Human Values pp 127-165 | Cite as

The Structure and Content of the Good



One of the virtues of natural law theory (NLT) is that it takes ontology seriously. Rather than beginning with an abstract conception of duty, or of motivation, or of value, or of character, it takes the objective and concrete nature of things, of human beings in particular, as the explanatory starting point of ethical enquiry. In this is precisely the flaw that its opponents claim to detect, inasmuch as NLT is charged with making implausible assumptions about human nature — its existence, let alone its features — or about the fundamentally teleological character of action, or about the existence of cosmic order.


Natural World Moral Theory Basic Good Moral Virtue Aesthetic Experience 
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  1. 1.
    Chapter 3 of Mark C. Murphy’s, Natural Law and Practical Rationality (hereafter NLPR) (Cambridge: CUP, 2001), is a good example of this tendency.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (hereafter NLNR) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980): ch. IV.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    GOmez-Lobo, Morality and the Human Goods (hereafter MHG) (Washington, DC: Georgetown U.P., 2002): ch. 2.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Timothy Chappell, Understanding Human Goods (Edinburgh: Edinburgh U.P., 1998): ch. 2.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    D.S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000): ch. 2.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    A. Fagothey, Right and Reason (St Louis: C.V. Mosby, 1963; 3rd edn): 183.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See further Aristotle’s discussion in the Nicomachean Ethics 1174a9: ‘It seems clear, then [since there are things we should not pursue no matter how pleasurable, and things we should pursue even though they bring no pleasure], that pleasure is not the good nor is every pleasure choice-worthy [hairete], and that some are choice-worthy in themselves, differing from the others in kind or sources’ (my translation). Aristotle’s analysis is endorsed by Aquinas in the Commentary on the Ethics, Book X, Lecture 4 (trans. C.I. Litzinger, O.P.) (Notre Dame: Dumb Ox Books, 1993): 600–1.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    I say more about this determinable-determinate relation in ‘On an Alleged Fallacy in Aristotle’, Philosophical Papers 27 (1998): 107–18.Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    I take this definition from B. Wuellner, S.J., Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1956): 132, but have replaced his reference to the attainment of the last end of man with my reference to the attainment of the good. The reason is not that there is anything fundamentally different between the two formulations — attainment of the good just is attainment of the last end — but that I want to keep the discussion explicit about the good understood as a complex of basic goods.Google Scholar
  10. 61.
    B. Wuellner, S.J., Summary of Scholastic Principles (Chicago: Loyola UP, 1956), principle 508C, p. 101.Google Scholar
  11. 63.
    See my ‘Voluntary Euthanasia and Justice’, in D.S. Oderberg and J.A. Laing (eds), Human Lives: Critical Essays on Consequentialist Bioethics (London: Macmillan, 1997): 22–40 at 236. See also 226, where duress is mentioned as another possible factor militating against free abandonment.Google Scholar
  12. 64.
    On which see my ‘The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing’, in A. O’Hear (ed.), Modem Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: CUP, 2004).Google Scholar

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© David S. Oderberg 2004

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