Changing Human Nature: Ecology, Ethics, Genes, and God

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Volume 38 , Issue 3 September Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. A discernment of this kind should characterize both the moralist, when he endeavours to concretize the precepts of the natural law, as well as every autonomous subject charged with making a judgment of conscience and with formulating the immediate and concrete norm for his action.

Morality cannot, therefore, be content with producing norms. It should also favour the formation of the subject so that, engaged in action, he may be capable of adapting the universal precepts of the natural law to the concrete conditions of existence in diverse cultural contexts. This capacity is ensured by the moral virtues, in particular by prudence that masters the particulars of a situation in order to direct concrete action.

The prudent man must possess not only the knowledge of the universal but also knowledge of the particular. In order to indicate well the proper character of this virtue, St. With prudence it is a matter of: penetrating a contingency that always remains mysterious to reason; modelling itself on reality in as exact a manner as possible; assimilating the multiplicity of circumstances; and, taking as accurate an account as possible of a situation that is original and ineffable.

Such an objective necessitates the numerous operations and abilities that prudence must put in place. This right rule follows from preliminary principles. Here one thinks of the first principles of practical reason, but it also falls to the moral virtues to open and connaturalize both the will and the sensitive affectivity with regard to different human goods, and so to indicate to the prudent person the ends to be pursued in the midst of the flux of everyday events.

It is only then that he will be able to formulate the concrete norm that applies and to imbue the given action with a ray of justice, of fortitude or of temperance. Prudence is indispensable to the moral subject because of the flexibility required to adapt universal moral principles to the diversity of situations. But this flexibility does not authorize one to see prudence as a way of easy compromise with regard to moral values. On the contrary, it is through the decisions of prudence that the concrete requirements of moral truth are expressed for a subject.

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This is an approach which, within a pluralist society like our own, takes on an importance that cannot be underestimated without considerable harm. Indeed, it takes account of the fact that moral science cannot furnish an acting subject with a norm to be applied adequately and almost automatically to concrete situations; only the conscience of the subject, the judgment of his practical reason, can formulate the immediate norm of action.

But at the same time, this approach does not abandon conscience to mere subjectivity: it aims at having the subject acquire the intellectual and affective dispositions which allow him to be open to moral truth, so that his judgment may be adequate. Natural law could not, therefore, be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making a decision.

From experience to theory The spontaneous grasp of fundamental ethical values, which are expressed in the precepts of the natural law, constitutes the point of departure of the process that then leads the moral subject to the judgment of conscience, in which he formulates the moral requirements that impose themselves on him in his concrete situation.

It is the task of the theologian and of the philosopher to reflect on this experience of grasping the first principles of ethics, in order to test its value and base it on reason. The recognition of these philosophical or theological foundations does not, however, condition the spontaneous adherence to common values.

In fact, the moral subject can put into practice the orientations of natural law without being capable — by reason of his particular intellectual formation — of explicitly discerning their ultimate theoretical foundations. The philosophical justification of natural law presents two levels of coherence and depth. The idea of a natural law is justified first of all on the level of the reflective observation of the anthropological constants that characterize a successful humanization of the person and a harmonious social life.

Thoughtful experience, conveyed by the wisdom traditions, by philosophies or by human sciences, allows us to determine some of the conditions required so that each one may best display his human capacities in his personal and communal life Nevertheless, only the recognition of the metaphysical dimension of the real can give to natural law its full and complete philosophical justification. In fact metaphysics allows for understanding that the universe does not have in itself its own ultimate reason for being, and manifests the fundamental structure of the real: the distinction between God, subsistent being himself, and the other beings placed by him in existence.

God is the Creator, the free and transcendent source of all other beings. Creatures are therefore the epiphany of a personal creative wisdom, of an originating Logos who expresses and manifests himself in them. Bonaventure The Creator is not only the principle of creatures but also the transcendent end towards which they tend by nature. Thus creatures are animated by a dynamism that carries them to fulfil themselves, each in its own way, in the union with God. This dynamism is transcendent, to the extent to which it proceeds from the eternal law, i.

