatic conflation of divine and natural law in the person of Jesus, but nowhere does Koterski attempt to make this argument in this course -- a rather surprising omission, considering Koterski's Catholic credentials. It seems, then, that in order for the Natural Law to lay claim to being universal, it must supercede religion or culture in some sense. Koterski criticizes Immanuel Kant's ethical system as lacking "substance," but Kant could at least identify with precision a basis upon which his system was founded (the universality of reason.) Despite my willingness to give Koterski a fair hearing, he never moves beyond a biased Jesuit/Roman Catholic point of view (for which he never gives sufficient apology or intellectual defense,) evidencing, I think, a lack of "catholicity." Koterski's prejudice creeps in, in a rather glaring way, when discussing how Natural Law ought to command positive (man-made) law and governments. Koterski completely overlooks Martin Luther's dualistic idea that there are two kingdoms, heavenly and earthly: one is ruled by Christ, the other by the state. The state's job is rein in the evil of men, while the kingdom of Christ is to make men free. This conception of Luther's, which runs counter to the Catholic Church's idea of its supremacy of spiritual law over positive law, later became the germ of the practice of the separation of church and state, an idea which was adopted (if not by intention, then by practice) by the American Founding Fathers. Luther himself is a great example of a man who prized the Natural Law virtue of conscience over Church Law. Did Koterski's Jesuit bias against Protestantism make him completely overlook Luther's contribution to political theory? Without question, the Founding Fathers of the United States did appeal to Natural Law when they declared that “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Later, John F. Kennedy asserted that, "the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God." [Inaugural Address, Jan 20, 1961] These passages very well illustrate the basic idea of Natural Law, that rights and freedoms come from a source higher man himself (in this case, God) – they are in fact the expression of the essential rights and very nature of mankind. Despite slavery's entrenchment in America in 1776, men such as William Wilberforce, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. began to champion the Natural Law ideals of the equality of all men. Today, I think the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" is a wonderful tribute to the progress that Natural Law has made to this time. To his credit, Koterski also shows that Natural Law can be invoked with regard to certain human institutions which could be regarded as coming from a higher origin. Marriage and the family could be considered such institutions, for example, and a just government which promotes human freedom could be considered another. Koterski says such institutions have the function of "perfecting man and his virtue within the context of society, and thus are the fruits of applying Natural Law to man's social existence" -- an interesting and viable argument! In modern day life, Natural Law has been championed by such men as Former UN Ambassador Alan Keyes and Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore. Both have argued for the application of Natural Law to American positive law. However, if Koterski’s thesis about Natural Law’s needing to acknowledge God as the Guarantor of our personal liberties is true, it could be argued that Natural Law would be an intrusion of religion into the political sphere. Since it is argued that the American government is proscribed from respecting an establishment of religion by reason of the disestablishment clause of the First Amendment (despite the fact that the United States promotes its so-called "civil religion" in such mottos as "One Nation under God," "In God We Trust," and “God Bless this Honorable Court and the United States”) -- Natural Law could then, as described by Koterski, be attacked as inappropriately applied to American positive law and politics for this very reason. On the other hand, Koterski's own definition of Natural Law – that it is based on the nature of Man, not on the existence of God – could be a way to circumvent this criticism. If we are looking for a sound basis for Natural Law, it seems to me we need to look at Man through the essential aspects of human nature which esteem freedom, conscience and reason. Even in the Bible, the Apostle Paul explicitly recognizes Natural Law existing separately from divine law [Romans 2:14-15.] Aristotle's insights and Thomas Aquinas' synthesis of reason and faith (as enlightening as they may be) seem dated, (700 years ago with Thomas and 2600 years ago with Aristotle.) Despite Aristotle’s unique idea of the “final cause” of man, and Thomas’ position which necessarily enjoins religious faith but subordinates Natural Law to it, I would argue that these philosophies might not the best basis upon which a conception of Natural Law could best be realized. Cicero, Seneca and the Stoics were more influential on the thinking of the Founding Fathers of America in their proposition of recognizing the equality of all men, and indeed they were a great influence on many English jurisprudential thinkers. Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” gives a compelling (though not so inspiring) portrait of human nature and society in the form of the social contract, but, the American colonists’ right to “throw off the chains of tyranny” from the Hobbesian Sovereign was the explicit principle of Natural Law by which Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers justified revolution against George III. In the debate in America, we can see how a conception of Man's Nature as expressed through Natural Law might be relevant not only to such moral issues as fighting wars, but it could also be applied to such issues relating to human nature as: stem-cell research, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and gay marriage. Worldwide, we might also apply Natural Law to such practices as female mutilation, ethnic "cleansing," and religious persecution. If applied in a way which respects the freedom and nature of man in a society which prizes individuality and freedom, a properly grounded conception of Natural Law should give us unique insight into how these moral issues might better be understood, discussed and resolved. I did come to appreciate Natural Law as an important concept in understanding positive law and also in its serving as a basis for our most cherished and sacred political freedoms here in the United States, (and around the world.) I should stress that I do not see the idea of Natural Law as a substitute for utilizing one's own individual faith, reason and judgment -- "Freedom of conscience," as Martin Luther would say, is a freedom with which we cannot dispense. Yet, I am very impressed with the concept of Natural Law, (a concept which I had never fully considered nor appreciated before this course) and I am glad to acknowledge its historical, political, social and legal importance. Through Natural Law, we can recognize the essential moral dignity and stature of man, while giving powerful expression to the yearning for, and fundamental right to, life, liberty and dignity by virtue of the "universality, objectivity and intelligibility" of the nature which we as humans beings all possess and share. If Natural Law is not something which all men can respect (as in, for instance, the case of the Nazis, or in the case of those suicide bombers in Al-Qaeda or the Taliban who murder and subjugate others in the name of their religion) then I certainly can understand Natural Law’s supporting the right to freedom and security as a basis upon which men can -- and do -- fight and die. Natural Law not only finds substantiation in the nature of Man -- but I think it also gives direction and inspiration to the moral heights to which Mankind should aspire and attain.
Date published: 2011-09-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Should have known better This is what you get when someone takes a sacred vow to believe certain premises without reason and then pretends to do philosophy: convoluted rationalizations that are not examined rigorously or honestly (which is what real philosophy requires). By far the worst of the 125 Teaching Company Courses I have taken.
Date published: 2011-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AWESOME in every way! This professor is not only brilliant and an intellectual, his voice is fantastic and his vocabulary and speaking style are perfect. I can not believe anyone would give this course less than 5 stars...there is nothing to criticize....Nothing! Those atheists, who, of course, hate anything that reasons there is a God, are devoid of logic. They complain about the fact that you can not prove there is a God....yet, atheists have never proven there is no God, so their opinion is laughable and their "faith" is more irrational. Cause and effect--Natural Law Theory--HAS to presuppose a Supreme Being.....for with their (non) logic...something came into existence from nothing and all of nature proves this can't happen. After studying philosophy and Natural Law myself, I wanted a course that really went into the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, for he was so crucial in aligning logic, reason and science (Natural Law Theory) to Catholic Theology. His brilliance and genius and mastery of Natural Law and Theology is no greater than this professor's, who has the advantage of being able to read the brilliant writings of the geniuses throughout Western Civilization. Christianity had the most profound effect on Western Thought which led to the most flourishing, free, and creative peoples on earth. Thinking has never been or never will be so sublime for me and I will need to listen to this DVD over and over because of the profundity of this professor and topic.
Date published: 2011-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliantly done. If you want to learn about Natural Law, look no further. Great content delivered wonderfully.
Date published: 2011-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging and Fair Like other reviewers, I found Fr Koterski to be very pleasant to listen to and very well organized. I had the audio version and listened while driving, which proved a challenge. Unless you're trained in Philosophy or have a prodigious memory (mine is aging, alas), reviewing the course notes may prove very helpful to many listeners. I find it rather humorous that people criticize lectures in Natural Law for being biased toward Theism; of course it is! It was Theistic belief that birthed it! I would have it no other way. And for those who are "offended" by this, they should look elsewhere rather than trash a thoughtful presentation by a believing professor.
Date published: 2010-09-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hume's law If this was a religious sermon, I'd give 5 stars. Based on the title my understanding is it should be a philosophical debate. Speaker talks lots about eternal law, divine law, and God's law, those so-called natural law. These are the laws ought to guide our ethical behavior. But there is the very premise missing - he needs to prove God's existence. We cannot just use this as a hypothesis in philosophy, can we? The failure of western philosophy is that philosophers fail to make connection between the real nature and human - thus the so-called Hume's law or the naturalistic fallacy. "No ought from an Is?" Without this connection or inspiration from nature, God is a must hypothesis in the western ethics. And therefore, 'If God doesn't exist, anything is permitted.' I suggest these philosophers go find inspirations from the classical Chinese philosophy Daoism (Taoism) and Confucianism where human morality is drawn from nature not given by God.
