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.
These 24 in-depth lectures 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.
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. Among other things, you'll look at: the virtual dialogue that took place between the Ionian scientists, the Sophists, and their great interlocutors, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; Thomas Aquainas's Summa Theologica, which sets 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; 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; and the criticisms leveled against natural law by Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant.
Finally, 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.
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Okay as a history, not great as a Sunday School
The history of natural law theory that Father Joseph gives is good. This is what I was looking for, so in that sense I got what I was expecting.
I have listened to a number of The Great Courses, some multiple times, so yes.
Probably not, unless it was the only option in a field of my interest. His often 'breathless' (with excitement) delivery was eventually quite annoying.
It inspired me to have an even deeper suspicion of those who invoke natural law in service of a specific religious belief.
The good Father gave a reasonably in-depth history of natural law theory, which was helpful. I have a doctorate in political science, with an emphasis in political theory, so I have more than a passing familiarity with natural law philosophy and history, and in this context I can say that this aspect of this lecture series was not rudimentary, but good enough to satisfy someone with my background.
That said, there was a substantial portion of this series that sounded much more like Sunday School, and not a Sunday School for sophisticated listeners but more suited for gullible pre-teens with relatively weak reasoning skills. Father Koterski's repeated invocations of natural law as a justification for his stance against abortion became exceedingly tiresome, especially as they were not particularly well-argued but mostly stated as a matter of course. I also found it difficult to weather his repeated references to angels as a legitimate support for a philosophical position. If you believe in angels and are against abortion (I am personally neither for nor against abortion per se), this may be the lecture series for you.
- Shea K. Robison