But it is also immanent, because it is not imposed on creatures from without, but is inscribed in their very nature. Purely material creatures realize spontaneously the law of their being, while spiritual creatures realize it in a personal manner.

In fact, they interiorize the dynamisms that define them and freely orient them towards their own complete realization. They formulate them to themselves, as fundamental norms of their moral action — this is the natural law properly stated — and they strive to realize them freely. The natural law is therefore defined as a participation in the eternal law It is mediated, on the one hand, by the inclinations of nature, expressions of the creative wisdom, and, on the other hand, by the light of human reason which interprets them and is itself a created participation in the light of the divine intelligence.

Nature, person and freedom The notion of nature is particularly complex and is not at all univocal. In philosophy, the Greek thought of physis enjoys a role as a matrix. In it, nature refers to the principle of the specific ontological identity of a subject, i.

This essence takes the name of nature above all when it is envisaged as the internal principle of movement that orients the subject towards its fulfilment. Far from referring to a static given, the notion of nature signifies the real dynamic principle of the homogeneous development of the subject and of its specific activities. The idea that beings possess a nature is convincing as an explanation of the immanent finality of beings and of the regularity that is perceived in their way of acting and reacting To consider beings as natures, therefore, amounts to recognizing in them a proper consistency and affirming that they are relatively autonomous centres in the order of being and of acting, and not simply illusions or temporary constructions of the consciousness.

They act upon each other, and have complex relations of causality among themselves. In the spiritual order, persons weave intersubjective relations.

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Natures therefore form a network, and in the last analysis, an order, i. With Christianity, the physis of the ancients is rethought and integrated into a broader and more profound vision of reality. On the one hand, the God of Christian revelation is not a simple component of the universe, an element of the great All of nature. On the contrary, he is the transcendent and free Creator of the universe. In fact the finite universe cannot be its own foundation, but points to the mystery of an infinite God, who out of pure love created it ex nihilo and remains free to intervene in the course of nature whenever he wills.

On the other hand, the transcendent mystery of God is reflected in the mystery of the human person as an image of God. The human person is capable of knowledge and of love; he is endowed with freedom, capable of entering into communion with others and called by God to a destiny that transcends the finalities of physical nature.

He fulfils himself in a free and gratuitous relationship of love with God that is realized in a history. Moreover, the theological exploration of the Christian mystery has led to a very significant deepening of the philosophical theme of the person. On the one hand, the notion of person serves to designate, in their distinction, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, within the infinite mystery of the one divine nature. On the other hand, the person is the point in which, with respect to the distinction and distance between the two natures, divine and human, the ontological unity of the God-man, Jesus Christ, is established.

In the Christian theological tradition, the person presents two complementary aspects. It refers to the uniqueness of an ontological subject who, being of a spiritual nature, enjoys a dignity and an autonomy that is manifested in self- consciousness and in free dominion over his actions. Furthermore, the person is manifested in his capacity to enter into relation: he displays his action in the order of intersubjectivity and of communion in love.

Person is not opposed to nature. On the contrary, nature and person are two notions that complement one another. On the one hand, every human person is a unique realization of human nature understood in a metaphysical sense. In fact, nature puts in place the conditions for the exercise of freedom and indicates an orientation for the choices that the person must make. Examining the intelligibility of his nature, the person thus discovers the ways of his own fulfilment.

Nature, man and God: from harmony to conflict The concept of natural law presupposes the idea that nature is for man the bearer of an ethical message and is an implicit moral norm that human reason actualizes.

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Changing Human Nature: Ecology, Ethics, Genes, and God [James Peterson] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Nature around us and. Grounding himself in the Christian tradition, James Peterson argues for the moral efficacy of human genetic manipulation. Interpreting intentional intervention as.

The vision of the world within which the doctrine of natural law developed and still finds its meaning today, implies therefore the reasoned conviction that there exists a harmony among the three realities: God, man, and nature. In this perspective, the world is perceived as an intelligible whole, unified by the common reference of the beings that compose it to a divine originating principle, to a Logos. Beyond the impersonal and immanent Logos discovered by stoicism and presupposed by the modern sciences of nature, Christianity affirms that there is a Logos who is personal, transcendent and creator.