Date published: 2010-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course This is an interesting and thought-provoking course. I appreciate Father Koterski's fair-minded approach to a provocative ethical theory. I disagree with the notion that this course is geared toward Catholics and think Father Koterski provided an objective presentation of the development of the natural law theory. Much of the reason I enjoyed the course was that Father Koterski presented the theory without trying to "sell" it.
Date published: 2010-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from more than a medieval philosophy Fr. Koterski has made a theory usually associated with St. Thomas Aquinas relevant to the present time. By couching human rights within the realm of natural law, he has made natural law a vital part of our country's history, from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil Rights Movement. The foundations for judicial review, which is often referred to as legislating from the bench, is also discussed, with ramifications that include social reform during the Depression and the availability of contraceptives. Admittedly, the usual Catholic position on abortion and stem cell research is discussed, but not with the typical dogmatic approach. For those interested in the history of philosophy, this is an excellent course describing how an idea develops and changes over time.
Date published: 2009-10-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from natural law for catholics The course would be useful for people who accept natural law theory and the role it plays in the thinking of much of the roman catholic tradition. It would not, and doesn't really attempt to, be of great use as an objective, scholarly, historicist account of natural law. The lecturer makes almost no attempt to offer anything like an objective, critical perspective, even to the extent of misrepresenting or under-representing its many formidable critics throughout history. It would, for example, be of little use to a college philosophy student at a non-denominational institution. It would, however, serve the amateur with an interest in the predominant strand of catholic philosophy.
Date published: 2009-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Superb Intellectual Workout Having bought the audio version, I appreciated Father Koterski's rich, clear voice. These lectures, thankfully, are especially polished and professional -- which is a necessity when dealing with complex and subtle material. Natural law, "unwritten but universal," AKA "natural moral law," was at first hard for me to relate to and comprehend. I soon found it was useful for me to kind of dial down my resistance and just listen to Father Koterski, letting his words sink in slowly. Patience paid off, and the course started clicking. I quickly got it that Hobbes saw natural laws as being mostly about brutal survival, while Locke could see natural rights (embedded) in natural law. This was a big deal! From about Lecture 16 and forward, I began to get the reality that I awake each morning already inside natural law and I look out from it. It's in our language itself. Our thoughts themselves occur inside of natural law. It's what I think in, without even thinking about it! (It's always good to know what box your thoughts are in, and where they start.) Father Koterski says that people who use the term 'human rights' actually mean 'natural rights -- because the larger context, the playing field, is really philosophy and ethical theory. I found this course was a superb intellectual workout and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2009-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Helps if You Already Believe Several long and excellent reviews of this course have been written before mine. I concur with most of what has been said regarding Father Koterski's fine set of lectures, so I won't repeat what has gone before. But it seems to me that advocates of Natural Law run into the same problem faced by Proofs of the Existence of God: if you already are a believer the proofs seem logical and irrefutable. If you are skeptical, however, the most "rigorous" proof will not move you. I salute Father Koterski for pouring his heart into this complex subject that he obviously cares deeply about. He is a gentle and patient teacher. He does not try to disguise his point of view, but he also does not deride those who see things differently. I enjoyed the course, it made me think, and I recommend it heartily. The fact that I still might not be convinced is no reflection on Father Koterski.
