Friday, February 15, 2019

Natural law: Between objectivism and subjectivism

Aristotelian natural law approaches provide an attractive middle road between objectivist and subjectivist answers to various normative questions: the answers to the questions are relative to the kind of entity that they concern, but not to the particular particular entity.

For instance, a natural law approach to aesthetics would not make the claim that there is one objective beauty for humans, klingons, vulcans and angels. But it would make the absolutist claim that there is one beauty for Alice, Bob, Carl and Davita, as long as they are all humans. The natural lawyer aestheticist could take a subjectivist’s accounts of beauty in terms, of say, disinterested pleasure, but give it a species relative normative twist: the beautiful to members of kind K (say, humans or klingons) is what should give members of kind K disinterested pleasure. The human who fails to find that pleasure in a Monet painting suffers from a defect, but a klingon might suffer from a defect if she found pleasure in the Monet.


Michael Staron said...

Do you think there is a way for the Aristotelian natural law theorist to make a claim like the following: maple trees are more beautiful than electrons? Without reducing this claim to: members of the kind "maple tree" tend to live up to the norms of the kind "maple tree" more often than members of the kind "electron" tend to live up to the norms of the kind "electron"?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there are many things a natural law theorist could say about beauty. Take for instance the Aristotelianized version of Kant's account of beauty in terms of disinterested pleasure. Well, the Aristotelian could say that human beings are such that they ought experience more disinterested pleasure from maple trees than electrons, and this makes maple trees be more beautiful than electrons to humans.

Alternately, an Aristotelian account of beauty could make some reference to the forms of the things that are beautiful. I am inclined not to do that, because so many of the beautiful things (paintings, sunsets, nebulae) are not substances on my ontology.

Note that electrons tend to live up to their norms of their kind much better than maple trees. There are plenty of defective maple trees but I have never heard of a case of a defective electron.