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Natural Law and Human Nature

Gain appreciation of just how much thought, effort, and brilliance went into formulating and defending the crucial insights of natural law theory.
Natural Law and Human Nature is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 82.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from I have not watched the video/audio.I bought a law book about how judges think and rule written by US Supreme Court Justice Ben Cardozo 100 years ago in the 1920s on "natural law". I could not get thru it..and the language of 100 years ago is not so succint. I think Natural Law related to law, maybe how the constitution and the the federalist papers by Hamilton/Madison/john Jay. I have not listened to this audio/video. I'm just putting together the pieces of the law, law books, how judges think and this concept called natural alw. I listened to a free course from Hillsdale College..about the constitution and it talks about "natural law" and then it does as someone else suggest start around the the 1930s (new deal) and the 1960s when the Warren/Burger supreme court justices constitutional decisions goes into sexual revolution, gays and the disintegration of the values in America. I have no other comments than it might be a view point on how law and religion were intertwined when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were first created. It's just a thought. I have not finished reading Cardozo's book. zzz's.
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Weak on the foundations. While I found the lecturer's recounting of the historical roots of natural law thinking quite interesting, I believe the lecturer failed in two key areas when trying to convey an understanding of natural law: 1. He failed to define the term "natural." Does it mean "natural behaviors"? Does it mean "ontological essence"? Does it mean both? Something else? 2. He never fully defines "law". What makes a law, law? Does it mean a mathematically described aspect of reality, as in the law of gravity? Does it mean a principle that flows by necessity from an established premise? If so, how is the premise established? Is it a regulation or duty imposed by a lawgiver? Without these foundational definitions, we really can't judge "natural law" on its merits. One person's "nature" is another person's "custom."
Date published: 2023-10-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Unfortunate triumph of opinion over thought The course is very good where it presents the history and development of Natural Law theory; the last sections which discuss present day application, however, spoil the course with prejudice rather than reason. Two instances: 1) the assertion that homosexuality is often the result of the childhood trauma of paternal rejection 2) the idea that the mere description of rights as "inalienable" somehow establishes a proof (though definition of that adjective) that such rights cannot be discarded Fr Koterski acknowledges in the lectures that his interest in Natural Law theory is to establish a secular justification for Catholic teaching - his lack of rigor spoils both his objective and the course as a whole.
Date published: 2020-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, concise, and comprehensive I bought this quite some time ago but hadn’t been able to complete it until recently. Koterski is crystal clear and balanced in his presentation- giving a solid explanation of the origins of natural law in antiquity and carrying it to the present. One can hardly be surprised he has included substantial reflections on modern day issues of abortion, death penalty, etc as these are profoundly impacted by our understanding of natural law. I’m actually glad he isn’t afraid to advance a view on these matters- otherwise we might have a banal collection of platitudes but nothing that helps us think clearly on these matters. Incidentally, I also have his work on Aristotle- profound and engaging. I wish the Teaching Company would have him prepare additional courses - I’d buy them!
Date published: 2020-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Crucial to understanding the West I loved this course for a number of reasons. First of all, Father Koterski has a warm and jovial style while explaining material that might otherwise seem complicated and dry. Secondly, in 24 lectures he provides a sweeping survey of Western intellectual thought as it pertains to the notion of a natural "higher law" - that is, the idea that there is a set of pre-existing norms for human behavior and human interaction which stem from the nature of human beings. I found the course to be extremely intellectually invigorating and satisfying. Koterski starts by providing three examples of appeals to a higher law from throughout history (from the Greek play "Antigone", when the titular character resists the king's edict not to bury her brother because he has been declared an enemy of the state; the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, when the judges of various nationalities decided to prosecute Nazis for "crimes against humanity" rather than for violating any nation's specific law; and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in which he states that any human law that violates the higher natural law is invalid). Koterski then examines the contributions of the pre-Socratics, Aristotle, the Old Testament, early Christian church fathers, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and others to the development of an understanding of natural law. As a historian of the American Revolution, I was particularly interested in the lecture on the Founding Fathers and natural law. As Koterski explains, the use of natural law to justify revolution appealed to both those Americans who had been influenced by the European Enlightenment as well as the more religiously-minded in predominantly Protestant America. While the first group viewed natural law as something which could be discovered through the use of one's reason, the second viewed reason as a gift from God - the author of "the laws of nature". Thus, both could lend their assent to the Declaration of Independence. Koterski wrapped up the course with several lectures applying natural law philosophy to contemporary issues and concerns including social ethics and bio-ethics. