Christopher Tollefsen: The New Natural Law Theory

The New Natural Law (NNL) theory, sometimes also called the New Classical Natural Law theory, is the name given a particular revival and revision of Thomistic Natural Law theory, initiated in the 1960s by Germain Grisez. Grisez’s initial collaborators included Joseph Boyle, John Finnis and Olaf Tollefsen. More recently, Robert P. George, Patrick Lee, Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., Gerard Bradley, William E. May, Christian Brugger, and Christopher Tollefsen have done work on the NNL.

Articulation and defense of the theory began with the publication of Grisez’s interpretative essay on St. Thomas’s first principle of practical reason, in 1965. Although that essay established some of the controversial theses of the new view, in particular, that the foundation of practical reason is in a foundational practical recognition of certain basic goods, and that no inference from theoretical truths concerning human nature is necessary or possible, Grisez was there attempting to provide an accurate interpretation of St. Thomas’s thought. Subsequent work, while deeply indebted to St. Thomas, has not been primarily exegetical,[2] and in some particulars clearly conflicts with the positions of St. Thomas.

The distinctive, and often disputed, areas of contribution by the New Natural Lawyers include at least the following five, which will be the focus of the remainder of this article:

1. The foundations of moral thought and practical reason;
2. The casuistry of the New Natural Lawyers, especially as regards issues of taking life, procreation, and truth-telling;
3. The nature of human action;
4. The nature of political authority and the political common good; and
5. The ultimate end of human beings.

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