James Bruce

Dr. James E. Bruce is an associate professor of philosophy at John Brown University. His first book, Rights in the Law: The Importance of God’s Free Choices in the Thought of Francis Turretin, was published by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht in 2013.

Can Natural Theology Solve Our Political Problems?

natural moral law

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…

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Nagel’s Cosmos: Teleology Without Intention?

Mind and Cosmos

In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas Nagel, a prolific and highly regarded philosopher, defends, by his own admission, “the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life.” He continues, “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection” (6). Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker is “a canonical expression” of the standard account, and, though it “seems to convince practically everyone” (5n2), Nagel finds it “ hard to believe” (5). His real enemy is “a…

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Roger Sherman’s Reformed Founding

Roger Sherman

A squirearchy of deists, agnostics, and closeted atheists, the American founders erected a wall of separation between church and state to preserve their fledgling republic from the tyranny of an established church. But debating these points is inconsequential: after all, we have their singular achievement, the Constitution, and we can see the wall there. Granted, it is occasionally important to rescue the founders from misinterpretation by, e.g., pajama-wearing bloggers, farmers in overalls, and people who like NASCAR. Fortunately any historical work to be done is decidedly straightforward. One need only state the obvious: though the colonists were devout, the founders…

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The Political Philosophy of John Calvin

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What is Calvin’s relationship to the foundations of modern politics? One obvious answer is that Calvin doesn’t have one. On this view, modern political thought begins by rejecting revelation (Christian or otherwise) and embracing reason. Calvin doesn’t contribute anything, according to this position; on the contrary, if anything, Calvin is an obstacle to be overcome! So studying Calvin is, for the political philosopher, just a waste of time, or, to put it more gently, studying Calvin may be interesting for any number of reasons, but politics is not one of them. Others take the exact opposite approach. On this view,…

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Whose Nature? Which Property Right?

In “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property,” Edward Feser offers a way for natural law theorists to be natural rights theorists, and he shows how natural law and natural rights provide the intellectual foundation for private property. This essay and his longer piece in Social Philosophy and Policy develop natural law theory in an interesting way. After all, Aquinas, a natural law theorist than which none greater can be thought, does not include private property in the natural law; he calls it an invention of human reason (ST IIa-IIae q. 66 a. 2 ad 1). Nicholas Wolterstorff, in chapter…

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Rights to Property and the Right to Appropriate

Edward Feser provides a classical natural law theory of rights, and property rights in particular. According to Feser, human beings are naturally inclined to certain acts and ways of life. The fact of such natural inclinations makes acts and ways of life in accordance with them morally worthy or even obligatory. And, if I understand…

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