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More S.J. than PhD. This is the second course I’ve taken from Father Koterski, the other titled “Ethics of Aristotle”, which I quite enjoyed. When expositing on Aristotle, Dr. Koterski maintained a scholarly approach. Indeed expect for his occasional self-reference as “Father”, his religion never crept into his lectures at all. Of course, as the title suggests, ethics were at the heart of the course. In this course however, his religiosity comes to the forefront. To be sure, his approach is measured and thoughtful and full of arguments that had never before occurred to me. For this I am much indebted. Although his arguments were well constructed, some of his premises were difficult for me to accept—for example, his assertion on the necessity of the existence of God in Natural Law. Of course this may be my limitation, not his. Still in his initial lectures on classical Greece, that did not necessarily seem to be a solid requirement. So long as the lectures centered on Western philosophical grounds (especially Thomas Aquinas) Professor Koterski was on solid ground (even though I had some nits to pick in a few places). I found lecture 20 on the existence of God to be absolutely fascinating and reasonably well balanced (full disclosure, I am an atheist). Father Koterski’s Jesuit training works very well here. But beginning in the very next lecture his reasoning, for me, becomes problematic. First, I must applaud his decision to introduce and tackle subjects that I am sure he realizes that much of his audience will either reject out of hand, or will substantially disagree. Aside from that, here his reasoning does not seem to me to be built on a solid platform. Now this may seem a bit presumptuous coming from someone who has had no formal training in philosophy, but in areas that I know better, the arguments break down entirely. As other reviewers have mentioned, his reliance on Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” as a credible source, completely obviates his arguments. Now those arguments may still be valid, but not supported as they are. And I find his arguments as to same-sex marriage to fall completely apart. Professor Koterski’s course is based completely on Western, Christian (centered on Aquinas’ theology) thought. While I think that this would be acceptable if he did not make so many sweeping statements about universality, in point of fact he never really makes much of an effort to justify why Natural Law is universal. A significant failing. Prfessor Koterski’s delivery is slow, measured and academic. Nothing worth criticizing, but also nothing about it being exciting. I’d like to be able to give this 3 1/2 stars, but as I think that the solid scholarship outweighs the negatives, four stars with a provisional recommendation.
Date published: 2019-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course in all respects. Although some reviewers had a problem accepting the concept of supra-positive (natural) law, I feel that Father Koterski's presentation, recorded in 2002, was so clear (and beautifully delivered) that no one should maintain a question-mark, or thoroughly disagree with him on this score. His talk on the problems that "natural law" presents is classic; I believe he acquitted himself remarkably and powerfully well. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Although some of the lectures are quite challenging, I found that paying STRICT attention (and NOT doing anything else while viewing -- e.g. emailing), that potential was immediately resolved. I enjoy multi-tasking, but this course hardly allows for that. Father Koterski's delivery is superb; clarity and pace are spot-on; no weird tics; emphasis given in precisely the right areas. He is a treat to listen to. Btw, I bought the DVD set, I very rarely purchase audio.
Date published: 2019-02-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Agenda I didn't like the instructor inoculating tenets of the current Catholic agenda. Infuriating.
Date published: 2018-12-16
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This course traces the origins and consequences of the theory of natural law. Natural law is the idea that there is an objective moral order, grounded in essential humanity, that holds universal and permanent implications for the ways we should conduct ourselves as free and responsible human beings. In Natural Law and Human Nature, you consider the arguments for natural law, the serious objections that have been raised against it, and the ways, despite all overt criticisms, it remains a vital and even pervasive force in political, moral, and social life today, even while traveling under another name.


