I have heard the name pronounced “Boo-jee-shef-skee.” So, that’s what I’m going to call him, or Dr. Bu. for short.
This book is an amazing resource for understanding natural law theory, as well as both an able-bodied and easily accessible defense of the doctrine of natural law. The book begins with a “read-along” guide for gaining a knowledge of the foundational documents of natural law ethics. Bu. (or Dr. Bu, if you prefer to be more formal) lists the pertinent works and authors to read alongside his book, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law.
The book is outlined in 5 parts, beginning with the foundational thinkers and moving outward to modern applications. Dr. Bu discusses Aristotle first, which includes further discussions of the notion of the “good” and the notion of “moral excellence,” followed by a discussion of the moral significance of the law. Next, Budziszewski discusses Thomas Aquinas, through whom he explores more fully the concept of law in general and natural law in particular.
Part three of the book discusses the work of John Locke. Through the study of Locke, Budziszewski explores nature, the social contract, private property, natural law, and revolution. In a clearly anti-socialist vein, Bu. says, “Because there is a natural right to keep property that has been justly acquired, redistributive taxation is not an act of compassion but an act of simple theft,” (100). Such are the kinds of thoughts you will encounter in Part 3 of the book.
Part 4 focuses on the development of utilitarian ethics, including the works of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. These works are responsible for re-introducing “the pleasure principle.” For any who are “Christian Hedonists,” this section on utilitarianism is an important one to understand in order to be certain you are able to distinguish rightly a Christian ethic from a utilitarian one. Bu. also has a rather disturbing cultural critique against Kinsey (the sexual pervert who has been canonized by our culture) and those who continue to formulate an ethic based on his works (see especially p. 157).
Finally, Part 5 is a re-appraisal of natural law ethics. Bu. appeals to great thinkers from Aristotle to Aquinas to Luther and Calvin to demonstrate that the Western tradition in general and Christians in particular have prospered ethically utilizing natural law. After Karl Barth, however, attempts at natural law have been weakened. Many view natural theories as having failed due to pragmatic deficiencies.
There are a number of specific complaints which are valid, if not fatal, against natural law, and they aren’t addressed by Budziszewski. (I will address several of them in the course of walking through other books in ethics. O’Donovan, for instance, offers a critique of natural law, as do many secular ethicists). For now, suffice it to say, this book is excellent.
Natural law is not just a “Catholic” thing. All Christians would benefit from wrestling with the notion of natural law. How does natural law fit with Romans 1? What is the relationship between natural law and general revelation? Are these simply different names for the same concept? Can Christians adopt a natural law view of ethics for the public arena so that everyone—believers and unbelievers—can work from the same “textbook” for morality, without necessarily agreeing to Christianity?