Melvyn Bragg and Aristotle

Aristotle and Bragg – What more could a girl ask for?

The context of Aristotle in the city, and the ideas behind his Politics:

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important works of political philosophy ever written – Aristotle’s ‘Politics’. Looking out across the city states of 4th century Greece Aristotle asked what made a society good and developed a language of ‘oligarchies’, ‘democracies’ and ‘monarchies’ that we still use today.

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Contraception and Natural Moral Law


In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.

Contraception is “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Humanae Vitae 14). This includes sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill, and all other such methods.

The Historic Christian Teaching

Few realize that up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching condemning contraception as sinful. At its 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican church, swayed by growing social pressure, announced that contraception would be allowed in some circumstances. Soon the Anglican church completely caved in, allowing contraception across the board. Since then, all other Protestant denominations have followed suit. Today, the Catholic Church alone proclaims the historic Christian position on contraception.

Evidence that contraception is in conflict with God’s laws comes from a variety of sources that will be examined in this tract.


Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.

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Fired for teaching Natural Moral Law…

Professor Fired For Teaching Catholic Doctrine On Homosexuality Is Reinstated

Professor Kenneth Howell was fired from his job as instructor of “Introduction to Catholicism.” Howell taught his students the principle of “Natural Moral Law,” which reveals sexual acts with same sex persons is against nature – and thus wrong.

A university professor who was fired over a complaint that he engaged in hate speech in his explanation of Catholic church doctrine on homosexuality, will now be reinstated to his position.

Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois in Champaign who taught, “Introduction to Catholicism”, was dismissed earlier this month after teaching his students that, according to “Natural Moral Law,” acts of sexual intimacy between persons of the same sex is wrong.

The firing of the professor, who had been teaching at the university since 2001, was a result of a complaint made by a student who was not in professor Howell’s class. In the complaint, the student said, “The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.”

The complaint followed an email that Howell sent to his students in which he discussed “natural moral law” and homosexuality.

“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” wrote Dr, Howell, according to the News-Gazette. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

The student’s email sent to an official with the university complained that Howell’s comments were unfounded and should be silenced.

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” read the email. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.”

Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal defense group which is representing Howell said the university had no right to restrict the professor’s speech simply because a student disagreed with his position.

“A university cannot censor professors’ speech–including classroom speech related to the topic of the class–merely because some students find that speech ’offensive,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “Professors have the freedom to challenge students and to educate them by exposing them to different views.”

ADF attorneys sent a letter to university officials on July 12 explaining that the university’s actions violated their client’s First Amendment protected rights and asked that he be immediately reinstated.

response letter from the university admits no wrongdoing on the part of the institution but states:

“The School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics will be contacting Dr. Howell to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the University of Illinois, for the fall 2010 semester. Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment.”

The letter then adds that a university committee will continue its investigation of Howell’s situation.

ADF says that they are pleased with the decision to reinstate Dr. Howell, but noted they want to ensure the university is committed to the principle of academic freedom and Constitutional rights.

“We greatly appreciate the university’s move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom,” said French, “but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university’s ongoing process.”

Related posts:

  1. UCLA Professor Prohibits Student from Thanking ‘Jesus’ in Graduation Speech
  2. Universities Demand Christian Students To Accept Homosexuality
  3. Justice Scalia: Supreme Court Should Abandon ‘Living Constitution’ Doctrine
  4. N.C. Pastor Fired For “Jesus” Prayer At State Capitol
  5. High Court Rules Against Christian Student Group


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Immanuel Kant

Three minute video all about Herr Kant

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St Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas

St.Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was born into a noble family near the small town of Aquino which lies between Naples and Rome. He became a Dominican friar in 1244 and was a heavyweight scholar in both senses of the word. Weighing in at around twenty stone it is rumoured that this doctor of the church worked at a desk specially designed to fit around his corpulence. Despite a peripatetic life of preaching and teaching, Aquinas penned over two million words of in-depth theology, his best known works being the Summa contra Gentiles and the Summa theologiae. A summa (summary) was a comprehensive exposition of doctrine.

In these works faith and reason are harmonised into a grand theologico-philosophical system which inspired the medieval philosophical tradition known as Thomism and which has been favoured by the Roman Catholic church ever since. There are many areas of interest to philosophers in Aquinas’ writings, such as Aquinas’ theory of knowledge, his analysis of causality, his writings on God (the ‘five ways’ and the doctrine of analogy) and his teleological theory of ethics. Each of these is mentioned below but there are other areas worth exploring, for example, the saint’s comments on sex and gender.

Aquinas made an important contribution to epistemology, recognising the central part played by sense perception in human cognition. It is through the senses that we first become acquainted with existent, material things. St. Thomas held that the relation of dependence of objects on something which transcends them is disclosed to the observer through the contemplation of material things. Just as our knowledge depends not on innate ideas but perceiving the material world, the same material world is dependent on a productive agent for its existence. Aquinas thought the proposition ‘everything which begins to exist through the agency of an already existent, extrinsic thing’ to be a fact beyond doubt.

In the Summa theologiae Aquinas records his famous five ways which seek to prove the existence of God from the facts of change, causation, contingency, variation and purpose. These cosmological and teleological arguments can be neatly expressed in syllogistic form as below:

Way 1
1. The world is in motion (motus).
2. All changes in the world are due to some prior cause.
3. There must be a prior cause for this entire sequence of changes, i.e. God.

Way 2

1. The world is a sequence of events.
2. Every event in the world has a cause.
3. There must be a cause for the entire sequence of events, i.e. God.

Way 3

1. The world might not have been.
2. Everything that exists in the world depends on some other thing for its existence.
3. The world itself must depend upon some other thing for its existence, i.e. God.

