Monday, October 3, 2011
Villanova Law hosted its annual Scarpa Conference (under the direction of our own Patrick Brennan) last Friday, which was an exploration and celebration of the work of John Finnis on the occasion of the publication by Oxford University Press of five volumes of The Collected Essays of John Finnis and a second edition of Natural Law and Natural Rights. In addition to my Villanova colleague Michelle Madden Dempsey, papers were also presented by George Christie (Duke), Father Martin Rhonheimer (Sancta Croce), Fred Lawrence (Boston College), Mark Murphy (Georgetown), Candace Vogler (Chicago), Michael White (Arizona State), and John Keown (Georgetown). John Finnis concluded the day with a keynote address that responded to each of the papers by way of a chapter-by-chapter recital of the topics in Natural Law and Natural Rights. As John Keown noted in his presentation, Finnis's widespread contributions to the field of bioethics and law would alone suffice to secure his reputation. But Finnis also single-handedly rehabilitated natural law in contemporary jurisprudence in Natural Law and Natural Rights and has made important contributions to fundamental moral theology, moral philosophy, political theory, and the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, and he's now working on a project that will significantly change our understanding of the historical setting of Shakespeare. This is how I concluded my response to Candace Vogler's interesting paper on absolute moral norms:
Writing in 2009 about Elizabeth Anscombe in the context of a review of two books of Anscombe’s collected essays and relevant here to the topic of Professor Vogler’s paper on the relation of theology to moral philosophy, Professor Finnis wrote:
Since the faith has realities, not myth, for its object, and since everything that can be inquired into is what it is by virtue of God’s actuality, one’s inquiries and every other element in one’s intellectual life – whether elements on which faith bears or elements remote from the faith – can be pursued with confidence that they will not contradict faith and if successful will have brought one a little closer to understanding what is really so. That is the free and diligent way in which Anscombe carried out the work that is widely and reasonably judged the twentieth century’s outstanding English Catholic philosophical achievement. (Collected Essays of John Finnis, Volume II: Intention and Identity, "Anscombe on Spirit and Intention")
So also that is the free and diligent way in which John Finnis has carried out his work, which we rightly gather to celebrate today.