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Natural Law and Providence

 
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:29 am    Post subject: Natural Law and Providence Reply with quote

Here is the talk I gave to the Henry George Foundation last year on Natural Law and Providence. There are other copies around but this has been revised and typos corrected.

Thoughts, comments, challenges all welcome!

Joseph



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Leonie Humphreys



Joined: 23 Sep 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for posting your paper on Natural Law & Providence.

You wrote:

“... the unified cosmology which once had held together the mysteries of the Infinite and finite, the created and the uncreated, Nature and Grace and so on was lost. Not only did the universe become fragmented, it also became smaller. And even with the smaller universe the internal relations between its parts became obscured, and, in terms of the understanding of Natural Law, the primary way in which this manifested was in the idea that human society itself was outside Nature. It was on the basis of this assumption that the ideas of utilitarianism and the social contract arose, and the notion that the “state” was a seat of power rather than the mediator of Justice. Ironically, in its rebellion against the authority of the Church, the state adopted the very qualities in itself it had opposed. So dominant is the idea that the State and power are one and the same thing that we hardly notice that Aristotle, in his Politics, never conceives the idea of the Polis in terms of power but in terms of ethics. Even Marx, who so many regard as thinking outside the established presuppositions about society, conceives the State in terms of power and society in terms of conflicting powers.”

and:

“....the Enlightenment thinkers broke with the ancient tradition. They located the inclinations of creatures, including those of mankind, in the desire or instinct for self-preservation, and we can see how that notion has been taken up in modern neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. This meant that instead of all things being harmoniously oriented towards the universal good, each particular being was placed in essential conflict with every other being. And so reflection on the law and jurisprudence in society began to be thought of in terms of mediating conflict between individuals within society, or between individuals and institutions, rather than as the conformation to the natural order.”


There seems to be a connection here to the ideas about a shift from conditions based upon ‘power-over’ (essentially leading to continual conflict) to ‘power-from-within’ (essentially about individual responsibility and cooperation with others), which I mentioned under the HG topic. But I wonder how they might relate, and how economic reform might benefit from such understanding?

Attempting to relate the ideas you present concerning Providence, Natural Law and the natural inclination towards the ‘Good’, to economics, one fundamental assumption which might be worth investigating is the idea attributed to Adam Smith of ‘enlightened self-interest’ (which you also mention) operating in economic relations. But this notion may not be so very far apart from the notion of ‘service to the whole’ and the natural inclination towards the ‘Good’ when it is considered in the context of the relationship which perhaps Smith meant to imply – that whilst the work people do in society maybe aimed at making a living for themselves, their work nevertheless serves the community by virtue of providing a needed product/service for use by others. The problem or apparent ‘split’ between the natural tendency towards service to the whole and ‘selfishness’ (which is different from ‘self-interest’) only seems to arise when profit maximising arises, which has occurred as a result of the misunderstanding of classical economics, from Smith onwards (apart from Henry George of course!).

The underlying assumption of Smith was that since land was owned by ‘landlords’ they got the rent. This distribution of wealth was not questioned at the level of ethics or morality, hence it was assumed, was it not, that receiving the ‘rent’ was their ‘due’ according to Natural Law? An assumption of course which HG challenges. This also relates to the ideas you present suggesting that Natural Law dictates that ultimately everything is held in ‘common’. And it may be worth noting that even Blackstone, who some claim effectively invented Western property law, starts out with the notion of ‘use’ as the first legitimate claim to natural resources.

You mention ‘rendering to each his due’. This also might be a natural outcome of social systems based upon justice and equity. The rendering of what is ‘due’ would occur naturally as people find their vocation, and thus their contribution and reward, based upon their individual potential and talents in ‘service to the whole’.

But what does this imply for economic reform? Perhaps the understanding could help to provide a fundamental basis or principle for a new vision of economics based upon a much more equal distribution of wealth and of course power. A mechanism for such transformation is provided by Henry George who suggests using ‘rent’ as a source of taxation, in place of taxes on production, which would quite naturally take the drive out of profit maximising for example. The vision of the conditions this would lead to and the political steps required to begin such a transformation is of course required. And as you say this has to be consciously chosen.

Best wishes, Leonie
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Richard Glover



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 1:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Joseph for this posting. Incidently, the notes for the more recent presentation to Henry George Library Group were posted under the topic "Recent Events - Reports and Discussion".

Now, back to last year's paper.

I was very taken by any law of property being effectively voided in needy situations - "In these conditions even the laws of theft may be nullified ...".
In the old stories of deportations for "stealing" food to feed a starving family, we feel the injustice but fear to suspend property rights. It is as though we are desperate to cling on to our new sense of an Almighty, the man-made laws relating to property.

In the present day this nation is facing huge cut-backs in employment, maybe little encouragement for the private sector to develop, and yet vast streams of "property" income flows past the disadvantaged towards a well-endowed few.

In your paper, can you expand on how modern theories of human rights are made redundant after: "In this passage the whole modern theory of “enlightened self-interest” or individualism is exposed as a very limited view of society and the greater scheme of reality."
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 25, 2011 4:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Leonie & Richard,

Please forgive my slowness in replying to you both. I have been rather busy and not had a proper chance to respond to your thoughts. I shall try to do so at the end of March.

