Monday, July 10, 2017

Permissibility of the natural

The usual way to argue that an action is permissible is to argue that the arguments against the action’s permissibility fail. But it would be really nice to be able to give a more positive argument for an action’s permissibility. Sometimes one can do so by showing that the action is obligatory, but (a) that doesn’t help with the permissibility of non-obligatory actions, and (b) often an argument for the obligatoriness of a positive action presupposes the action’s permissibility (e.g., the obligation to kill a dog that is attacking one’s child when no other means of defense is available presupposes the general permissibility of killing dogs with good reason).

Here is a place where Natural Law (NL) can provide something quite useful, namely this principle:

  1. If A is a natural action, then normally A is permissible.

This principle could, for instance, be used to generate intuitively compelling positive arguments for such controversial theses as:

  1. It is normally permissible to eat animals.

  2. It is normally permissible for us to reproduce.

  3. It is normally permissible for us to prefer those more closely related to us.

In addition to Natural Lawyers, theists in general might have reason to endorse (1), on the grounds that our nature comes from God.

Of course, there is always going to be a difficulty in determining whether the antecedent of (1) is true.

Non-theistic non-NL theories are unlikely to endorse (1) except as a rule of thumb. And it will be an interesting explanatory question on those theories why then (1) is true even as a rule of thumb.

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