Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Levering's "Biblical Natural Law"

I argue that a Darwinian view of human nature supports the natural law reasoning of Thomas Aquinas. I use the term "natural law" to refer to the following cluster of ideas: (1) animals have innate propensities, (2) the normal development of each kind of animal requires the fulfillment of these propensities, (3) animals with conscious awareness desire the satisfaction of these propensities, and (4) human beings use their unique capacity for rational deliberation to formulate ethical standards as plans of life for the harmonious satisfaction of their natural desires over a complete life. Darwinian biology supports this natural law understanding of ethics by showing how such inborn desires and cognitive capacities arise in human biological nature.

This argument for Darwinian natural law comes up in Darwinian Natural Right, in Darwinian Conservatism, and in the Aquinas chapter of Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Rawls. But the fullest statement of this argument is in my paper on "Thomistic Natural Law as Darwinian Natural Right," which was published as an article in Social Philosophy & Policy (vol. 18, no. 1, winter 2001) and as a book chapter in Natural Law and Modern Moral Philosophy, edited by E. F. Paul, F. D. Miller, and J. Paul (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Religious conservatives have objected to my argument by insisting that Thomistic natural law must be founded in the biblical religious belief in God as the Creator of nature who orders nature to his cosmic ends. After all, how can there be a "natural law" without a divine lawmaker? If so, then Darwinian natural science cannot support the Thomistic natural law tradition unless there is some biblical religious belief behind it.

This thinking is well developed in Matthew Levering's new book Biblical Natural Law: A Theocratic and Teleological Approach (Oxford University Press, 2008). But although Levering--a theology professor at Ave Maria University, Naples, Florida--would probably reject my idea of Darwinian natural law, there are some fundamental points of agreement between us.

Levering states his main idea in one sentence: "While all human beings know the natural law at least to some degree, explanations of the character and content of the natural law are greatly assisted by faith, and thus also by biblical revelation" (4). The ambiguity in his position is suggested by the phrases "at least to some degree" and "greatly assisted." He indicates that he is employing a distinction between natural law and explanations of natural law stated by Ralph McInerny: "It would be odd for anyone to say that everyone's grasp of fundamental guides for moral action involves explicit recognition of the existence of God. But it is not odd to say that any adequate account or theory of such fundamental guides must make appeal to God's existence."

I argue that while religious belief can reinforce our natural moral sense, natural morality can stand on its own natural ground in the natural desires of human beings even without any religious belief. A Darwinian science of morality can recognize the importance of religious traditions in sustaining morality. But in so far as morality is rooted in evolved human nature, the natural moral sense can be based on natural human experience without any appeal to supernatural revelation.

As a Christian, Thomas Aquinas believes that the natural moral law is ultimately explained as part of the eternal law of God as the Creator of nature. But still, Aquinas distinguishes the natural law as apprehended in natural human experience and the divine law as revealed to the faithful in the Bible. I interpret this to mean that even those people who do not believe in the Bible as divine revelation of God's moral law can understand and obey natural law. Although Levering generally seems to agree with this, some of what he says in his book suggests that natural law cannot stand on its own without the divine law of the Bible.

At one point, Levering makes a vague reference to my Darwinian Natural Right. He says that my book "equates Darwinian teleology (survival of the fittest) with the teleology of natural inclinations" (12). Although he does not explain his position here, he implies by the context that my "Darwinian teleology" cannot properly explain natural law as based on a divinely ordained cosmic teleology.

This is unclear, however, because elsewhere in his book, Levering seems to endorse the arguments of Alasdair MacIntyre and Jean Porter for a teleology rooted in natural science (170-71). In fact, MacIntyre--in his Dependent Rational Animals--has agreed with my claim that an Aristotelian and Thomistic ethical naturalism can be supported with a Darwinian account of human nature and natural teleology.