Joseph Koterski, S.J.

As a Jesuit priest, I think there is something from this tradition that I can bring to bear, that will be of great interest to those who share my convictions, those who do not, and to those who are interested and searching.


St. Louis University
A member of the Society of Jesus, Father Joseph Koterski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, where he specializes in the history of medieval philosophy and natural law ethics. Before taking his position at Fordham University, Father Koterski taught at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He earned his doctorate in Philosophy from St. Louis University, after receiving an H.A.B. in Classics from Xavier University. As a priest ordained in 1992, Father Koterski brings an added dimension of insight to his study of theology and biblical texts. He earned his Master of Divinity and License of Sacred Theology from the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Father Koterski is a veteran Great Courses instructor and a respected teacher and scholar. At Fordham, he has been recognized for his teaching skills and was awarded the Dean's Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching and the Graduate Teacher of the Year Award. He serves as the editor-in-chief of the International Philosophical Quarterly and is coeditor of the Fordham University Press Series in Moral Philosophy and Moral Theology.

By This Professor

The Philosophical Approach

01: The Philosophical Approach

As far back as Sophocles' and as recently as the Nuremberg Trials and Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, humans have appealed to unwritten, universal standards of justice that laws must respect. What does it mean to think philosophically about these experiences?

32 min
The General Nature of Ethics

02: The General Nature of Ethics

Here you will learn how to locate natural law within the larger universe of theories about ethics, and consider both the basic assumptions of natural law thinking and the basic challenges that have been raised against them.

30 min
Law, Nature, Natural Law

03: Law, Nature, Natural Law

If you're going to talk about natural law, you need a clear understanding of just what you mean by "nature" and just what you mean by "law." Thomas Aquinas gave classic definitions of each, which offer a starting point for thinking through.

31 min
Principles of Natural Law Theory

04: Principles of Natural Law Theory

The history of thought confronts you with a profusion of ";natural law" theories. This lecture is designed to help you see the basics - the family resemblances, if you will, that allow us to group together all the theories for which the name "natural law" makes sense.

31 min
Greek Ideas of Nature and Justice

05: Greek Ideas of Nature and Justice

If the natural law is unwritten, how did it ever come to be known? The story (like all stories about the philosophical way of grappling with basic questions about being and human life) begins in the ancient Greek world with some pioneering Ionian thinkers, their thoughtful critic Socrates, and his student Plato.

31 min
Aristotle's Clarification of

06: Aristotle's Clarification of "Nature"

Plato's student Aristotle described four types of causes (material, formal, efficient, and final) at work in the world. His notion of "nature" as the dynamic inner principle of a being's structure, development, and typical activities played a key role in his own thought, and would prove hugely influential thereafter.

31 min
Aristotle on Justice and Politics

07: Aristotle on Justice and Politics

Despite his importance to the natural law tradition and his own use of the concept of "nature" in his great works on ethics and politics, Aristotle cannot be called a "natural law" thinker. How, then, does he think about "nature" and "law" as they apply to moral and political (that is to say, to human) life?

31 min
The Stoic Idea of Natural Law

08: The Stoic Idea of Natural Law

What did the Greek Stoics teach about moral order, human life, and "right reason" that made them giants in the history of natural law thinking? How did the Roman statesman Cicero give supreme expression to their insight, as for instance when he distinguished between just and unjust warfare?

31 min
Biblical Views of Nature and Law

09: Biblical Views of Nature and Law

We know of course that the concept of "law" is a major one in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but how about the concept of "nature?" Does it make an appearance, and if so, where? Do any Scriptural books use anything like the idea of natural law?

31 min
Early Christians, Nature, and Law

10: Early Christians, Nature, and Law

How did Christians adapt the philosophical concept of nature generally to their own religious beliefs? Why did they find the specific premises of natural law theory compatible with their beliefs about creation, sin, grace, and redemption?

