The Language of Rights and Conceptual History (O’Donovan, 2009)

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The historical problem about the origins of the language of rights derives its importance from the conceptual problem: of “two fundamentally different ways of thinking about justice,” which is basic? Is justice unitary or plural? This in turn opens up a problem about the moral status of human nature. A narrative of the origins of “rights” is an account of how and when a plural concept of justice comes to the fore, and will be based on the occurrence of definite speech-forms—the occurrence of the plural noun in the sense of “legal properties.” The history of this development is currently held to begin with the twelfth-century canonists. Later significant thresholds may be found in the fourteenth, sixteenth,
and eighteenth centuries. Wolterstorff’s attempt to find the implicit recognition of rights in the Scriptures depends very heavily on what he takes to be implied rather than on what is stated, and at best can establish a pre-history of rights-language.

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Saving the “Secular”: The Public Vocation of Moral Theology (Biggar, 2009 )

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Ethical distinctiveness is no measure of theological integrity; and neither theology (pace Barth) nor biblical narrative (pace Richard Hays) should be expected to do all of the ethical running. If Christians are to be thorough in their moral theology and intelligible in their public statements, then they must borrow non-theological material, formulate abstract concepts, and engage in casuistical analysis. Nevertheless, if an anxious insistence on distinctiveness is a mistake, concern for theological integrity is not. When the moral theologian borrows ethical material from elsewhere, he should integrate it into a theological vision structured by the Christian salvation-historical narrative, which will sometimes modify the meaning of what is incorporated. So in affirming humane, polyglot liberalism, the moral theologian will at the
same time make salutary qualifications.

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