The Natural Law: What it is and Why it Still Matters to Policymaking
March 20, 2019 12:00 ET

The Natural Law: What it is and Why it Still Matters (to Policy)

Professor R.J. Snell

“A civilization in decline digs its grave with relentless consistency.” For those aware of such decline, a turn to philosophy can seem indulgent, escapist, or a form of resignation, when, in fact, decline is quickened by the separation of philosophy from the concerns of policy. When separated, philosophy retreats to the ivory tower, lost in arcane problems which contribute little to the life well-lived, while practical concerns, untethered from the domains of philosophy and culture, are all but condemned to failure and ruin.

The recovery of natural law is the recovery of reason itself, but a full-orbed reason, open and engaged with the various domains of policy and social life, but from a viewpoint of human purpose and meaning. Without natural law, policy battles descend to mere instrumental rationality and tend to become exercises in will, power, and satisfaction, with the likely result of the failure of practicality itself.

Professor R.J. Snell is Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, and Academic Director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Life at Princeton University and Senior Fellow in Natural Law and Ethics at the Culture of Life Institute. He is a Contributing Editor of Public Discourse and serves on the editorial board of Method Journal of Lonergan Studies.

Previously, he was professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern University and the Templeton Honors College, where he founded and directed the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He began his academic career at North Park University in Chicago.

He did graduate work in philosophy at Boston College and Marquette University. Research interests include natural law theory, Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the work of Bernard Lonergan, SJ.

Snell is the author of Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on Knowing without a God’s-eye View; Authentic Cosmopolitanism (with Steve Cone); The Perspective of Love: Natural Law in a New Mode; Acedia and Its Discontents; co-editor of Subjectivity: Ancient and Modern and Nature: Ancient and Modern (with Steven McGuire); Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (with Robert P. George); as well as articles, chapters, and essays in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He and his family reside in the Princeton area.

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