The personal divine Logos , the Wisdom and Word of God, is not only the origin and transcendent, intelligible exemplar of the universe, but also the one who maintains it in a harmonious unity and leads it to its end By the dynamisms that the creator Word has inscribed in the innermost part of beings, he orients them to their full realization.

This dynamic orientation is none other than the divine government that realizes within time the plan of divine providence, i. Every creature, in its own manner, participates in the Logos. Man, since he is defined by reason or logos , participates in it in an eminent manner. In fact, by his reason, he is capable of freely interiorizing the divine intentions manifested in the nature of things. He formulates them for himself under the form of a moral law that inspires and orients his action.

On the contrary, he maintains with the cosmos a bond of familiarity founded on a common participation in the divine Logos. For various historical and cultural reasons, which are linked in particular to the evolution of ideas during the late Middle Ages, this vision of the world has lost its cultural supremacy. The nature of things ceased being law for modern man and is no longer a reference point for ethics. On the metaphysical level, the change from thinking about the univocity of being to thinking about the analogy of being, which was then followed by nominalism, have undermined the foundations of the doctrine of creation as a participation in the Logos , a doctrine that gives an explanation of a certain unity between man and nature.

The nominalist universe of William of Ockham is thus reduced to a juxtaposition of individual realities without depth, since every real universal, i. On the anthropological level, the development of voluntarism and the correlative exaltation of subjectivity, defined by the freedom of indifference with respect to every natural inclination, have created a gulf between the human subject and nature. From that point on, some people deemed that human freedom is essentially the power to count as nothing what man is by nature. The subject should therefore not attribute any meaning to that which he has not personally chosen and should decide for himself what it is to be a human being.

Culture, proper to man, is then defined not as a humanization or a transfiguration of nature by the spirit, but as a pure and simple negation of nature. The principal result of these developments has been the split of the real into three separate, indeed opposed spheres: nature, human subjectivity, and God.

With the eclipse of the metaphysics of being, which alone is able to give the foundation of reason to the differentiated unity of spirit and of material reality, and with the rise of voluntarism, the realm of spirit has been radically opposed to the realm of nature. It is reduced to the sphere of corporality and of strict necessity, and of a corporality without depth, since the world of bodies is identified with extension, certainly regulated by intelligible mathematical laws, but stripped of every immanent teleology or finality.

Cartesian physics, then Newtonian physics, have spread the image of an inert matter, which passively obeys the laws of universal determinism that the Divine Spirit imposes on it and which human reason can perfectly know and master Only man can infuse sense and design into this amorphous and meaningless mass that he manipulates for his own ends with technical skill. Nature ceases being a teacher of life and of wisdom, in order to become the place where the Promethean power of man is asserted. This vision seems to place great value on human freedom, but, in fact, by opposing freedom and nature, it deprives human freedom of every objective norm for its exercise.

It leads to the idea of an entirely arbitrary human creation of values, indeed to nihilism, pure and simple. The good is actually disconnected from being and from truth. Ethics is separated from metaphysics. This dualism is manifested in the refusal to recognize any human and ethical meaning in the natural inclinations that precede the choices of the individual reason. Furthermore, on account of the emergence of a metaphysical conception in which human and divine action are in competition with each another — since they are conceived in a univocal fashion and placed, wrongly, on the same level — the legitimate affirmation of the autonomy of the human subject leads to the exclusion of God from the sphere of human subjectivity.

The notion of natural law thus appears as incompatible with the authentic dignity of the subject. Ways towards a reconciliation To give the notion of the natural law all its meaning and strength as the foundation of a universal ethic, a perspective of wisdom needs to be promoted, belonging properly to the metaphysical order, and capable of simultaneously including God, the cosmos and the human person, in order to reconcile them in the analogical unity of being, thanks to the idea of creation as participation.

