Paul Ryan on choice

Here. And as the Daily Beast points out, he does not mention the words “woman” or “mother” once.

Among other things, this essay also seems in line with a recurring Ryan theme: rights come from nature and God, not government. I’m curious if he, being Catholic, has ever read Thomas Aquinas. Particularly Treatise on Law, question 95, article 2. Perhaps the whole of question 96 while we’re at it.

15 thoughts on “Paul Ryan on choice

  1. Ryan claims to have studied, or at least be a fan of, Aquinas, or at least he did when his admiration of Rand got him in trouble with Catholic constituents.

  2. Michael, that’s exactly why I was wondering!

    He says Aquinas’s philosophy better reflects his own (see here:,0,1175099.story ), yet Aquinas clearly thought that though human law is firmly situated within the framework of natural law, human law extends beyond it to order society toward the common good, either as conclusions or specifications of general principles. Natural law underdetermines human law on Aquinas’s view, *and* human law is good!

    “Hence, it was for the sake of virtue and peace among men that laws had to be established. For as the Philosopher says in Politics 1, ‘Just as man, if he is perfected in virtue, is the best of the animals, so, too, if he is cut off from the law and from justice, he is the worst of all animals.’ For unlike the other animals, man has the weapons of reason to satisfy his lustful desires and his taste for savage violence.”

  3. I don’t get Ryan’s (and others) point on this. I would think that just about all supporters of a woman’s right to abortion believe that such a right (being based on a right to dominion over one’s body) is natural, or follows necessarily from the kinds of beings we are, or comes from God. And that any society or government that fails to have such a right codified in positive law is thereby unjust.

    Who is he arguing against?

  4. ajkreider, I’m really not sure. I was thinking though as I was reading through his essay that perhaps this is why he fails to mention women and mothers at all in this discussion. If he did mention them, he might have to address why their rights shouldn’t be given priority.

  5. I find it interesting that, being Catholic, Ryan is a member of the One True Church. Romney, being Mormon, is a member of a different One True Church.

  6. Given that a pre-born may have some rights, carrying a child to term is, at best, uncomfortable, often painful, and sometimes deadly.

  7. Does Ryan at any point suggest that the human law (in a Thomistic sense) is not good? Of course, we should remember that in Q.95 A.2 Thomas makes an Augustinian caveat that is probably relevant to Ryan’s views here, which is that “every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.” So while the Thomist believes that the human law is good, his definition of true human law may be a good bit narrower than someone else’s.

    I suspect this is particularly the case where the life issues that are the subject of the Ryan piece are concerned, which kind of leads back to philodaria’s last observation in #6 above, about priority: on Thomas’ account of natural (and human) law, the precepts of the natural law involving the preservation of innocent life and the nurturing of offspring (see, e.g., Q.94 A.2) would enjoy priority over precepts of the natural law that might otherwise compete with them.

  8. Nemo, I think you’re right that a Thomist might well have a more narrow view of human law, but I still think it’s an odd thing to say: that rights come from God and nature, not the government. So long as human laws extend beyond the natural law (yet don’t conflict with it), and so long as human laws are binding on conscience, I don’t see why they shouldn’t grant rights. Right?

  9. And actually, I did get the sense from his speech the other day that he thinks the human law (in the Thomistic sense) is not really good. He seemed to be saying that human laws should only grant the minimum rights that enable proper freedom, but I think Aquinas’s notion of the common good extends far beyond that.

  10. Kathryn’s quite right that Aquinas’s notion of common good is considerably larger than Ryan’s: Ryan tends to confine the state’s contribution to preserving freedoms, whereas Aquinas, being Aristotelian, thinks the whole point of the state is to promote friendship (in the broad Aristotelian sense, roughly = mutually beneficial interaction), which is a much broader base for action.

    Ryan has been pretty heavily criticized by both left-leaning and, although somewhat less commonly, right-leaning Catholics for precisely this, so philodaria is certainly right that the issue can be raised from a Catholic perspective. I notice that the sense in which he’s really Thomistic is always left quite vague, so it’s difficult to say what he actually means by it at all. It’s not really quite classical Thomism, and it’s not really Maritain-style Thomistic liberalism. My guess is that he considers himself Thomistic in the sense that Michael Novak or the Acton Institute are Thomistic — what’s usually known as Whig Thomism — mostly arguments in favor of ‘democratic capitalism’ in Thomistic terminology, libertarian-leaning when it doesn’t decide to be socially conservative. Which seems to fit.

  11. I think Brandon (#13) has a good idea about Ryan and “Whig Thomism”. Increased media scrutiny between now and November may shed a little light on Ryan’s philosophical bent.

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