The first 40 pages of The Natural Moral Law: The Good After Modernity are exceptional; it’s obvious to me why Cambridge decided to publish it. The book has many admirable qualities: it is daring, encyclopedic, and thought-provoking. Taken as a whole, though, The Natural Moral Law is uneven. Owen Anderson’s “interdisciplinary approach” should have been supplemented with more explicit, rigorous argument. The ideas he considers are too important to leave The Natural Moral Law as his final book on the subject; my hope is that Anderson will write a companion book to this one that is less historical and more…
The relation between morality and law is (or ought to be) complex and subtle: the two are neither identical nor entirely separate. Once upon a time everyone seemed to understand this, as if by instinct; but the instinct, if it ever existed, has been lost. When someone says, by way of excuse for his bad behavior, that “There’s no law against it,” he implies that what is not legally forbidden is permissible in every other sense.
No one, incidentally, ever explained his good behavior by reference to this legal/illegal boundary. The misunderstanding is a motivated one.
A misunderstanding of the morality of punishment and its justification in law will not always be grounded in self-interest, however. We can see this from a brief column recently published in the Guardian by the philosopher Nigel Warburton. Warburton considered the case of a man called John Paul Burrows, a multimillionaire who worked in the City of London as the director of a very large investment company.
Andrew Ferguson’s current feature essay in The Weekly Standard “The ‘Science’ of Same-Sex Marriage” considers the unique brief filed by Leon Kass and Harvey Mansfield in the Proposition 8 case that is now before the Court. Also discussed by Nelson Lund, the brief’s counsel of record, in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, the Kass-Mansfield brief does not engage in direct advocacy on behalf of the California law that bans same sex marriage in that state. Rather, the brief purports only to demonstrate that social science claims made in support of a radical departure from the principles of Western marriage law are quite inconclusive and are contrary to statements put forward by researchers and organizations like the American Psychological Association.