In explaining natural law, Aquinas quotes from Ulpian, an ancient Roman jurist: "Natural right is that which nature has taught all animals." To illustrate the natural inclinations that human beings share with other animals, Ulpian referred to the sexual union of male and female and the parental care of offspring as animal propensities that sustain human marriage and family life in conformity to natural law. Like Ulpian, Aquinas speaks of the human disposition to marriage as a "natural instinct of the human species." This biological basis for natural law is also evident in Aquinas's many references to Aristotle's biology and to the zoology of Albert the Great, Aquinas's teacher at the University of Paris.

It is odd that Levering says almost nothing about Aquinas's biological explanations for natural law. He makes some passing references to Aquinas's citation of Ulpian, but without any elaboration. And when he lays out Aquinas's famous description of the levels of natural human inclinations supporting natural law, Levering omits Aquinas's reference to Ulpian (141, 145, 160, 185).

Levering agrees with me about the primacy of Aquinas's claim that "the good is the desirable" (58, 172). He also agrees with me that this Thomistic appeal to natural desires is ignored by John Finnis and his followers who take a Kantian direction in trying to root natural law in "the order of reason" as opposed to the "order of nature" (143-45).

So how important is biblical religion for natural law? At times, Levering seems to be suggesting that we need biblical revelation to resolve moral disputes where natural law by itself is insufficient. But he does not give any clear examples of this.

As I have written previously on this blog, biblical moral teaching often suffers from disputes over its authority, its clarity, and its reliability. Those who are not biblical believers will not accept the authority of the Bible as revelation. Even those in the biblical tradition will disagree about this, because Jews will not always agree with Christians, and Muslims will not always agree with Jews and Christians. Levering assumes the position of a Christian, which suggests that the New Testament has superseded the Hebrew Bible and that the Koran has no authority as revelation.

Moreover, the Bible is often not clear or reliable in its moral teaching. For example, in the debate over the morality of slavery, the Bible could be quoted on both sides. Actually, in every passage of the Bible where slavery is specifically mentioned, it is endorsed. That's why the proslavery people in the American South thought they were the true Christians. The failure of the Bible to properly resolve the debate over slavery is why the American Civil War became a theological crisis for biblical believers.

The teaching of universal love in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount demands pacifism. But a crucial part of natural law is the tradition of just war, which allows for justified killing. Levering embraces the universal love teaching, but he never explains how this can be compatible with just war. And even as he endorses universal love, Levering quotes from the Book of Revelations without considering the implications of the bloody warfare at the end of history prophesied in this last book of the New Testament (222).

Moreover, Levering is silent about the brutal violence of the Old Testament that has led the Catholic Church to indicate that the Old Testament cannot be a reliable text for moral teaching.

Levering's primary argument for the necessity of biblical revelation in supporting natural law is that only through such revelation can we see the ultimate explanation for natural law as rooted in God's creation of nature. But when we seek for ultimate explanations, aren't we forced back to one of two explanations? All explanation depends on some ultimate reality that is unexplained. The naturalist will say that all explanation presupposes the observable order of the natural world as the final ground of explanation that cannot itself be explained: that's just the way it is! And yet the biblical believer will say that behind nature is nature's God. We must ultimately appeal either to an uncaused nature or an uncaused God. But either of these ultimate grounds of order will support natural law.

Some of these themes have been taken up in some previous posts, which can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here., here, and here.

[In some later posts (in August of 2011), I have argued that Thomas Aquinas's teaching on natural law is rooted in Aristotle's biology, that this is particularly clear in Aquinas's biological account of the natural law of sex, marriage, and parental care, and that much of this biological reasoning for natural law can be confirmed by modern Darwinian biology.  Levering is silent about Aquinas's reliance on Aristotle's biology.]

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Fascist Corporatism of Bush and Obama

It is a disturbing sign of the times that even though the bailout of the Detroit automakers failed to win congressional approval, President Bush has just announced that he will carry out the bailout on his own authority. At the same time, Henry Paulsen has announced that he has already spent $350 billion of the financial bailout money and is now prepared to spend the second $350 billion. All of this and more has been supported by Barack Obama who promises to continue in the path of Bush towards using taxpayer money to protect corporations from collapse while introducing federal management of large sectors of the American economy. During the presidential campaign, John McCain agreed with both Bush and Obama on the need for such governmental control of the economy.

So what do we call this? This is not free-market capitalism, because government is intervening to protect failing corporations from the consequences of their economic decisions. This is not pure socialism, because private property and markets have not been completely abolished by the government intervention. In a previous post, I called this "market socialism." But a better label might be "fascist corporatism."

Corporatism emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an attempt at finding middle ground between pure capitalism and pure socialism. The idea is that while property would be mostly privately held and largely subject to market mechanisms, government would intervene to manage the economy to protect the social good.

Corporatism was a crucial element of Benito Mussolini's fascism. In "The Doctrine of Fascism" (1932), Mussolini criticized the individualism and greedy materialism of classical liberalism. Against this, he argued for the "corporative system" in which "divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State." This would support Fascism as "an organized, centralized, authoritarian democracy." "If liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government."

After quoting some classical liberals about the need for free markets and limited government, Mussolini pointed to the global economic crisis that began in 1929 and asked: "What would they say now to the unceasing, inevitable, and urgently requested interventions of government in business?" Franklin Roosevelt adopted many of Mussolini's arguments and policies as the basis for the New Deal.

Doesn't this sound familiar? Isn't this the rhetoric of Bush and Obama? And just as Mussolini insisted on the need for charismatic leadership in a time of crisis, don't we see Obama presenting himself as the great leader who will save us?

From the viewpoint of Darwinian conservatism, Fascist corporatism is foolish and dangerous because it ignores the imperfection of human nature in both knowledge and virtue.

Because of the imperfection of human knowledge, governmental planners never know enough to plan a large, complex economy. They act without knowing what they are doing. Far from pulling the country out of the Great Depression, FDR's policies actually made the economy worse--as indicated by the new economic slump in his second term. But no matter how often his policies failed, FDR never lost confidence as he tried one thing after another. Obama has said this is what he most admires in FDR--the confidence in trying anything without any coherent understanding of what he was doing. Don't we see this now in the chaotic moves from one bailout plan to another without any persuasive rationale for why any plan will really improve things rather than make things worse?

Because of the imperfection of human virtue, the concentration of power in the hands of a few people makes corruption inevitable. When a few people in the executive branch of government are free to hand out trillions of taxpayer dollars to businesses and individuals, we know that this will be distorted by ambition and avarice.

By contrast, Darwinian conservatism looks to the principles of dispersed knowledge and countervailing power. No single mind or group of minds know enough to manage a large, complex economy. Free markets allow for the allocation of resources through an emergent order of exchanges that draws from the knowledge of ever-changing economic factors dispersed over millions of individuals facing local conditions. This free-market system is not planned out, and so it works through unpredictable cycles of boom and bust that are painful to those who have made bad business decisions. But any attempt to smooth this out through centrally planned governmental planning will only prolong the economic slumps.

Darwinian conservatism subscribes to Lord Acton's famous maxim: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There is no perfect protection against the corruption of power. But we can at least try to create institutional structures in which "ambition counteracts ambition." But what we see now in the United States is a concentration of power in the President and the executive branch with very little countervailing power. Bush's bailout of Detroit a few days after Congress failed to authorize this is only one of many examples of how American government has been transformed into a presidential government based on the sort of executive leadership favored by the Fascists.

A few months ago, I predicted that if Bush and Obama continued on the path of massive governmental interventions in the economy, the consequence would be a deepening crisis over many years comparable to the Great Depression. Events over the past few months suggest that is exactly where we headed.

Further analysis of the history of Fascist corporatism in America can be found in a recent article by David Boaz and an earlier article by Anthony Gregory. The link between Fascism and corporatism is clear in Mussolini's "Doctrine of Fascism."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do Women Really Want to Become Men? Linda Hirshman's Feminism

In the United States, about half of the mothers of infant children choose to stay at home with their children instead working outside the home. Many of us--including many feminists--would say there is nothing wrong with this as long as it is a free choice. But feminist Linda Hirshman says this choice is immoral because these women are depriving themselves of the fully human good life that can only come from pursuing the wealth, power, and status found in the public spheres outside the home. A few years ago, Hirshman argued her case in an article for American Prospect, which provoked an intense debate in the media. Recently, Lauren Hall has posted an article criticizing Hirshman for ignoring the biological nature of women that inclines many of them to prefer caring for children unencumbered with working outside the home.

I'm on Hall's side in this debate. But I should admit a personal bias. Hall--a political scientist teaching at Rochester Institute of Technology--was a doctoral student of mine at Northern Illinois University, where she studied political theory and biopolitics.

Hirshman argues that feminism has failed in adopting "choice feminism"--based on the idea that women are free as long as they have equal opportunity to choose how they want to live. The failure is that while feminism has opened up the public world to women, the private world of family life is still patriarchal in that most of the child care and housework is done by women. On the one hand, women now have unprecedented opportunities for education and professional training and for careers in the work world. On the other hand, many of these well-educated and professionally trained women choose to withdraw from their careers so that they can spend more time with their children at home. Hirshman elaborates her reasoning in her book Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World (2006). In the book, she declares: "Bounding home is not good for women and it's not good for the society. The women aren't using their capacities fully; their so-called free choice makes them unfree dependents on their husbands." Moreover, "child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life" (2).

Against the "relativism" of "choice feminism," Hirshman defends a "values feminism" based on moral standards for a good or flourishing life. Appealing to a philosophical moral tradition that begins with Plato and Aristotle, Hirshman declares that "a good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one's capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one's own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world." Looking to such standards, she insists, we can see that when women choose to stay home with their children, they are making bad choices--bad for them and bad for society. To truly flourish, women need professional careers that give them "power, honor, money, exercise of capacities."

In response, Hall observes that many women often have less interest than men do in striving for dominance in arenas of competition outside the family. So what Hirshman is really saying is that women cannot live good lives unless they become just like men. Moreover, Hall sees Hirshman as ignoring the evolved human nature of men and women. "The biological clock that most women hear ticking isn't the clock of patriarchal oppression. It's hormones, it's biology, and, unfortunately for the feminists, for most women, it's destiny. We want to have and hold children because that's how our bodies are set up."

Like Hall, I think the differences in the choices typical on average for men and women are not just cultural constructions of "gender ideology," as Hirshman suggests, but manifestations of natural differences shaped by human evolutionary history. In her book, Hirshman dismisses this objection in only four pages as "the monkey explanation" (74-77). She claims there is no way to scientifically test evolutionary psychology. And she suggests the "natural hausfrau scenario" is implausible, because about half of American mothers work outside the home. "If women are programmed, as conservatives contend, to stay home with their children and keep house, there's an awful lot of unnatural activity going on."

In denying that there is any evidence for evolved, natural differences in male and female psychology, Hirshman ignores the extensive neurophysiological studies of how the "female brain" differs from the "male brain." My recent posts on Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain point to some of this evidence.

To refer to the "natural hausfrau scenario" ignores the complexity of women's natural desires. As is clear in Brizendine's book as well as the writing of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy--particularly, Mother Nature--the Darwinian science of women's nature presents women as complex and ambivalent in making difficult decisions about the trade offs that must be made in trying to satisfy a wide range of sometimes conflicting natural desires.

As I have said in my writing about the twenty natural desires of human nature, women and men differ on average in their propensities. And yet all human beings--women as well as men--must balance one desire against others. Women in general (on average) tend to be more nurturing as manifested in a greater propensity to care for children, and men in general (on average) tend to be more dominant as manifested in a greater propensity to seek high-status positions. And yet women in general also seek wealth, power, and status, and they must make sometimes difficult decisions about how to combine their desires for maternal care and familial bonding with desires for ambitious advancement in the realms of social, economic, and political competition.

In her book, Hirshman writes: "Without regard to class, in 2004, only 38 percent of married mothers with husbands and children under one in the house worked full time--13 percent work part time, another 3 percent are looking for work. Married women with children under five and a husband around worked at a rate of only 62 percent" (10).

"Only"? "Only 62 percent"? Doesn't this show that when women have equal opportunities with men, many women--over half--will want to work outside the home even when they have young children? But doesn't this also show that for many women the struggle to balance child care against career ambition will force difficult trade offs? And about half of the women will decide to stay at home with the children, at least during the early years of infancy.

Hirshman talks about the need for prudence in deciding how best to live a flourishing life. But she seems blind to the need for women's prudence in deciding what is best in one's individual circumstances, where there is no abstract rule to settle the decision for all individuals in all circumstances. Hirshman is confident that she has the one rule applicable to all cases--every woman must always work outside the home to live a flourishing life, and therefore any woman who decides it's best for her and those she loves to stay at home with her infant children should be condemned for making an immoral choice.

A Darwinian science of sexual identity can clarify the differing natural propensities of men and women. But it cannot decide what is best for every individual woman and man in every set of circumstances. That's why I emphasize the need for prudence or practical wisdom as men and women deliberate about how best to satisfy their sometimes conflicting natural desires.

So what's Hirshman's practical advice? She offers four rules. First, women shouldn't spend too much time in a liberal arts education, because they should be going for professional training that will prepare them to win high-paying jobs. Women should give up their idealistic interests in the arts and the humanities. Second, they should take their careers seriously, and that means never quitting a job just because it's not personally satisfying to them. Third, they should negotiate the best deal they can with any prospective husband. A woman's biggest mistake is marrying a man slightly older and richer than she is, because this man will be in a superior bargaining position. It's better to marry a man who is much younger or much older, because it will be easier for her to pressure him into doing lots of household work. Finally, "use reproductive blackmail." If a woman wants to have a baby, she should. But she should never have more than one! Because it's the second baby that begins to take up too much time for the working mother.

Isn't this pretty wimpy advice? If Hirshman's women really are putting their careers first, why not remain unmarried and childless? After all, there are plenty of good role models here--Condolezza Rice and others.

Of course, there are many women who never marry and never have any children who live flourishing lives. But most women would not regard this as a fully good life. Doesn't Hirshman implicitly concede that in her rules? Is this because she knows that for most women the natural desires for marriage and children are so deep that frustrating them creates a sense of an unfulfilled life?

Hirshman has written a blog post criticizing Brizendine's book. I agree with her that Brizendine is often sloppy in her citations of research. But even so, most of Brizendine's general points about the neurophysiology of the female brain are well supported. My posts on Brizendine can be found here, here, and here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Strauss, Modern Dualism, and the Need for a Comprehensive Science

Writing for the "Postmodern Conservative" blog, Ivan Kenneally suggests that my Darwinian conservatism is insufficiently conservative and insufficiently postmodern.

He writes: "Does evolutionary biology do justice to the real human person as we experience ourselves, or is there something about our characteristic resistance to nature and eros for transcendence that eludes Darwinian categories of explanation? . . . Darwinian conservatism might fail by identifying human nature too closely with our bodily selves, with nature as such."

But far from being "postmodern," what I see here in Kenneally's comments is a distinctly modern assumption of transcendentalist dualism. Against my naturalistic view of human beings as part of nature, Kenneally suggests a dualistic opposition between animal nature and human will or reason. He thus assumes a dualism that runs through modern thought from Hobbes to Rousseau to Kant.

I am reminded of the Straussian responses to my conception of Darwinian natural right. On the one hand, the Straussians agree with Strauss about the need for a comprehensive science of nature that would include human nature, which would overcome the typically modern separation between the natural world and the human mind. On the other hand, many of the Straussians (like Leon Kass and Allan Bloom) seem to embrace the radical dualism of nature and humanity that comes out of the modern tradition of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant.

This ambiguity in the Straussian response to my argument for a fully naturalistic account of human life is clear in Richard Hassing's Straussian critique of Darwinian natural right. In my reply to Hassing, I showed how my conception of Darwinian naturalism moved toward the "comprehensive science" sought by Strauss--a science of nature that would include the ethical striving of human nature as part of the natural universe. This would be a science of emergent naturalism that would escape the dilemma of choosing between a reductionist monism and a transcendentalist dualism. Instead of the artificial separation between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, we need a new science of nature that would integrate all the intellectual disciplines as we try to understand human nature within the natural order of the whole. Nothing less is required if we want to solve what Strauss identified as the fundamental problem of natural right.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Graduate Study in Political Science at NIU

Occasionally, people ask me about the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in political science at Northern Illinois University.

