Front Page Titles (by Subject) Natural Law & Professor Finnis\' Book - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3
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Natural Law & Professor Finnis' Book - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Natural Law & Professor Finnis' Book
“Natural Law and the ‘Is’-‘Ought’ Question.” Catholic Lawyer 26 (Autumn 1981): 251–265.
At the beginning of his article, Prof. Veatch offers a tribute to John Finnis' book, Natural Law and Natural Rights. He views it as a remarkable achievement which has almost singlehandedly restored natural law to serious consideration among contemporary philosophers.
Despite his admiration, however, Veatch takes issue with one crucial section of the book, the part entitled “The illicit inference from facts to norms.” The very title of the section seems to negate the legitimacy of basing norms on factual data. “Yet,” Veatch asks, “how can the enterprise of a natural-law ethics be anything other than a search for some basis for morals and ethics in nature itself, and thus in the facts of nature?”
In Veatch's view, Finnis interprets Aquinas as maintaining that the first principles of natural law are not inferred from metaphysical propositions about human nature, or from propositions about the nature of good and evil, or about the function of a human being. Nor are they inferred from a teleological conception of the ends and purposes of nature or any other conception of nature.
In order to maintain a wall separating norms from nature, Veatch asserts, Finnis (like Germain Grisez) puts forward the Aristotelian distinction between practical and theoretical sciences—an entirely legitimate distinction, Veatch admits. Since ethics is a practical science, it is established on the first self-evident principle of practical reason, enunciated by St. Thomas as: Bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum. Grisez carefully translates this admonition as: “Good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.”
According to Grisez, good has the intelligibility of a purpose or end, “good being simply what each thing tends towards.” Veatch objects that, if good is to be construed simply as an end or as an object of inclination and desire, a dangerous ambiguity immediately arises. He explicates this ambiguity with what he calls “the Euthyphro test.” In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates raises the question of whether a thing is said to be good because it is beloved of the gods; or rather is it beloved of the gods because it is good?
According to the Euthyphro test, if goodness and value are entirely relative to tastes and inclinations, no grounds exist for holding that good is anything to be done (faciendum), to be pursued (prosequendum), or that evil is to be avoided (vitandum). Grisez must go beyond his statement about goods as inclinations to specify that they are objects of inclination in the sense of being things that we ought to be inclined towards—whether we actually are or not. This means that goods are not goods only because they are desired, but good in themselves—goods as beings. To obviate the ambiguity posed by the Euthyphro test, good must not only be considered according to practical reason, but also in its metaphysical dimension. Clearly, there can be no such domain of practice or practical reason, unless it be in terms of metaphysics and of theoretical reason through which it receives its proper determinations.
A breach has thus been effected in the wall of separation between practical reason and theoretical reason, between ethics and metaphysics, between nature and morals, between “is” and “ought.” Without such a breach, Veatch comments, one might envision both Finnis and Grisez treading on a slippery slope into an ethics of nomos (convention) rather than physis (nature)—an ethics which is so prevalent today and so irreconcilable with anything resembling an ethics of natural law.