The Original Visitor: Hello. I’m back.
Budziszewski: Good morning. Haven’t heard from you since blog post number one. I thought you’d lost interest.
I never left. I’ve just been lurking. Reading your posts in the shadows.
Be my guest.
Besides, it isn’t as though I’m your only visitor.
And you know this?
I know many things. I even know that visits to your website spiked on December 9th.
How do you come by this knowledge?
I’ve hacked your website statistics.
Can all of my figments of imagination hack my data?
Probably not. I’m talented.
What brings you out of the shadows now?
I’ve been trying to figure you out.
What’s to figure out? My blogs are pretty straightforward.
Well, for a guy who calls himself a philosopher, you tell an awful lot of stories. I thought you’d spend more time proving theorems or something. Do you mind answering a few questions?
For starters, why do you call yourself a natural law thinker in the first place?
Didn’t I make that clear in our previous conversation?
Sort of. But the things you say don’t sound much like what other natural law thinkers say.
Natural law thinkers like who?
Like the ones my teachers made me read in college. Thomas Hobbes. John Locke. Weren’t those the big guns? The state of nature and the social contract and all that jazz.
I see the problem. You’re right. I’m closer to Locke than to Hobbes, but what I call natural law doesn’t have much in common with what either one of them meant by the term.
Because I hew to the classical natural law tradition. Those fellows were revisionists.
Tell me the difference.
The revisionists pulled the classical tradition to pieces and threw most of its intellectual equipment out the window. Those implausible ideas that you mentioned -- the thoroughly unnatural “state of nature” and the thoroughly unhistorical “social contract”? They were the things they used to plug the holes.
What did they throw out?
Some metaphysics, like the concept of real essences. Some philosophy of mind, like the distinction betweenconscientia and synderesis. Lots of things, actually.
You’re losing me. Didn't you see that blogger who said your blog would "make your head hurt"?
Yes, but I thought he was complimenting me.
Give it a rest. Can’t you just talk common sense?
The terms I used are for talking about common sense more precisely.
Forget the toolbox. Use street language. Talk with me like a guy at the bus stop.
Okay, let’s try this. Four deep considerations run through all of classical natural law theory. We can call them the four moral witnesses. I mentioned them the first time we talked.
Except then you called them roadsigns.
Go on. What are these four witnesses?
The first one is deep conscience, which provides the starting points of all moral reasoning -- principles which don’t have to be proven, but which we used to prove everything else. For example, I don’t need a proof to know that equals should be treated equally; the principle is evident in itself.
Maybe conscience is just a way of thinking we can’t escape. Maybe if we’d evolved differently, we’d have a different conscience.
You’re asking whether the contents of conscience are arbitrary. Whether they could have been radically different.
But we don’t experience ourselves as blooming, buzzing, patched-tegether confusions. We experience ourselves as meaningful wholes.
Even if some of the meanings are elusive at times?
Yes. It’s because we experience life as meaningful that we’re troubled when meaning eludes us. We regard the sense of meaninglessness as an aberration. And that’s the second moral witness: Recognition of the designedness of things.
Maybe we just evolved a belief in meaning.
I take it that this belief would satisfy a pre-existing need for meaning?
And that need evolved too?
In that case the need to believe in meaning must have adaptive value. Tell me what it is.
If you believe your life has a meaning, you’ll try harder to survive.
You’re assuming what you set out to prove.
Belief in meaning would motivate you only if you already had a need for meaning. Why should we first evolve a need to believe in a meaning which doesn’t exist, then evolve a tendency to believe that it does exist? You could save a lot of time by not evolving either a need for meaning or a belief in it, and just evolving an urge to survive.
Hmm. For purposes of argument, I’ll let that stand.
You mean you can’t answer me.
No, I mean I want to get on with it. Even if we do recognize “the designedness of things,” tell me why you call it a “moral” witness. What does it have to do with knowing right and wrong?
For one thing, it vindicates the previous moral witness.
Vindicates it in what sense?
If everything in us is meaningful, then conscience is meaningful too. It’s not an illusion; it really does witness to morality. It is an inward testimony to God’s law.
What’s the matter?
How did God get into this?
I thought you said you’d been reading this blog all along.
But we’ve been over this. If things are designed, then Someone must have designed them.
I thought the whole point of natural law being “natural” is that it made recourse to God unnecessary. Don’t atheists have consciences too?
Yes, but they can’t account for them. If they are consistent, they will insist that human beings are the arbitrary result of a process that did not have us in mind, and that conscience is nothing more than a residue of that process, just as meaningless as the rest of it. Have you heard of George DeLury?
I’ve never heard of a philosopher by that name.
Not a philosopher. A wife-killer. He drugged and suffocated her. After he was released from prison, he wrote about the pain of his remorse. But he said that it meant nothing, because it expressed only a primate inhibition against killing our own kind.
Hmm. So you’re saying that the second moral witness is a moral witness because makes the first moral witness count.
And if there really is a Designer, then I suppose you would say that we should be grateful to Him too. Assuming the principle of gratitude. But I suppose you’d say that the principle of gratitude is part of what deep conscience testifies to.