Natural Law, Common Good, and the Body

Natural Law, Common Good, and the Body

JPI 1003
3 Credits

It would seem that “natural law” must be both a kind of “law” and in some way “natural.” Yet, there is little agreement about how natural law relates to nature. Moreover, many treatments seem to underplay the idea that natural law is a kind of law. For example, according to the classical formulation of St. Thomas, law is an ordination of practical reason toward common good. However, the relation of natural law to common good is often not very thematic. For its part, the “common good” (bonum commune) has lately become a frequent topic of discussion. Yet its precise meaning remains a bit obscure. In part this is because the primary sources from the tradition—e.g., Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas—did little by way of offering us explicit or entirely unambiguous definitions. Subsequent authors have generally failed to bring uncontroverted light to the question. They have argued about whether it is simply the individual goods offered to a community’s members, or the aggregation of those goods, or a common goal of a community, or the ongoing formation and dialogue about the goods of a community, or the virtues of the members of a community, or the goods that are intrinsic to the proper order of a community, or some other such configuration. As one scholar put it, the only constituents that seem certain are also definitional, even tautological: the “common good” must be both “good” and “common.” Little agreement can be found however concerning the content of these two elements as they pertain to the concept.

Finally, a result of modern tendencies toward materialism and mechanism has been, perhaps paradoxically, a loss of the body. These and other tendencies of course are also closely related to modern skepticism concerning natural law and common good. If the correlation of natural law and common good may seem clear, the relationship to the body may seem less so. Yet it is only the body that places us within nature and community. The body both represents our nature visibly and expresses our natural relations. Can an adequate theory of natural law and common good be had without a prior adequate theory of body?

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David S. Crawford portrait

David S. Crawford

Associate Professor of Moral Theology and Family Law

Dr. Crawford’s teaching spans the areas of moral theology and philosophical ethics, the theological and philosophical anthropology of marriage and family, and legal and political philosophy. His publications address human action, natural law, homosexuality, “gender identity,” and the anthropological implications of modern civil law.

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