Princeton professor Robert George said Sept. 29 in the Aquinas Lecture that society can reach an understanding of the dignity of human beings that leads to respect for human life in all of its stages, even if not everyone believes in God.
Introducing George to a full audience in Lynch Auditorium, Dr. Philipp Rosemann, chair of the philosophy department, called him a “Catholic academic and scholar of the highest order” and presented him with the Aquinas Medal.
The medal is given each year to a scholar whose work helps to “ensure that St. Thomas [Aquinas’] work remains relevant in the contemporary intellectual context.”
Rosemann also explained that, while the Aquinas Lecture usually takes place closer to Aquinas’ feast day in January, this year’s Aquinas Lecture was postponed due to inclement weather.
After complimenting the University of Dallas for the “magnificent achievement of the students and marvelous work of the faculty,” George launched into his 90-minute lecture entitled “Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity.” George attempted to explain the basics of natural law theory –including its basic premises, its consequences and the arguments of its opponents.
“Human freedom and reasoning are fundamental to this dignity,” said George. “Thus, the basic goods of man are those of a creature with a rational nature.”
George proposed that human freedom and reason are “God-like” and that they represent “a limited but real sharing in divine power.”
He said that even if one does not recognize these capacities as divine, “anyone who acknowledges freedom and reason has a good ground for human rights.”
According to George, the possibility of some agreement exists between theistic and non-theistic natural-law theorists, though George did warn against expecting consensus in everything.
George noted that natural law theory endorses neither strict individualism nor collectivism, since neither one “does justice to the human person as an end in itself.”
For George, natural law seeks to blend the two by comprehending the “specifications of integral human well-being” and applying them to human action.
George ended his lecture with a depiction of the virtues as “habits of upright choosing that point us to more upright choosing.” He said that actions “orient us in a particular way,” and consequently natural law theorists focus on formulating an account of virtue founded on the basic specifications for human fulfillment.
George concluded that “a comprehensive theory of natural law proposes both principles for actions and virtues for developing a good will,” all with an eye “toward integral human flourishing.”
Fr. James Lehrberger, philosophy professor, followed George’s lecture with a short response that complemented George’s position and focused on Aquinas’ attempts to “bring reason and the passions together.” The response was followed by a question and answer period for the audience, after which the speakers retired to Gorman Faculty Lounge for a small reception.