Pierre Manent on Natural Law and Human Rights

Apr 16, 2021
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V. Bradley LewisCatholic University of America

Scott RonigerLoyola Marymount University

Joseph R. WoodInstitute of World Politics

This event is cosponsored by University of Notre Dame Press and the de Nicola Center for Ethics & Culture.

Shortly after the promulgation of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Jacques Maritain wrote, “With regard to Human Rights, what matters most to a philosopher is the question of their rational foundations. The philosophical foundation of the Rights of man is Natural Law. Sorry that we cannot find another word!” In his recent book Natural Law and Human Rights: Toward a Recovery of Practical Reason (Notre Dame Press, 2020), leading Catholic political philosopher Pierre Manent takes a different and decidedly more critical approach to the relationship between natural law and human rights. 

Manent argues that the project of human rights is inextricably tied to an erroneous modern understanding of human beings as naturally isolated and apolitical individuals. He tries to show that this impoverished understanding of human nature, and thus human rights as its offspring, distorts our self-understanding and saps the intelligibility of law, natural or otherwise, as well as the fecundity of human action. As part of a solution to these difficulties, he concludes the book with a novel approach to natural law thinking that he proposes as a way of recovering the dignity of practical reason and moral action. While this book represents Manent's first extended treatment of natural law, he examines these issues through the same tripartite lens of politics, philosophy, and religion that he has developed in his earlier publications. 

In this master class, we will situate Manent's book on natural law within the wider context of his work as a whole, and we will then discuss his arguments concerning natural law and human rights in some detail, with due sensitivity to his method of integrating insights from politics, philosophy, and religion. Finally, we will attempt to see Manent's book as part of a conversation between prominent Catholic and secular political philosophers. 


V. Bradley Lewis is Associate Professor in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in political and legal philosophy, especially in classical Greek political thought and in the theory of natural law, and has published scholarly articles in PolityHistory of Political Thought, the Southern Journal of PhilosophyPhilosophy and RhetoricCommuniothe Josephinum Journal of Theology, the Pepperdine Law Review, the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, and the Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, as well as chapters in a number of books. He is currently working on a book project provisionally titled “The Common Good and the Modern State.” He is also a fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology and serves as associate editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence

Scott J. Roniger is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He holds a Baccalaureate and a Master of Arts in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and a Licentiate in Philosophy (Ph.L.) from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He earned his doctorate in philosophy, with distinction, from The Catholic University of America under the direction of Robert Sokolowski. He has published scholarly articles on metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics and political philosophy, philosophy of literature, and Catholic Social Doctrine, and he is currently editing a collection of essays by Russell Hittinger entitled On the Dignity of Society: Essays on Catholic Social Teaching. His research recapitulates themes in Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Husserlian phenomenology. He has been a faculty fellow at the Lumen Christi Institute since the fall of 2017. 

Dr. Joseph R. Wood currently teaches at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, focusing on moral and political philosophy. He also serves as a research and seminar Fellow for Cana Academy, an organization seeking to advance classical education and the reading of great books. He earned a B.S. from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1981; an M.P.A. (Two-Year) from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, in 1989; a diploma as a graduate of the French Joint Defense College, Paris, in 1999; an M.A. from the School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America, in 2016 (thesis on “The Human Agent in MacIntyre and Sokolowski”); and a Ph.D. from CUA in 2019 (dissertation on Political Form in the Work of Pierre Manent). He is a retired Air Force colonel. Over his career, he served in fighter operational and command positions in Europe and Asia, in staff assignments in Washington including the Pentagon and the White House, and in the Political Science faculty of the Air Force Academy. He has taught in a variety of graduate seminars in Europe.