31 min
Roman, Canon, and Natural Law

11: Roman, Canon, and Natural Law

Roman law and through it the thought of the Stoics exercised an enormous practical and theoretical influence over natural law thinking. What led the Roman jurist Ulpian (died ca. A.D. 228), to find slavery contrary to natural law despite the Roman tendency to identify natural law with the "law of nations" that had always allowed slaveholding?

30 min
The Thomistic Synthesis

12: The Thomistic Synthesis

Why does Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) see natural law as one type of law among several, and natural law thinking formed as one important strand in the larger tapestry of ethics? How does he work with the newly rediscovered works of Aristotle to argue that natural law goes well with a "virtue-based" approach to human excellence?

31 min
Late Medieval and Early Modern Views

13: Late Medieval and Early Modern Views

How did natural law go from being part of a larger hierarchical vision to being a part of ideologies of political and social transformation, or even revolution? Why did some early Protestant thinkers take the view that natural law can be shown to be binding whether or not one believes in a God who authors nature?

31 min
Hobbes and Locke

14: Hobbes and Locke

How does Hobbes, with his famous "state of nature," understand natural law as a set of rules for survival? Why does Locke refocus natural law on a theory of natural rights? How does Locke's notion of the social contract rest on the defense of such rights?

30 min
Natural Law and the Founding Fathers

15: Natural Law and the Founding Fathers

What led the American founders to call upon "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" in declaring independence, and to write a Constitution whose very status as the supreme law of the land rests upon its stated purpose of "establish[ing] Justice?"

31 min
Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant

16: Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant

Modern thinkers such as Descartes with his methodological skepticism, Rousseau with his social contract, and Kant with his categorical imperative and insistence on the autonomy of human reason appear on the surface to be among the tougher critics of the natural law tradition. But is that the whole story?

31 min
Can Rights Exist Without Natural Law?

17: Can Rights Exist Without Natural Law?

Though the fact isn't noticed much today, when you hear appeals to "human rights" based on claims about what "human dignity" requires, you are hearing natural law reasoning - whether anyone calls it this or not.

31 min
The Question of Evolution

18: The Question of Evolution

What are some of the questions that the modern natural sciences, and especially evolutionary biology, raise for natural law theory? How are "natural law"; and the scientific concept of "aws of nature" related, and how are they distinct?

31 min
The Paradox of Cultural Relativism

19: The Paradox of Cultural Relativism

In the 20th century, anthropology was often an arrow in the rhetorical quiver of relativism. But recent studies have cast doubt on the accuracy of even famous researchers such as Margaret Meade. Is the tide turning toward a position closer to something like what natural law theory has long claimed?

30 min
The Problem of God

20: The Problem of God

Does natural law count as evidence for the existence of God? Or should you put it the other way around and reason that universal moral duties can only be said to follow from rather than establish God's existence? Or do you, even if you are a believer, need to bring God into the argument at all?

31 min
Current Applications—Jurisprudence

21: Current Applications—Jurisprudence

Are courts and judges purely creatures of positive law? Can they ever use natural law principles? These questions have come up in Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominees. Less controversially, we can see natural law principles at work in tort law, penal law, and the graduated income tax.

31 min
Current Applications—Bioethics

22: Current Applications—Bioethics

This field is replete with some of the most heated and complex debates in our public life today. How does natural law ethics understand and weigh these controversies?

31 min
Current Applications—Social Ethics

23: Current Applications—Social Ethics

In modern societies, vast differences of opinion over a slew of issues are a fact of life. In such a situation, just finding a common basis for reasoned discussion can be a major achievement. Does natural law theory have anything to offer here?

31 min
The Eternal Return of Natural Law

24: The Eternal Return of Natural Law

Although modern political theorists change some terms (human rather than natural rights, etc.), they are still arguing by positing an ideal concept of what it means to be human. In other words, whether they admit it or even realize it or not, they are still doing natural law reasoning.

31 min