John Finnis has published the first part of a two part series on capital punishment at the Public Discourse.
It is wrong.
I will wait for the second part to appear to launch a full critique, but note now the startling assertion that he makes: all intentional human killing, of any kind, is forbidden by the 5th commandment.
For those unfamiliar with Finnis, he and Grisez (and to a lesser extent, Boyle,) were the chief architects of what is widely now considered to be a failed normative ethical project called “New Natural Law.” Its arch-proponent, Dr. Grisez, was a long-time professor at my own undergraduate university. He died only a few months ago.
NNL has its rhetorical advantages, but it suffers serious theoretical problems. I won’t explore those any time soon… Except for one, which I just did my thesis on. It centers around NNL’s vision of the so-called “principle of double effect.”
Without getting into it too much – and hopefully without spoiling the possibility of publishing my thesis in some form in the future – suffice it to say that Finnis and friends face “unintended consequences” of their own when they take the line that “intention” reigns supreme in the way they suggest.
Note that NNL theorists, while typically opposing the death penalty, would also support the use of craniotomy. (Don’t google it. It’s essentially medical abortion necessary to save the life of the mother.) This debate extends back into the 19th century, when Cardinal Caverot of Lyon inquired of the Holy Office about the matter, and Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore wrote against the procedure in his moral theology handbook. This sparked a round of debates which has swirled for more than a century. Eschbach, Pennachi, Waffelaert, Avanzini… and on and on until we have the three camps of today, one represented by NNL theorists, one represented by the teaching of the Holy Office and most Catholic moralists, and then finally one represented almost exclusively by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Briefly, however, the paragraph in the Catechism about the 5th commandment and war which Finnis proof-texts (2307) is either simply poorly worded (although it does use “intentional destruction” rather than “intentional taking,” for what it’s worth), or it is just a lacuna.
More to come… Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe.