The problem is that while "natural right in its classic form is connected with a teleological view of the universe," it seems that modern natural science has refuted this cosmic teleology. From the point of view of Aristotle, Strauss explains, how we settle this issue will be decided by "the manner in which the problem of the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and their motion is solved." Consequently, "an adequate solution to the problem of natural right cannot be found before this basic problem has been solved."
The reader might expect, then, that Strauss is going to solve this basic problem in this book. On the contrary, Strauss denies this expectation in the last paragraph of the Introduction: "Needless to say, the present lectures cannot deal with this problem. They will have to be limited to that aspect of the problem of natural right which can be clarified within the confines of the social sciences." And, indeed, when the reader reaches the end of the book, it seems that the problem of natural right is still an unsolved problem.
This has led some of Strauss's readers to suspect that Strauss was a nihilist who saw natural right as nothing more than a "salutary myth." Some readers have found support for this suspicion in Strauss's claim that the cause of natural right might be "hopeless," because "there cannot be natural right if all that man could know about right were the problem of right" (24).
Moreover, in the "Preface to the 7th Impression" of Natural Right and History that Strauss wrote in 1970, just three years before his death, he stated: "Nothing that I have learned has shaken my inclination to prefer 'natural right,' especially in its classic form, to the reigning relativism, positivist or historicist." To identify this as his "preference" sounds like the historicist position as he describes it in his book (47). But what would it mean for a historicist to "prefer" natural right over historicism? (I thank David Bahr for drawing my attention to Strauss's Preface of 1970.)
As I have indicated in some previous posts, I believe that the only solution to the problem of natural right that affirms the truth of the idea of natural right is Darwinian natural right. Furthermore, I believe that Strauss points to that solution in Natural Right and History, although he does not clearly and fully embrace it. He can't embrace it for two reasons. First, he fears that Darwinian science is a "deadly truth" that is deadly because it denies the popular belief in the cosmic teleology of intelligent design or divine creation. Second, he agrees with Heidegger's historicism in rejecting evolutionary biology as degrading in its reductionistic account of human beings as different in degree but not in kind from other animals.
In Natural Right and History, Strauss points to Darwinian natural right in various ways. First of all, he points to the idea that Aristotelian natural right does not really require a cosmic teleology as long as we can understand the natural good as what is naturally desirable for human beings. He writes:
. . . The denial of natural right thus appears to be the consequence of the denial of particular providence. But the example of Aristotle alone would suffice to show that it is possible to admit natural right without believing in particular providence or in divine justice proper.
For, however indifferent to moral distinctions the cosmic order may be thought to be, human nature, as distinguished from nature in general, may very well be the basis of such distinctions. To illustrate the point by the example of the best-known pre-Socratic doctrine, namely, of atomism, the fact that the atoms are beyond good and bad does not justify the inference that there is nothing by nature good or bad for any compounds of atoms, and especially for those compounds which we call "men." In fact, no one can say that all distinctions between good and bad which men make or all human preferences are merely conventional. We must therefore distinguish between those human desires and inclinations which are natural and those which originate in conventions. Furthermore, we must distinguish between those human desires and inclinations which are in accordance with human nature and therefore good for man, and those which are destructive of his nature or his humanity and therefore bad. We are thus led to the notion of a life, a human life, that is good because it is in accordance with nature. Both parties to the controversy admit that there is such a life, or, more generally expressed, they admit the primacy of the good as distinguished from the just. The controversial issue is whether the just is good (by nature good) or whether the life in accordance with human nature requires justice or morality. (94-95)In saying that the good is rooted in the "human desires and inclinations" of human nature, Strauss adds in a footnote that "this notion was accepted by 'almost all' classical philosophers," as indicated in Cicero's De finibus (5.17). In this passage, Cicero writes:
Now almost all have agreed that the subject with which prudence is occupied and the end which it desires to attain is bound to be something intimately adapted to our nature. It must be capable of directly arousing and awakening a desire of the mind [appetitum animi], what in Greek is called horme. But what it is that at the first moment of our existence excites in our nature this impulse of desire--as to this there is no agreement. It is at this point that all the difference of opinion among students of the ethical problem arises. Of the whole inquiry into the ends of goods and bads and the question which among them is ultimate and final, the fountainhead is to be found in the earliest instincts of nature.If the good is the desirable, and the naturally good is the naturally desirable, and if the naturally desirable is rooted in our natural human instincts, then the question of natural right becomes the question of how best to understand the range of our instinctively natural desires. This assumes an immanent teleology of human nature that does not require a "teleological view of the universe." And while cosmic teleology has been refuted by modern natural science, the immanent teleology of evolved human nature can be supported by modern evolutionary science.
Strauss refuses, however, to openly and fully embrace that conclusion.
I will have more to say about this in some future posts.