In addition to the traditional fields of political science, we have Politics and the Life Sciences (Biopolitics) as one of our fields of study. I teach both in Political Theory and in Biopolitics.

In the field of Political Theory, I am one of three regular faculty who teach a wide range of courses over the entire history of political philosophy from Plato to the present. Most of our seminars are organized around the close reading of classic texts. In recent years, we have had graduate seminars on Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hume, Adam Smith, Burke, Nietzsche, Lincoln, Tocqueville, and Hayek.

In the field of Biopolitics, I am one of three regular faculty who teach courses in evolutionary psychology, biopolitical theory, biomedical policy, and biotechnology. Our graduate students can also take courses outside the department in biology, psychology, and anthropology.

I have worked with some outstanding students over the years. In recent years, five of the students writing dissertations under me have had their dissertations published as books. They have also had success in securing tenure-track teaching jobs.

Most of our students get their first teaching experience by teaching their own undergraduate courses in our department.

In addition to the financial aid in the department through assistantships, we have regularly had two Earhart Fellowships every year for graduate students in political theory.

More information can be found at NIU's political science website.

Anyone who might want to work with me should contact me directly. I can be reached by email at larnhart@niu.edu.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Anastaplo & Strauss on Natural Right and Non-Western Thought

The very idea of Darwinian natural right, as I have developed it, carries with it many contestable ideas.

The idea of nature was discovered by the ancient Greek philosophers when they recognized that there was a rational order in the universe and in human life as part of the universe, a rational order that is universal and unchanging and therefore distinguishable from the conventional or customary order of particular human groups. This Greek idea of nature runs throughout the Western tradition of thought. But if this idea of nature is uniquely Western, then one might wonder whether it has any truth in application to non-Western cultures.

The idea of natural right suggests that nature provides a ground for morality. In human nature, one might discern natural desires and capacities that set norms of good and bad, just and unjust. Natural right or justice is that which conforms to human nature and is therefore universal, whereas conventional right or justice is that which has been established by human contrivance in particular societies. But the diversity of moral experience across the differing cultural traditions might make us wonder whether there is any universal human nature supporting a universal morality.

The idea of Darwinian natural right suggests that the ancient Greek conception of natural right could be supported by a modern Darwinian understanding of human biological nature. But we might question whether modern natural science can do this, because it might seem that modern science denies the teleological conception of nature that was assumed in ancient Greek--and particularly Aristotelian--science.

The idea of Darwinian natural right implies that morality can be founded on a philosophic or scientific understanding of nature. But some people would argue that the ultimate ground of morality is found not in natural experience as known by human reason but in a divine law that is known only by religious faith. And, in fact, the moral life of human beings in diverse cultures often seems to rest on religious belief in the divine authority of moral law.

In working through these issues, it has been helpful for me to ponder the lines of thought suggested by George Anastaplo in his book But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (Lexington Books, 2002). Anastaplo was a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, and his thinking has been shaped by Strauss's account of the Greek understanding of nature, natural right, and religious faith. The great value of Anastaplo's book is that he applies these Straussian ideas to the study of seven non-Western traditions of thought--Mesopotamian thought (the Gilgamesh Epic), ancient African thought, Hindu thought (the Bhagavad Gita), Confucian thought (the Analects), Buddhist thought, Islamic thought (the Koran), and North American Indian thought.

Some years ago, I wrote an article for The Political Science Reviewer analyzing and responding to Anastaplo's studies of non-Western thought. That article can be found online.

Although I generally agree with Anastaplo's Straussian arguments, I do raise some questions about whether the philosophic conception of nature can be defended against the challenge coming from religious faith. I also lay out my reasoning for why I think modern science--and particularly, Darwinian science--can sustain the idea of natural right as founded in human biological nature. Along the way, I suggest that Anastaplo's reasoning is remarkably similar to that of David Hume.