It is above all essential to develop a non-competitive conception of the connection between divine causality and the free activity of the human subject. The human subject achieves fulfilment by inserting himself freely into the providential action of God and not by opposing himself to this action.

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It is his prerogative to discover with his reason the profound dynamisms that define his nature, and then to accept and direct these dynamisms freely to their fulfilment. In fact, human nature is defined by an entire ensemble of dynamisms, tendencies and internal orientations within which freedom arises. Free will is exercised then in the choice of the finite objects that allow the attainment of this end. As regards these goods, which exercise an attraction that does not determine the will, the person retains mastery of his choice by reason of an innate openness to the absolute Good.

Freedom is therefore not an absolute creator of itself, but is rather an eminent property of every human subject. A philosophy of nature, which takes note of the intelligible depth of the sensible world, and especially a metaphysics of creation, allow then for the surmounting of the dualistic and Gnostic temptation of abandoning nature to moral insignificance. From this point of view, it is important to go beyond the reductionist perspective on nature which is inculcated by the dominant technical culture, in order to rediscover the moral message borne in nature, as a work of the Logos.

In fact, some modern presentations of natural law have seriously failed to recognize the necessary integration of natural inclinations into the unity of the person. Today, therefore, it is important to hold fast to two things simultaneously. On the one hand, the human subject is not a collection or juxtaposition of diverse and autonomous natural inclinations, but a substantial and personal whole, who has the vocation to respond to the love of God and to unify himself by accepting his orientation towards a last end that places in hierarchical order the partial goods manifested by the various natural tendencies.

This unification of natural tendencies in accordance with the higher ends of the spirit, i. On the contrary, it is the fulfilment of a promise already inscribed in them For example, the high spiritual value that the gift of self in mutual spousal love represents is already inscribed in the very nature of the sexual body, which finds its ultimate reason for being in this spiritual fulfilment. On the other hand, in this organic whole, each part preserves a proper and irreducible meaning, which must be taken into account by reason in the elaboration of the overall mission of the human person.

The doctrine of the natural moral law must, therefore, maintain at the same time both the central role of reason in the actualization of a properly human plan of life, and the consistency and the proper meaning of pre-rational natural dynamisms The moral significance of the pre-rational natural dynamisms appears in full light in the teaching concerning sins against nature. Certainly, every sin is against nature insofar as it is opposed to right reason and hinders the authentic development of the human person.

However, some behaviours are described in a special way as sins against nature to the extent that they contradict more directly the objective meaning of the natural dynamisms that the person must take up into the unity of his moral life Thus some sexual practices are directly opposed to the reproductive finalities inscribed in the sexual body of man. By this very fact, they also contradict the interpersonal values that a responsible and fully human sexual life must promote.

The risk of absolutizing nature, reduced to its purely physical or biological component, and of neglecting its intrinsic vocation to be integrated into a spiritual project, is a threat in some radical tendencies of the ecological movement today. The irresponsible exploitation of nature by human agents who seek only economic profit and the dangers that this exploitation poses to the biosphere rightly cry out to consciences. It extols a supposed equality of living species, to the point that it no longer recognizes any particular role for man, paradoxically undermining the responsibility of man for the biosphere of which he is a part.

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In a still more radical manner, some have come to consider man as a destructive virus that would supposedly strike a blow at the integrity of nature, and they refuse him any meaning and value in the biosphere. And so one arrives at a new type of totalitarianism that excludes human existence in its specificity and condemns legitimate human progress.

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There cannot be an adequate response to the complex questions of ecology except within the framework of a deeper understanding of the natural law, which places value on the connection between the human person, society, culture, and the equilibrium of the bio-physical sphere in which the human person is incarnate. An integral ecology must promote what is specifically human, all the while valuing the world of nature in its physical and biological integrity.

In fact, even if man, as a moral being who searches for the ultimate truth and the ultimate good, transcends his own immediate environment, he does so by accepting the special mission of keeping watch over the natural world, living in harmony with it, and defending vital values without which neither human life nor the biosphere of this planet can be maintained This integral ecology summons every human being and every community to a new responsibility. It is inseparable from a global political orientation respectful of the requirements of the natural law.