With best wishes,
Joseph
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2011 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Richard Glover wrote:

Quote:
Now, back to last year's paper.

I was very taken by any law of property being effectively voided in needy situations - "In these conditions even the laws of theft may be nullified ...".
In the old stories of deportations for "stealing" food to feed a starving family, we feel the injustice but fear to suspend property rights. It is as though we are desperate to cling on to our new sense of an Almighty, the man-made laws relating to property.

In the present day this nation is facing huge cut-backs in employment, maybe little encouragement for the private sector to develop, and yet vast streams of "property" income flows past the disadvantaged towards a well-endowed few.

In your paper, can you expand on how modern theories of human rights are made redundant after: "In this passage the whole modern theory of “enlightened self-interest” or individualism is exposed as a very limited view of society and the greater scheme of reality."



Richard, at last a moment to properly reply to your question!

Yes, the laws of property in many ways go to the very heart of what law making is all about. Nothing is more contentious or more slippery in economic thought. In a way, the land question of Henry George raises the most obvious question of property, since it is clear that nothing can possibly sustain a claim to own Nature, or to rent it to others by claiming part of their labour from them.

Yet, if that which we may legitimately claim ownership of is the fruits of our own labours, how could these fruits cease to be our property?

Aquinas states that the extreme need of others is such a condition were we cannot sustain our claim of private ownership. This is not on the basis of charity, but rather on the basis of the Natural Law which precedes all customary or local law. The Natural Law is a knowledge that may be found through human reason which discerns the universal principles of Nature and the ultimate good of the whole of Nature that Natural Law and providence direct all things.

St Augustine says that this Natural Law was lost in the Fall and cannot be recovered in the realm of Nature, only in Heaven. But Aquinas, following Aristotle and the Stoics, sees the discernment of the Natural Law as the proper end of reason reflecting on Nature, and that through arriving at an understanding of Natural Law the human intelligence is brought into harmony with the cosmic intelligence that sustains the order of the universe. The mind that can apprehend this cosmic order “participates” in the Divine Law, the Law in the mind of God.

According to the Natural Law, all things are ordered to the good of the whole, and participation in the good of the whole is the only way in which the good of society or the individual can be attained. In short, the Common Good is the good from whence all other goods derive.

Yet Aquinas says that since the Natural Law has been forgotten because of the Fall (not destroyed as Augustine claimed), a compromise is needed. He says that if fallen man were to have common ownership of all things (the ideal, practiced in monasteries), those things would become neglected, because fallen man will only look after what he regards as his own. Therefore private property is established as a compromise of the ideal, because fallen man cannot live according to the ideal.

However, there are circumstances when this compromise ought to be suspended and the common good be re-established, such as when there is destitution or great need or peril to life. Here the good of the whole community, or the whole species, takes precedence over the particular good of the private individual. The “conventional” law is suspended and the Divine Law governs according to the ends established by God for the good and wellbeing of the whole.

It means that individual property rights are suspended so far as the needs of others are met, no further. It is not a condition of full reversion to common property.

Nor is it a replacement of the right to property to what we would now call “human rights”. The destitute are not entitled to what they need through “rights” or claim on rights, but rather on the ground of the common or universal good – for the good of the whole. It is the preservation of the society that is met in this way, not the private right of the individual. If that were not so, then it would be simply replacing one claim on rights with another. It is in fact “claims” that are suspended.

This is why I said that the Natural Law makes human rights redundant. This bears thinking about carefully.

Human rights thought is founded upon the notion of the possession of the person for themselves, and the consequent claims of freedom to pursue the desire for individual happiness. Freedom and happiness are the ground of human rights claims, and so all formulations of rights are drawn up with this object in view.

Notice what happens here. We no longer have “society” or the “common good” as the end of law, but the solitary individual, the individual perusing ends he sets for himself alone. Anything outside or larger than that becomes altruism or philanthropy, ideals outside the norm.

But more than this, the human person has now ceased to be a being within any greater whole, nor even really a person as such. Rather the person has now become a “legal entity”, an entity that relates to society only trough its claims upon it, and the society relates to the person now only as that which meets the demands or claims of the person. Thus we have the litigious society. A society in which nobody is fulfilled through a common end or good, but one in which only the private ends of the legal person are recognised as legitimate.

Looked at from Aquinas’s perspective, the theory of human rights is a form of law that is a yet further compromise of the Natural Law. In a sense, the conception of the human person who has only rights is the reduction of the person to a piece of property. For a very powerful reflection on rights see the attached piece by Simone Veil.

I hope this throws some light on what I meant.

Joseph



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johni imtiaz



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 07, 2015 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is greatly better than average and extremely obvious post.....You shook posting it....Thanks a ton for posting it....!! Rolling Eyes
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Joseph Milne



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 07, 2015 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

johni imtiaz wrote:
This is greatly better than average and extremely obvious post.....You shook posting it....Thanks a ton for posting it....!! Rolling Eyes


Welcome to the forum Johni, and I am glad you liked this post. I hope you download the attachment too.

Joseph
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