Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Natural and the Good

I'm skeptical that the concept of the natural as commonly understood can lie at the foundation of ethics. For that common idea of the natural is that it is what at present occurs always or for the most part. But we live in a fallen world, and much that now seems quite natural because of its frequency cannot be as God intended. Examples:

1. Sin itself. It is now ubiquitous. But (needless to say) it is not for that reason natural. It is profoundly unnatural.

2. All the many specific types of sin. Anger is quite common, as are selfishness and pride. But as with all sin, they are unnatural.

3. All the many institutions created to bring a measure of order to a sinful world. Are jails natural? I'll grant that they are inevitable given the ruin wrougt by sin. But they are not for that reason natural. Rather they are a necessary means to mitigate with the dangers of sinful and thus unnatural humanity.

4. Death. Scripture and Tradition teach us that death is a result of sin. Thus it inherits the unnaturalness of sin.

Questions remain, of course. If to find what's natural we cannot simply examine the world about us, how are we to know what it is? If the natural is not what occurs always or for the most part, just what is it? I'll take up these questions in a later post.

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