Date published: 2009-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Unconvincing...AND Highly Recommended!! Prof. Koterski is a superb teacher. He is well-organized, highly knowledgable in the pertinent history and philosophy, and an excellent speaker who brings the subject of Natural Law as a basis for morality to life. He is also very respectful of opposing views, which he discusses with some depth and fairness, but (as would be expected) he always concludes that whatever area of morality is under discussion is best and most rationally approached from a Natural Law standpoint. I highly recommend the course as an outstanding introduction and survey of Natural Law thinking and morality. Taking it should provide a firm understanding of the concepts and approaches of Natural Law, as well as an intellectually fascinating tour of the history and philosophical development of this area. For these well-worthwhile purposes, this course is as good as I imagine it gets. ON THE OTHER HAND - Taking the course convinced me that there is in fact nothing of true logical or intellectual substance in Natural Law Theory. I certainly can't fully defend my view here. It would take an entire course to thoroughly expound and defend opposing theories - (which would be a very worthwhile course and which I urge the Teaching Company to consider!) I would only point out what I take to be the most important and pervasive logical mistakes which to me make it clear that Natural Law is built on a foundation of sand and wishful thinking, and which I urge any who take the course to be aware of as you listen. These mistakes are three essential and recurring instances of rhetorical slight-of-hand, interwoven with each other, each of which involves a subtle and purposful shift in meaning, or equivocation, of key terms in the argument: 1. One is an equivocation on the term "good", between its use to mean "good FOR something" [food is good for the growth of human beings, where "good" is here an instrumental but not moral term] whose opposite is "bad" [lack of food is bad for our growth, also an instrumental and non-moral term]; and "good as an end in itself, and therefore a moral good" [saving an innocent life is good in itself, an end in itself, and is therefore a moral good, and the person performing the act is morally good] whose opposite is "evil" [killing an innocent life is morally wrong and therefore an evil- which is the opposite of a moral good - and the person committing the act is morally evil.] 2. Second is an equivocation on the term "nature", between its use to mean "the natural, material world" [it is the nature of a human embryo to develop into a human adult], and its use to mean "the natural action of a conscious being with a goal in mind" [it is the nature of a sculptor to produce sculptures, meaning the conscious purpose or end or goal of the sculptor is the production of a sculpture]. 3. Third is an equivocation on the term "end" or "purpose" or "goal." It can be plausably stated that the end or purpose or goal of a human embryo is to grow into a human adult, but only in the sense that if provided with needed instrumental goods and protected from instrumental harms, the natural laws governing matter and energy will result in its growing into an oak. The equivocation occurs when this use of "end" or "purpose" or "goal" is shifted to express a moral requirement, such that it is considered as morally good to support development in this way, and morally evil to inhibit it. This is not a refutation, but an attempt to clarify how the Natural Law argument works by shifting meanings to get from contingent, accepted, self-evident, non-moral propositions about the "is" of the world to absolute moral obligations or "oughts." I would urge you to keep these in mind as you think about the course. I can only note that, for me, the surfacing of these hidden equivocations in Prof. Koterski's arguments was sufficient to demonstrate the failure of his arguments to logically cohere, and in the end they proved entirely unconvincing. This failure of Natural Law both exemplifies and supports Hume's assertion that one can't derive an "ought" from an "is." That having been said, I still loved the course as an philosophical, historical, and intellectual tour and tour-de-force, and I highly recommend it for any with an interest in religion or in morality, or especially to any who desire a superb overview of the Natural Law philosophy and tradition.
Date published: 2009-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this course! Father Koterski is one of the Teaching Company.'s best lecturers. He's articulate, erudite, extremely well read and very civil. This course gives an excellent history of the phrase “Natural Law” covering it's varied meanings over the centuries. But it's at its best when describing how Natural Law theory is used today in addressing some of our more vexing ethical problems. The essence of Natural Law theory is pretty simple really. Start by viewing it as “human nature”. Anything that goes against this human nature is immoral. And immoral acts are wrong regardless of any “good” that may result from that act. The rest is just details. For example, destroying a viable human embryo is immoral, since such an act violates that embryo's human nature (that is, the opportunity for the embryo to reach maturity). The underlying morality of that “immoral” act won't change even if “good” results from stem cell research made possible by that embryo's destruction. Ergo, such stem cell research is immoral and should be stopped. Father Koterski thinks that Natural Law brings objectivity to ethical decision making. But art would seem to be needed in making that initial analysis of human nature. That process seems more metaphysical (theological?) than scientific. Some may question whether Natural Law is really as objective as Father Koterski believes it to be. We must remember that the effects of Natural Law theory are global. This is a major part of the ethical system practiced by the Catholic Church and its reach is wide and affects billions of lives. So what if the Natural Law theorists are wrong? Father Koterski readily admits of diversity in their ranks. Error does happen. As I recall, at one time, Natural Law was used to defend slavery. So what if Natural Law is wrong today...wrong on euthanasia, wrong on abortion, wrong on birth control, wrong on everything.? Would error shaped by the hand of arrogant certainty be immoral? Using Natural Law logic...probably not. A good faith, albeit incorrect, interpretation of Natural Law isn't itself immoral (to error is human after all ). So, then, could one who causes untold human suffering... suffering on a truly massive scale...by misinterpreting Natural Law be morally culpable? Probably not...you see, it is not the “ends” that matter at all, just the morality of the “means”. Anyway, this is an excellent course taught by an excellent professor. I highly recommend it to anyone who treads through the ethical minefield of modern life...especially if you believe that sometimes the best way to counter silly ideas is to give them light and plenty of air.
