Montague Brown: The Role of Natural Law in a World of Religious and Political Diversity

Religion and politics, church and state—just to mention these things is to invite disagreement and perhaps even mutual suspicion. It is not for nothing that they say the two subjects never to be brought up in polite society are religion and politics. There is much wisdom in this adage, for within a group of social friends, or even within an extended family, there will be differences on these subjects. And because these subjects are so big in our lives, we are at once defensive about our own position and loathe to offend others by challenging theirs. When we do talk about these things, the conversation often turns to explosive challenges or icy silences, ending with hurt feelings. That we therefore tend to avoid such discussions shows more than just politeness, I think. It also shows sensitivity to the importance of freedom in choosing how we shall live. We insist on our own freedom to choose those ultimate loyalties by which we think we can best guide our lives, and because of this, we don’t want to force other people to act against their freedom of conscience. On the other hand, precisely because these things are so important, covering all aspects of how we order our lives, we ought to talk about them. If we really want what is best for ourselves and for those we love, then we should, at least at some times, talk about what we think would be best. And certainly, such conversation is necessary on the world stage, where conflicts involving injustice and violence have been, and still are, perpetrated in the name of religious and political ideals. I propose, as a way to negotiate such a mine field of commitments, that we turn to those things on which we do agree, those fundamentally human things—what has often been called the natural law. In the first section of this paper, after addressing briefly the kinds of conflicts that have arisen due to strong religious beliefs or political commitments, I shall examine the general principles of natural law and how they relate to religion and politics. In the second section, I shall turn to more specific matters concerning our obligations to others: what they are, their degree, and how far they extend.

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Chris Tollefsen: Animals and Machines: On Their Beginnings and Endings

Human beings are animal organisms; machines are artifacts. To some, this has increasingly come to seem a distinction without a difference.

The purpose of this paper is to defend both the distinction, and the claim that the distinction makes a difference. A basic claim of the paper is that some aspects of the distinction between animal organisms and artifacts should be recognized at the extreme edges of existence: their beginnings, and their endings.

A methodological point: in this paper, I focus on the differences between machines and the higher mammals. I argue that the differences are differences in kind. At what point in the development of animate life do these differences in kind emerge? I make no claims in these regards. However, if the differences really are differences in kind, then at some point in the development of animate life – whether in the transition from the non-living to the living, from plant to animal, from lower to higher order animals, or some combination of these, new kinds of entities are introduced into nature. This raises metaphysical questions I do not here address.

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Martha C. Beck: Tragedy and the Philosophical Life: A Response to Martha Nussbaum

This paper is a brief summary of my three-volume series of books criticizing Martha Nussbaum’s interpretation of Plato in her book, The Fragility of Goodness: luck and ethics in Greek tragedy and philosophy. I present an alternative reading of all four of the dialogues Nussbaum discusses: the Protagoras, Republic, Symposium, and Phaedrus.

Although Nussbaum claims Plato is anti-tragic, my books demonstrate that in relation to his predecessors and contemporaries, Plato’s dialogues are shown to be neither the same as traditional Greek tragedies nor entirely different from them. Plato appropriates many characteristics of tragic literature but goes beyond tragedy, both in his view of the human condition and in his writing style. The structure of these four dialogues is similar; readers are supposed to understand them as parts fitting into a larger whole which ultimately leads to a consistent view of the principles of reality, human nature, and human history. The properties and patterns running throughout the dialogues can be placed into four classes: 1) the tragic characteristics of Plato’s dialogues; 2) the way Plato’s dialogues go beyond tragedy 3) the way Plato’s famous images of the two roads, the Cave, the Divided Line, and the three-part soul are represented in the characters and conversation of the dialogues themselves; and 4) the way Plato’s Theory of Forms is embedded in the education of the human mind (nous) that is occurring continuously throughout the dialogues. Each of these points will be discussed, followed by a brief outline of how these patterns occur in the Protagoras, Republic, Phaedrus, and Symposium.

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Gary Senecal: Childhood and Salvation in The Brother’s Karamazov

In his work, The Brother’s Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky demonstrated a profound intellectual critique of Christianity and its ideals of love. Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky sets out to address the problem of uncovering God and goodness in the face of unjust suffering, temporality, and self-laceration. Ultimately, Dostoevsky presents to the reader a metaphysical understanding of childhood and the spiritual innocence that comes from it to answer the questions of suffering, temporality and laceration. According to Dostoevsky, when an individual is psychologically and emotionally broken by the sight of unjust suffering in the world, he or she is left with an immediate sense of hopelessness in regards to a universe that has been ordered toward the good. Laceration, according to Dostoevsky, occurs when an individual is desperately shamed over the recognition of one’s own impotent will in light of one’s own sublime and lofty ideals about love. Temporality and time come to fruition when the individual gives up hope of reaching their own ideals of a love that exists eternally within a moment and inevitably attempts to construct an ideal utopia (i.e. a heaven on earth) based on worldly goods and circumstances. For Dostoevsky, metaphysical childhood solves these problems by returning one to a metaphysical state of innocence where one can see and recall that one possesses the ability to act in a way that is purely good. One will then no longer lacerate oneself and will also pursue goods (as opposed to manipulating and/or constructing them) in a way that, within a moment, is authentic, unadulterated, and beyond the limitations of space and time. From this, life will bear moments of “miracles” for an individual that will bring one ultimately to faith in a God that has ordered the universe toward the good.

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First Online Issue Available

Volume VIII, No. 1 Winter 2007


The Role of Natural Law in a World of Religious and Political Diversity
Montague Brown

Animals and Machines:On Their Beginnings and Endings
Chris Tollefsen

Tragedy and the Philosophical Life: A Response to Martha Nussbaum
Martha C. Beck

Childhood and Salvation in The Brother’s Karamazov
Gary Senecal

A Publication of the
Philosophy Department
Saint Anselm College