Tuesday, May 31, 2011
While much of the country was anticipating the conclusion of “American Idol,” I was waiting for the arrival of the five volumes of The Collected Essays of John Finnis from Oxford University Press. I’m just now starting to dip into the essays, which gather the highlights of Finnis’s writings since 1967. One is immediately struck by the extraordinary range of topics on which Finnis has written over that period--philosophy of law, of course, but also issues in bioethics, political theory, moral philosophy, moral theology, and history. MOJ readers will be especially interested in the essays in Volume III, Human Rights and the Common Good, which take up John Rawls, immigration, theories of punishment, just war theory, euthanasia, abortion, and marriage. Even those who disagree with him must acknowledge that Finnis's work--preeminently Natural Law and Natural Rights but also his other books and these essays--is among the towering achievements in Catholic intellectual life over the past 50 years. (By the way, now would be a good time to make your plans to attend the conference at Villanova Law on September 30th of this year celebrating Finnis's work.)
I’ll post some thoughts here as I work through the volumes over the coming weeks and months, but I was especially taken by these final words of Finnis's Introduction to Volume V, Religion and Public Reasons. (Each volume's dustjacket has a painting associated with Finnis's native Adelaide, South Australia. The dustjacket for Volume V is the painting below by S.T. Gill, View of Lake Torrens, 22 August):
The gaze of the intrepid Horrocks and Gill into an immensity of distance can be taken as one icon of the interest and attitude we call religion. Another, certainly, is the Baconian search for forms buried deeper by far in physical matter than had been suspected by the late Aristotelian tradition of transmitting science through teaching rather than investigation and replication. And another is the gaze of an Aquinas, awake in the priory chapel in the earliest morning hours to adore the eternal God hidden, as he believed, under the appearances of a wafer of wheat flour, and to make himself ready for the public work of collaborating in understanding everything that matters, and reasoning about truths and other goods.