Date published: 2009-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Aristotelian Survey: Essential! I admit being astonished at some of the negative reviews of this course. It seems to me that the critics, most of whom offer no specific examples, fail to appreciate the Aristotelian approach taken by Father Koterski. The claim that he equivocates on natural law is laughable, since he goes to great pains to identify a score of species within the genus of natural law down through the ages. As to the claim that he is biased, well, perhaps the "Father" should give everyone a clue. Father Koterski is a Jesuit. He makes his stance very clear. He is a participant in a long-standing tradition of Aristotelian thought as embodied in St. Thomas Aquinas and Mortimer Adler. I am not a Christian, but I do appreciate the clarity of the kind of Aristotelian analysis Father Koterski exercises. He is a brilliant expositor of what constitutes natural law essentially and how varieties of it show up in the arguments of so many people in history down to the present day. The claim that he devotes a "lecture to evolution and why intelligent design is a viable alternative" is simplistic, and fails to point out how Father Koterski critiques many advocates of intelligent design theory for claiming inappropriately a scientific stance. Father Koterski is not above allowing some of his frustration to show through with the claims of moral relativists. But he stays well within the Aristotelian methods of argument and does a great job of stating the assumptions and arguments (or lack thereof) clearly. He is a great explicator of and arguer for natural law theory. And this is a truly great course.
Date published: 2009-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Despite Reviews AUDIO CD: I'm amazed at the negative reviews. It seems that people are surprised that a lecturer who is a "Father" would take a Christian stance. Well DUH!! I'm not a Christian, but I have a healthy appreciation of philosophy and religion, and Father Koterski is an excellent lecturer. I can't help but believe that the negative reviewers brought THEIR own agenda to the course, and perhaps were not up to the task of appreciating Father Koterski's abstract specificity and clarity. Father Koterski has a voice made for radio, a real pleasure to listen to. His scholarship is solid and the depth of his survey course is significant. He has obviously found this subject dear to his heart. And he brings a level of intellectual clarity that reflects his being a great teacher. Of all the Teaching Company professors I've heard so far, Father Koterski would be the one I'd nominate to do a complete course on the Life and Works of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Date published: 2009-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Intro to NL Fr. Koterski gives a historical overview of natural law by showing how Jewish, Greek, Medieval, and Modern thinkers all contributed to the theory. Moreover, Koterski combats the notion that the study of natural law is simply an antiquarian interest. A section of the course is devoted to applying natural law principles to contemporary moral problems. He even addresses the question of evolution since its account of nature seems incompatible with a natural law account. A rigorous look at a venerable school of thought.
Date published: 2008-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Father Koterski does an excellent job teaching step by step what Natural Law is - what that very phrase entails; and, yes, God is intrinsic element of this particular subject. This course sets a great intellectual foundation for approaching Human Law.
Date published: 2008-12-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Biased A better name for this course would be Christian theology and humane nature. The presenter makes it quite obvious what he thinks is the "right" answer, but gives little in way of fact to support it, all while dismissing others answers out of hand. He devotes one whole lecture to evolution and why intelligent design theory is a viable alternative, but concludes the lecture by stating it doesn't really matter if evolution is true or not. I was left wondering why, if it doesn't matter, did he bring it up at all. I can only conclude that he wanted to say something against evolution. I would suggest the lecturer try reading something by Rothbard or Hoppe.
Date published: 2008-11-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This course dissapointed me. It seemed the instructor lost sight of tying his wide range of the course back to natural law. Also I think he missed some.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This was the only course that I found definately substandard and not in the same league as your other courses I've listened to until now.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thanks to Fr. Koterski for making this hard subject accessible.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This professor, not like a number of others was fair & balanced. He was absolutely outstanding - I contacted him and told him so.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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