Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Book coverBook cover

1 Good & Evil Actions:
A Journey through Saint Thomas Aquinas

Steven J Jensen
The Catholic University of America Press
2 Reason Morality And Law:
The Philosophy of John Finnis

Edited by John Keown and Robert P George
Oxford University Press

There is a reason to review both these books together. They both, in part, examine the new natural law theory put forward by Grisez and Finnis. Are there problems with the theory?

It goes without saying that both Grisez and Finnis have been courageous defenders of life for decades and this was especially so at a time when it had become fashionable for Catholic moral theologians to dissent from Church teaching.

However, certain problems with their theory require some exploration. We shall use the example of craniotomy. In 2001, Grisez and Finnis famously stated that when the skull of the foetus is crushed, the intention is to narrow the cranium and the subsequent death of the foetus may be regarded as a forseen side-effect. The intention, according to them, is not to kill the foetus. As Jensen so cogently argues, many philosophers have rightly responded by noting that the act of crushing the skull is at the very least an act of harming the foetus. In a desire to avoid any form of "physicalism" the new natural law theory appears to conflict with the classical teaching.

The second book under review is a hugely enjoyable tome. Luke Gormally argues that there is a contrast in the understanding of intention between Finnis and Anscombe. For Anscombe the act of craniotomy is an act of killing. It is in the nature of the procedure that it is lethal. For Finnis and Grisez, it is not a lethal act.

Arguments about the rightness of the new natural law theory would appear to be destined to continue.