The person and the common good Turning to the political order of society, we enter into the space regulated by norms or laws. In fact, such norms appear from the moment in which persons enter in relation. The passage from person to society sheds light on the essential distinction between natural law and the norm of natural justice. The person is at the centre of the political and social order because he is an end and not a means. The person is a social being by nature, not by choice or in virtue of a pure contractual convention.

In order to flourish as a person, he needs the structure of relations that he forms with other persons. He thus finds himself at the centre of a network formed by concentric circles: the family, the sphere of life and work, the neighbourhood community, the nation, and finally humanity The person draws from each of these circles the elements necessary for his own growth, and at the same time he contributes to their perfection.

Changing Human Nature: Ecology, Ethics, Genes, and God

By the fact that human beings have the vocation to live in society with others, they have in common an ensemble of goods to pursue and values to defend. If the person is an end in himself, the end of society is to promote, consolidate and develop its common good. The search for the common good allows the city to mobilize the energies of all its members. At a first level, the common good can be understood as the ensemble of conditions that allow a person to be a more human person While being articulated in its external aspects — the economy, security, social justice, education, access to employment, spiritual searching, and other things — the common good is always a human good At a second level, the common good is that which assigns an end to the political order and to the city itself.

The good of all and of each one in particular, it expresses the communal dimension of the human good. Societies can be defined by the type of common good that they intend to promote. In fact, if it concerns the essential requirements of the common good of every society, the vision of the common good evolves with the societies themselves, according to conceptions of the person, justice, and the role of public power. The natural law, measure of the political order The organization of society in view of the common good of its members responds to the requirements of the social nature of the person.

The natural law then appears as the normative horizon in which the political order is called to move. It defines the ensemble of values that appear as humanizing for a society. As soon as we are in the social and political sphere, values can no longer be of a private, ideological or confessional nature: they concern all citizens. They do not express a vague consensus among citizens, but instead are based on the requirements of their common humanity.

The person is therefore prior to society, and society is humanizing only if it responds to the expectations inscribed in the person insofar as he is a social being. This natural order of society at the service of the person is indicated, according to the social doctrine of the Church, by four values that follow from the natural inclinations of the human being and which delineate the contours of the common good that society must pursue, namely: freedom, truth, justice, and solidarity These four values correspond to the requirements of an ethical order in conformity with the natural law.

If one of these is lacking, the city will tend towards anarchy or the rule of the strongest.

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Freedom is the first condition of a humanly acceptable political order. Without the search and respect for truth, there is not a society but a dictatorship of the strongest. Truth, which is not the property of anyone, is alone capable of bringing all human beings together in view of pursuing common objectives.

Without justice there is no society, but the reign of violence. Justice is the highest good that the city can procure. It means that what is just is always sought, and that the law is applied with attention to the particular case, since equity is the highest part of justice. From natural law to the norm of natural justice Natural law lex naturalis becomes the norm of natural justice ius naturale when one considers the relations of justice among human beings: relations among physical and moral persons, relations between persons and the public authority, relations of everyone with the positive law.

We pass from the anthropological category of the natural law to the juridical and political category of the organization of the city. The norm of natural justice is the inherent standard of the right interaction among members of society. It is the rule and immanent measure of interpersonal and social human relations. This norm is not arbitrary: the requirements of justice, which flow from the natural law, are prior to the formulation and enactment of the norm.

It is not the norm which determines what is just. Nor is politics arbitrary: the norms of justice do not result only from a contract established among men, but arise first from the very nature of the human being. The norm of natural justice anchors human law in the natural law.

It is the horizon from which the human legislator must take his bearings when he issues rules in his mission to serve the common good. By contrast, when the norm of natural justice is denied, it is the mere will of the legislator that is the basis of law. Then, the legislator is no longer the interpreter of what is just and good, but has arrogated to himself the prerogative of being the ultimate criterion of what is just. The norm of natural justice is never a standard that is fixed once and for all. It results from an appreciation of the changing situations in which people live.

