Re: Natural Law and Moral Agency

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sun Apr 11 2004 - 19:37:44 EDT

Douglas Barber wrote:
> 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
> worlds!'"

        I think this is pretty well put. One perhaps minor quibble I have is with the
way the 2d paragraph is phrased. When he says "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," I'm note sure whether "it" is "a fundamental
precondition for the purpose of the world" or "the purpose of the world" itself but it
amounts to the same thing. & it needs to be made clear that "it" is not an external
necessity but something by which God limits Godself. It is God who determines the
purpose of creation.



George L. Murphy
Received on Sun Apr 11 19:41:59 2004

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