Natural law and philosophical presuppositions

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This chapter studies the role of general revelation in natural law theory. General revelation, what all persons can know about God and the good, provides the foundation of natural law thinking. However, special revelation (revealed religion) is often invoked before basic questions about the reality of God and the good have been answered. This chapter studies the claim that all persons ought to know God and that knowing God is the highest good. One way to understand natural law is as the study of the moral law from general revelation. By way of contrast, Christianity relies on special revelation to make claims about the need for redemption through the atoning work of Christ. Nevertheless, they share important presuppositions about knowledge, reality and what is good. The following chapter will look at the philosophical foundation presupposed by natural law and by Christianity and the ways that these reinforce each other. One way this will be achieved is by considering the influential contemporary work of John Finnis and how he has explained natural law. The chapter will explain the argument that there must be a clear natural moral law to make sense of the Christian claims about the reality of sin and the need for redemption. It will become clear that it is impossible to avoid philosophical foundations about God and the good and this means the case must be made that humans ought to know God. This law is presupposed by special revelation although the Scriptures affirm that there is a clear general revelation of God’s nature and the moral law. Before considering specific thinkers like Finnis or Aristotle it is worth considering a few important presuppositions of Christianity. Specifically, special revelation (revealed religion related through testimony) as redemptive revelation presupposes that there is a clear general revelation of God’s nature and the moral law (Romans 1). It is the failure to know God and keep this law that puts humans in the condition of needing redemption. Special revelation affirms both God and the moral law but cannot be a proof for either without becoming circular (I believe the Bible because it is God’s word, and I know God exists because the Bible says so). Scripture uses the terms ‘life’ and ‘death’ to refer not simply to physical life but to spiritual life and humanity’s highest goal (John 17:3).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChristianity and Natural Law
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781316890615
ISBN (Print)9781107186446
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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