“In Accordance with the Law”: Reconciling Divine and Civil Law in Abelard

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 81 (2):307-321 (2007)
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In the "Ethics", Abelard discusses the example of a judge who knowingly convicts an innocent defendant. He claims that this judge does rightly when he punishes the innocent man to the full extent of the law. Yet this claim seems counterintuitive, and, at first glance, contrary to Abelard’s own ethical system. Nevertheless, I argue that Abelard’s ethical system cannot be viewed as completely subjective, since the rightness of an individual act of consent is grounded in objective standards established by God. Likewise, any particular civil government must derive its authority objectively from the natural and/or Christian laws, which ground its possibility and function. In this paper, I examine Abelard’s explication of the natural law, discoverable through reason, and the divine laws, knowable only through revelation, in order to explore what form an adequate civil law would have to take under which the judge could be said to have acted rightly.



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Amber L. Griffioen
Duke Kunshan University

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