The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“The Virus – and Other Moral Hazards” Professor Hadley Arkes in The Catholic Thing

In his latest column for The Catholic Thing, JWI Founder and Director Hadley Arkes takes note of the curious way in which the commentators in the media have backed into a perspective of natural law in their uniform response to the COVID-19 virus. They take as a governing axiom, at every turn, the paramount importance of protecting human life, even the lives of people they don’t know. So paramount is that concern that it is taken to justify even the closing down of the economy. The philosopher John Finnis used to point to the many ways in which we weave into daily acts a reigning assumption about the goodness of protecting human life: We look both ways before we step into the street; we hold drives to relieve famine at home and in other countries, to rescue even people we don’t know. The commentators in the media proclaim the supreme importance of protecting every human life, and yet at every turn, the same commentators treat as a matter of indifference–or even celebration, a matter of “constitutional right”–the destruction of 860,000 innocent human lives every year in abortion.

Some excerpts from the piece:

“We can imagine a teacher on the third floor of a school, alerted to a fire, and instructed to get her pupils out of the building. And then let us suppose that she acts on that instruction by throwing them out the window. The case is unimaginable because, as we say, we ‘expect her to know.’ To know what? That her mission, yes, is to get the children out of the building, but in a way that secures their safety and their lives.”

“By now many of my readers know where this has been heading:  If the overriding commitment is to protect human life, in all conditions and all ages, how could the same liberal commentators show not the least concern for the killing of around 860,000 small, innocent human beings every year in this country in abortions?”

“That the contradiction has not broken in on them is a reflection of something that has gone deeply dysfunctional in what used to be thought a staple of liberal education: some elementary practice in reasoning about matters of moral consequence in a principled way.”

You can read the full piece here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790