Is Aquinas to blame for Robert George’s priorities?

Robert George, according to this  article, is “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”  A Roman Catholic, he has a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford and teaches at Princeton.  Apparently he is a major intellectual figure in recent conservative thinking, and the article is a very good source for getting a fairly quick take on the kinds of reasons leading many current Catholic theorists to oppose same-sex marriage,  embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. 

It is also profoundly irritating and dismaying, because it illustrates the gaps in good sense that a priori moral theorizing can too easily lead to, along with how the gaps are filled, and how  rhetoric is exploited.  One of the very worst new ideas this man advocates is the idea that the Church should concentrate on issues about sex and embryo research, and give up advocating specific policies advancing social justice, such as upping the minimum wage or expanding health case.

Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops’ “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care

Advocating for the poor and making an utter nuisance of one’s self?

Filling-in of the gaps?   How about this, from Cardinal Rigali, who is said to be transmitting George’s thought:

“They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of good will even apart from divine revelation,” Rigali said. “They are principles of right reason and natural law.”Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,” …

Religion, tradition and logic give us that husband and wife are complementary in a way that two gay people can’t be?  And a celibate cardinal can know that?

Well, Aquinas did clearly essentialize gender, but he also thought that  “logic” made our moral obligations for distributing wealth very clear.  It isn’t a matter of being a nuisance.

And the rhetoric? 

But the argument for banning abortion and embryo-destructive research is “straightforward,” George told me several times … George tells the story of Noah Benton Markham, rescued from Hurricane Katrina by a team of policemen in boats. Noah was an embryo frozen in liquid nitrogen on a hospital shelf. Later implanted in the womb of his biological mother, he will turn 3 next month. Science shows that you remain the same human with the same DNA as a teenager, a toddler and an embryo, George argues. The only moral debate, he says, is whether you deserve legal protection at each stage of your life.

A team after the embryo with people dying?  

George’s straightforward argument doesn’t address difficult questions about whether it is DNA that confers moral worth or whether all those fertilized eggs that do not implant should have names too.

George has a book out called “Embryo,” just in case you want to  know.

8 thoughts on “Is Aquinas to blame for Robert George’s priorities?

  1. George is a very weird guy who thinks that all sorts of things are manifestly obvious to the inner light of reason. I tend to think that most of these things are false, many of them obviously so, so I’m not so keen on his methods. He’s also extremely unpleasant in many ways. But he’s been involved (in a bad way) in public debate for quite a while. He and John Finnis were “expert” witnesses for the state of Colorado in the court case there about a bill making it impossible to provide civil rights protection to homosexuals. (Romer v. Evans) In this regard he had a dust-up with Martha Nussbaum. I’m not sure if it’s still possible to find or not but there was a very nice Lingua Franca article about it.
    (This seems to be a copy of the article: )

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