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The need for ethical and moral reconsideration

On the new publication “Natural Law and Morality in a Pluralistic Society”

by Urs Knoblauch, cultural publicist, Fruthwilen TG

It is very commendable that the “Joseph-Höffner-Gesellschaft” makes the contributions of the public symposium 2016 in Königswinter accessible to a broad public as volume 6 “Naturrecht und Moral in pluralistischer Gesellschaft”(Natural Law and Morality in a Pluralistic Society), edited by Christian Müller, Elmar Nass and Johannes Zabel.

Founded in 2002, the Society aims at continuing and updating the life’s work of the great scholar and archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Cardinal Höffner (1906–1987). His standard work “Christliche Gesell-
schaftslehre” (“Christian Theory of Society”) was published in 1962. It is widely read in its numerous extended editions, and has been translated into many languages.

Joseph Cardinal Höffner’s significance

Lothar Roos, who is represented with a contribution in the book reviewed here, refers to Joseph Cardinal Höffner’s numerous and “diverse pastoral journeys as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference in many countries of the Third World” in the preface to the 2001 new edition of “Christliche Gesellschaftslehre”. As “ambassador of the social doctrine of the Church” he was faced with the task of working in a multicultural and pluralistic society threatened spiritually and materially.
Sound ethical and moral reconsideration and orientation is urgently needed in order to overcome the great social injustices and violations of law, as well as relativism and nihilism. It is notably natural law, the social doctrine of the church, fundamental and human rights and universal ethics that play a central role here.

The great value of natural law

This addresses the main concerns of the eight renowned authors Christoph Ohly (Natural Law and Canon Law), Jürgen Henkel (Natural Law, Reformation and Orthodoxy), Günter Risse (Human Rights as Natural Law in the Islamic Understanding), Elmar Nass (Implicit Natural Law in New Aristotelism), Christian Müller and Michael Sendker (Narration or Natural Law?) and Giuseppe Franco (Natural Law and Critical Rational Epistemology). Especially in a time in which natural law is hardly taught any longer, it is a concern of all the authors to demonstrate, from different theoretical and school approaches, its great value for today’s secular and pluralistic society with its great and unsolved tasks.

“In search of a universal code of ethics.”

The book starts with Josef Spindelböck’s fundamental contribution “Natural Law, Sacred Scripture and Revelation”. The author deals with the clarification of the terminology of natural law, its philosophical roots, of the distinction between natural and divinely revealed laws. He also refers to the important work “In Search of a Universal Code of Ethics. A new look at the natural moral law” of the International Theological Commission (Vatican 2009). Current Concerns presented and honoured this work in detail (Current Concerns No. 14/15 from 1 July 2017). The authors of the Commission point out that by virtue of man’s rational and spiritual nature as well as his emotional ability to socially connect with fellow-men from the most diverse cultures and world religions, there are common, natural moral values, and these contribute to a universal code of ethics and are valid for believers as well as unbelievers in the sense of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. With all peoples and in all cultures we can find forms of the “golden rule” or the “categorical imperative”, to do good and to refrain from evil.

Reference to Johannes Messner

Josef Spindelböck also refers to Johannes Messner: “‘Natural law’ is that part of the natural moral law that relates to the rights and duties of individuals as well as of social groups in social life. Johannes Messner defines natural law firstly as ‘a stock of rights accorded to man by virtue of his nature’, and secondly as the science related thereto, i.e. the doctrine of natural law. Seen in this light, natural moral law constitutes the basis for the obligation of natural law. It is based on the nature of man and thus on the will of the Creator”.
(p. 16)

Criticism of relativism and constructivism

With regard to the criticism of natural law, Spindelböck clarifies that in a “pluralistically composed world” the “foundation of natural law” must refer to the experiences in the “inner and outer world”, and that therefore no “abstract-metaphysical concept of nature” is presupposed. This emphasises the principle of reality, the recognisability of truth and the rejection of relativism and arbitrary constructivism.

Anthropological and socio-ethical foundations of natural law

Lothar Roos introduces his contribution “Natural law in the tradition of ecclesiastical teaching” with the anthropological and social-ethical foundations of natural law. “Man is by nature a moral being, i.e. his Creator has endowed him with enough reason to be able to distinguish between good and evil, between right and wrong. He also has a sufficient degree of willpower to enable him to seek and walk the paths ‘from less human to more human living conditions’ (Paul II, Populorum Progressio 20). This natural capacity also includes the human conscience, through which he can recognise and affirm his personal responsibility for his thinking, will and actions. This conviction can already be found in the early Greek pioneers of natural law thinking (Plato and Aristotle), but especially in the stoic philosophy of natural law. Such primeval insights apply to all peoples and everywhere. They belong to the natural endowment of every human being.”
(p. 35) The author presents the natural, cultural and cultural-anthropological social principles of the common good, of solidarity and subsidiarity in an easily understandable way. The reader also gains an insight into the connection between Thomas von Aquin’s theory of goods and the teaching of the social market economy.

Ethical and moral reconsideration

With its interdisciplinary approach, the well worth reading conference transcript, makes a valuable contribution to reattributing more significance to the scientific foundations of human social nature, natural law and a code of ethics orientated towards public welfare, and it does so in times of the deconstruction of moral values, of the neglect of justice and the “dictatorship of relativism” (Joseph Ratzinger). It is to be hoped that well-founded contributions from all circles of society will be added to an urgently needed ethical and moral reconsideration.     •

(Translation Current Concerns)