The Hart-Feser Debate over Natural Law, Revisited

In “Reason’s Faith”, David Bentley Hart revisits a series of exchanges in First Things circa 2013, in which he argued (his words):

not that natural-law theory is inherently futile, but rather that its proponents often fail to grasp just how nihilistic the late modern view of reality has become, or how far our culture has gone toward losing any coherent sense of “nature” at all, let alone of any realm of moral meanings to which nature might afford access.

Hart’s original post provoked a storm of controversy, with a number of prominent authors rallying to his defense (Michael Potemra, Rod Dreher, Alan Jacobs) as well as bracing rebuttals from the more philosophically inclined, most notably Edward Feser, as rounded-up and chronicled here.

Edward Feser too, revisits the debate in Reasons of the Hart (03/13/15):

… the focus of Hart’s latest piece is the question of the relationship between faith and reason. Hart objects to the charge that he is a fideist, arguing that both fideism and rationalism of the seventeenth-century sort are errors that would have been rejected by the mainstream of the ancient and medieval traditions with which he sympathizes. With that much I agree. I agree too with his claim that the use of reason rests on the “metaphysical presupposition” that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps — an “orientation of truth to the mind and of the mind to truth.” I agree with him when he argues that naturalism cannot account for this fit, that the best it can attribute to our rational faculties is survival value but not capacity to grasp truth, and that this makes it impossible for the naturalist rationally to justify his own position. And I agree with him when he argues that idealism in its various forms also cannot account for this fit — that if naturalism emphasizes mind-independent truth to such an extent that it cannot account for the mind itself, idealism emphasizes mind to such an extent that it cannot account for mind-independent truth.

All well and good, and indeed a set of points whose importance cannot be overemphasized. What puzzles me, though, is the way Hart characterizes the position he would put in place of these errors — a way that at least lends itself to a fideist reading, his rejection of the “fideist” label notwithstanding. [Read the whole thing].

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