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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Justice Thomas on Natural Law

"Howard Metzenbaum was the other kind of senator, and I already knew how he felt about me.  It would have been charitable to call him unlikeable, though he went through the motions of civility during my visit.  At one point he actually tried to lure me into a discussion of natural law, but I knew he was no philosopher, just another cynical politician looking for a chink in my armor, so all I did was ask him if he would consider having a human-being sandwich for lunch instead of, say, a turkey sandwich.  That's Natural Law 101:  all law is based on some sense of moral principles inherent in the nature of human beings, which explains why cannibalism, even without a written law to proscribe it, strikes every civilized person as naturally wrong.  Any well-read college student would have gotten my point, but Senator Metzenbaum just stared at me awkwardly and changed the subject as fast as he could (p.221-22)." "As for natural law, I knew perfectly well that it was nothing more than a way of tricking me into talking about abortion, since many Catholic moral philosophers saw the two things as intimately related.  But my interest in natural law was different, and I hoped I could quell any anxieties resulting from it.  If some senators found the subject silly or radical, I was prepared to oblige them by discussing the silliness and radicalism of the Founding Fathers who had written natural-law philosophy into the Declaration of Independence.  Why shouldn't a federal judge be interested in what the founders thought about natural law--and why shouldn't a black man be interested in the fact that the philosophical underpinnings of the Constitution had been in direct conflict with the peculiar institution of slavery, thus fueling the earliest efforts to free my forebears (p231)?"  Clarence Thomas,My Grandfather's Son

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