Way 4
1. There are degrees of perfection in the world.
2. Things are more perfect the closer they approach the maximum.
3. There is a maximum perfection, i.e. God.

Way 5

1. Each body has a natural tendency towards its goal.
2. All order requires a designer.
3. This end-directedness of natural bodies must have a designing force behind it. Therefore each natural body has a designer i.e. God.

Aquinas devotes a further part of his philosophical writing to the problem of religious language. He accepts that God-talk may be literal or metaphorical but believes that in its literalness it is never univocal or equivocal but analogical. That is to say a phrase such as ‘God is omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate’ represents a relation between what we mean by these terms and the divine nature. God’s nature corresponds and is in ratio to the significance behind these terms, yet still literal in that it reveals to us something about God.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Aquinas was sympathetic towards and influenced by Aristotle to whom he customarily refers as ‘the philosopher’. In a similar vein to Aristotle, Aquinas formulates a teleological theory of ethics known as natural law. Aquinas assumes that God created the world, that the world reveals his purpose in creating it and that the fulfillment of that purpose is the supreme good to be sought: ‘[Natural law] is the participation of the human person in the divine law of God.’ Elsewhere he declares that natural law is “nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God whereby we see what is to be done and what is not to be done.’ This exercising of rational conscience has been at the forefront of Roman Catholic teaching for centuries, though it is not the sum total of it.

Aquinas’ theory of ethics, his writings on God and other metaphysical issues provide a unique contribution to philosophical thought and led Anthony Kenny to call him ‘one of the dozen greatest philosophers of the western world’.

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The Death of Socrates

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Natural Moral Law Revision

By studying our nature and purpose, using reason, we can work out the right way to live.


Philosophical background and context:

Deontological and absolute theory (duty/fixed laws)

Plato’s theory of Forms seems to contribute to the idea of a moral law existing in nature, to be discovered by reason (Form of Good is absolute)

Aristotle: all things have a purpose (final cause). Purpose helps us define action. Two types of justice; conventional and natural.

Stoics; Cicero. ‘True law is right reason in agreement with nature.’


Thomas Aquinas:

13th Century theologian, heavily influenced by Aristotle and Plato.

One of first to apply reason to Christian belief and Christian ethics: 5 Ways and Natural Moral Law.

Assumptions: there is a God, who created the world, there is a soul which must be preserved, we all share the same common nature, we all have the same purpose.


Purpose of life is communion with God; achieved partly by living according to the nature given to us by God.

Our nature can be determined by right reason. (It is possible to misuse reason e.g. Hitler, Eichmann and the Holocaust)

5 Primary Precepts are human nature discovered by reason: this nature is common to us all, so all must live in accordance with it. 5 Precepts are absolute. Pursuing natural law develops virtues.

Natural Law (phusis) is separate from man-made laws (nomos).

Natural Law is general; secondary precepts are specific application of primary precepts.


Synderesis: conscience, all humans naturally tend towards good. Sin results from misuse of reason, pursuing apparent rather than real goods or performing exterior rather than interior acts.


Roman Catholic Ethics.

NML used by R/C Church to decide R/C morality. Carried out by Magisterium and enforced by Pope.

Primary principles applied to produce secondary or remote principles. Known as casuistry: technique of deducing specific rulings by applying general principle (first done in Mark 2:23-28)

Catholic teaching on sexual ethics (e.g. contraception/IVF) arrived at using NML. Genitalia has purpose of reproduction, to use it for any other reason (pleasure/homosexual sex) is morally wrong.

Church teaches that some acts are intrinsically evil e.g. masturbation. (Veritatis Splendour 1993).


Critical analysis of Natural Moral Law: Summary sheet.



Strengths of a deontological/absolute system (Bowie). Provides clear and fixed rules that always apply, removing confusion and exception.

Objective laws, like the 5 precepts apply to everyone.

Common human nature allows us to establish ideas like universal human rights.

Avoids the relativist fallacy (that truth is relative, not absolute; when by its nature, truth is analytically absolute).

Has an empirical basis (in the actual nature of things) and can therefore be verified.

Does not rely on a consideration of consequences, like utilitarianism and situation ethics and therefore avoids calculations and quantities of good/happiness.

Takes account of reason not functioning properly.



When applied strictly, can lead people to do evil things, or permits evil consequences.

Can be said to be counter-intuitive (goes against common sense) e.g. it seems to make sense to endorse contraception in over-populated countries, but NML demands adherence to objective laws.

The existence of objective laws has been challenged by many, including JL Mackie.

The idea that there is a common human nature may be challenged (e.g. homosexuality/disability).

The idea of a common human purpose may be challenged (Aristotle suggested that it could change).

Aquinas’ underlying assumptions (God’s existence/soul etc) may be challenged, removing the ethical motivation and basis for duty.

Proportionalism can be argued to be a better approach (a combination of NML and situation ethics).

Commits the naturalistic fallacy: you cannot get an ought from an is.

Strict NML results in casuistry, which is often seen as a way of introducing exceptions to the rules.

Imposes one purpose upon parts of the human body, when they may have many e.g. procreation and pleasure.


In general, Natural Moral Law is important because it attempts to establish a law that we can all access and which applies to us all (phusis over nomos). This idea is important in human rights law. The Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi death camp officers were tried for their crimes, used the principles of natural law to try them, as the laws of their own country (Nazi Germany) at the time permitted them to do evil.

However, there are serious flaws with the theory, as applying it too strictly does seem to allow people to unintentionally commit evil acts because they are not required to consider the consequences of their actions. Moderate objectivism (proportionalism) may be the solution to this impasse.












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