It articulates the judgment of practical reason in its estimation of what is just. Such a norm, as the juridical expression of the natural law in the political order, thus appears as the measure of the just relations among the members of the community. The norm of natural justice and positive law Positive law must strive to carry out the norm of natural justice. It does this either by way of conclusions natural justice forbids homicide, positive law prohibits abortion , or by way of determination natural justice prescribes that the guilty be punished, positive penal law determines the punishments to be applied in each category of crime Inasmuch as they truly derive from the norm of natural justice and therefore from the eternal law, positive human laws are binding in conscience.

In the opposite case, they are not binding. Positive laws can and even must change to remain faithful to their purpose. In fact, on the one hand, human reason makes progress little by little, becoming more aware of what is most suitable to the good of the community, and on the other hand, the historical conditions of the life of societies change for better or for worse and the laws must adapt to this Thus the legislator must determine what is just in concrete historical situations The norms of natural justice are thus the measures of human relationships prior to the will of the legislator.

They are given from the moment that human beings live in society. They express what is naturally just, prior to any legal formulation. These rights, to which contemporary thought attributes great importance, do not have their source in the fluctuating desires of individuals, but rather in the very structure of human beings and their humanizing relations. The rights of the human person emerge therefore from the order of justice that must reign in relations among human beings. To acknowledge these natural rights of man means to acknowledge the objective order of human relations based on the natural law.

The political order is not the eschatological order In the history of human societies, the political order has often been understood as the reflection of a transcendent and divine order. Thus the ancient cosmologies provided the foundation and justification for political theologies in which the sovereign ensured the link between the cosmos and the human universe.

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It was a question of bringing the universe of men into the pre-established harmony of the world. With the appearance of biblical monotheism, the universe was understood as obedient to the laws which the Creator gave it. The order of the city is achieved when the laws of God are respected, laws which moreover are inscribed in the human heart. For a long time, forms of theocracy were able to prevail in societies organized according to principles and values drawn from their holy books.

There was no distinction between the sphere of religious revelation and the sphere of the organization of the city. But the Bible desacralized human authority, even if centuries of theocratic osmosis — in Christian contexts as well — obscured the essential distinction between the political order and the religious order. In this regard, one must carefully distinguish the situation of the first covenant, in which the divine law given by God was also the law of the people of Israel, from that of the new covenant, which introduces the distinction and the relative autonomy of the religious and political orders.

The biblical revelation invites humanity to consider that the order of creation is a universal order in which all of humanity participates, and that this order is accessible to reason. When we speak of natural law, it is a question of this order willed by God and grasped by human reason. The Bible formulates the distinction between the order of creation and the order of grace, to which faith in Christ gives access.

The order of the city is not this definitive or eschatological order. The domain of politics is not that of the heavenly city, a gratuitous gift of God. It concerns the imperfect and transitory order in which human beings live, all the while advancing towards their fulfilment in what lies beyond history. According to St. Augustine, the distinctive characteristic of the earthly city is to be mixed: the just and unjust, believers and unbelievers rub shoulders together They must temporarily live together according to the requirements of their nature and the capacity of their reason.

The state, therefore, cannot set itself up as the bearer of ultimate meaning. It cannot impose a global ideology, nor a religion even secular , nor one way of thinking. In civil society religious organizations, philosophies and spiritualities take charge of the domain of ultimate meaning; they must contribute to the common good, strengthen the social bond and promote the universal values that are the foundation of the political order itself. The political order is not called to transpose onto earth the kingdom of God that is to come.

It can anticipate the kingdom by advances in the area of justice, solidarity, and peace. It cannot seek to establish it by force. The political order is a temporal and rational order If the political order is not the sphere of ultimate truth, it must, nevertheless, be open to the perpetual search for God, truth, and justice. This latter order can never be confused with the order of grace to which all persons are called to freely adhere. Happily, Peterson eschews a creationist approach to world and human origins. Unhappily, his approach to the scriptural text is not always nuanced. His assertion that Jesus himself was different biologically from other human beings seems a stretch.

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