Natural Law and Moral Agency

From: Douglas Barber <>
Date: Fri Apr 09 2004 - 18:06:34 EDT

Here is an Orthodox rabbi's articulation of a perspective which sees
natural law as a creation whose purpose is to enable human moral
agency. It struck me as tangentially relevant to parts of the
"Coercion" thread on this list, and thought-provoking.

    "Since the world must give man the opportunity to exercise freedom
of will, there is a need for the consistent application of the natural
order. For man to be able to choose he must be able to know prior to his
deed what the outcome of his actions will be. If he would not have that
option, he would never be able to exercise his free choice. In a world
where there would only be chaos and no natural regularity, no man could
ever take responsibility for his actions. After all, how would he know
what result his actions would entail?
    "From this fact alone we are already able to deduce that one can
only have trust in God's protection as long as the natural order is not
violated since this order is a fundamental precondition for the purpose
of the world. It is however most appropriate to realize that this does
not only limit man in what he can expect from God but it also limits God
in what He can do for man. The all too often made claim that God can do
the "impossible" does not properly reflect the reality of this world.
Not only can God not call Himself out of existence, since He is an
infinite Being, but neither can He oppose the purpose of His creation.
Would He do so, it would call for the destruction of all existence.
    "It was the Christian philosopher John Hick who commented on this
fact with his "counterfactual hypothesis". Calling this world a "soul
making place", but for our purposes and more in line with Jewish thought
we will call it a "tzaddik making place", Hick writes as follows:
        ' Suppose that contrary to fact, this world were a paradise from
which all possibility of pain and suffering were excluded. The
consequences would be far-reaching. For example, no one could ever
injure anyone else, the murderer's knife would turn to paper or the
bullets to thin air, the bank safe, robbed of a million dollars, would
miraculously become filled with another million dollars; fraud, deceit,
conspiracy, and treason would somehow leave the fabric of society
undamaged. No one would ever be injured by accident: the mountain
climber, steeplejack, or a playing child falling from a height would
float unharmed to the ground, the reckless driver would never meet with
disaster. In a hedonistic paradise there would be no wrong actions nor
therefore any right actions in distinction from wrong. Courage and
fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by
definition, no danger or difficulty. Generosity, kindness, the agape
aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness, and other ethical notions that
presuppose life in an objective environment could not have been formed.
Consequently, such a world, however well it might promote pleasure,
would be very ill adapted for the moral qualities of human personality.
In relation to this purpose it might well be the worst of all possible

- Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, who has many of his lectures transcribed here:
This quotation is from the series of 5 lectures titled "The Struggle for
In the last paragraph of the above quotation, Cardozo is citing John
Hick, _Philosophy of Religion_ (1983)
Received on Fri Apr 9 18:07:11 2004

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