Strauss, Natural Right and Teleology

Leo Strauss, who was the first philosopher I ever considered myself a disciple of, claimed that the difficulty with upholding Aristotle’s natural right is that Aristotle’s teleology has been refuted by modern science.

The difficulty with Strauss saying this is that there is no evidence that he understood a single argument that Aristotle gave for why nature acts for an end.

Let me issue that as a challenge to all the Straussians, or anyone else who is interested: I say that Leo Strauss shows no evidence of understanding Aristotle’s teleology. Aristotle’s arguments are clear- but where are they even hinted at in Strauss?

The arguments, among others that could be given, and put in bare syllogism form are:

1.) What happens always or for the most part happens for the sake of something
Nature acts always or for the most part

2.) art imitates nature
but an artist acts for the sake of something

3.) matter is for the sake of form
matter and form are natural

to which I include

My dog comes in the room because she wants belly-rubs
My dog is natural.


  1. Lovethegirls said,

    February 28, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Assimilatio Dei writes: “Leo Strauss, who was the first philosopher I ever considered myself a disciple of”

    I pulled your site down off a link on the TAC alumni web page. I’ve heard that TAC has become a Theocon hotbed and was wondering what you know. Is Strauss well received on campus among the tutors there?

  2. March 1, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Shulamite (the man who wrote this post) might have a more nuanced and better answer because he has a better grasp (that is, a grasp) on the stuff than I do. But, I think as an alumnus, the answer would be a resounding “NO.”

  3. kodiak said,

    March 1, 2006 at 12:15 am

    Um, what do you mean by “Theocon hotbed.” This is a term that Andrew Sullivan uses, no?

    And what do you see think the relationship between “Theocons” and Leo Strauss is?

  4. shulamite8810 said,

    March 1, 2006 at 12:52 am

    I’m a bit taken aback by the comment, love the girls- it sounds like yo are asking me about some terrible conspiracy! Is a theocon a good thing? I don’t know what a theocon is. I’m not an idiot, of course, I do know that it is some pairing of “Theological” and “conservative”, but it sounds like modern, hip, cutting edge jargon and I’m not very sure about any of that. It changes too quickly for me to follow.

    I’m a thomist. By this I mean I live contemplatively, I view Thomas Aquinas as the pre-eminent master of philosophical contemplation, I always look to him for light, and give him the benefit of the doubt. From what I know of Thomas Aquinas professors they are thomists too. There is a great diversity among disciples of St. Thomas, and some see things in Strauss, and others focus on other things. I wrote this blogpost above because I believe That one of the foundations of Straussianism is flawed. I explain the flaw and give the arguments for it. I find these arguments to be the things most worth focusing on. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to ask about theocon people.

  5. Lovethegirls said,

    March 1, 2006 at 2:20 am

    Kodiak writes: “And what do you see think the relationship between “Theocons” and Leo Strauss is?”

    The ‘relationship’ is Harry Jaffa and his gnostic understanding of Lincoln.

    The Declarationists are Theocons.. So I know that at least Richard Ferrier, David Quackenbush and Andrew Seeley are.

    I also read recently, albeit second hand, from a tutor that TAC had become a “Theocon hotbed”.

    And lastly, I was talking to a graduate whose child is currently there who says that the school is not what it was, and so I was wondering, what is up.

  6. Lovethegirls said,

    March 1, 2006 at 3:03 am

    Btw, Although I think theocon is more accurate, since its the appellation given to the Catholic neocons, ala First Things etc., they are also referred to simply as neocons.
    The Neocon Case for Imprisoning and Executing Congressional War Opponents by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

    Alan Keyes is referred to both as a theocon and as a neocon.

    Lastly, is ( nature acts for an end ) self evident?

    Are there any self evident truths that the fool cannot deny as St. Thomas writes when he argues the knowledge of God’s existence is not self evident? For instance, the cause is equal to or greater than the effect appears to be self evident since the only proof is a reduction to the absurd, but it can be denied. My brother the materialist physicist denies it.

  7. Lovethegirls said,

    March 1, 2006 at 8:57 am

    shulamite8810 writes:

    “From what I know of Thomas Aquinas professors they are thomists. There is a great diversity among disciples of St. Thomas, and some see things in Strauss, and others focus on other things.”

    This comment struck me as perhaps rather telling, why do you use the term ‘professors’ when describing the tutors?

    And how do you know that some tutor “see things in Strauss”? Does Strauss come up for discussion on a regular basis? Are there now well know strains of Thomistic thought at the school?

  8. kodiak said,

    March 1, 2006 at 10:32 am

    This is a situation that could give rise to the sort of hearsay that gets spread on blogs, so it would be a good thing to be careful…

    I don’t think most of the tutors, including the ones you mention, would ever give Leo Strauss anywhere near the same standing as St. Thomas Aquinas–but some tutors, including ones who have been there since the beginning, would say that Strauss did accomplish some good things by turning people back to the great books and that many of his students are good professors compared to the rest of the dreck at the modern university, especially when it comes to Plato and the political writings of Aristotle. Charles de Koninck, the Thomist of whom most the major TAC founders were disciples, probably hardly knew Strauss existed, and never talked about him, according to one of the founders. However, one of de Koninck’s students, Charles McCoy, studied with Strauss as well–and wrote some great stuff about political philosophy.

    That being said, the TAC tutors are all capable of distinction. There isn’t a TAC tutor who is considered Straussian in the way you mean it–they are mostly Thomists, and virtually all of them would likely agree in some way with the shulamite’s post above, as would I.

    Strauss doesn’t come up in regular discussion, but on some topics outside of class related to political philosophy some tutors might bring him up–because he has several well known views that thomists looking at political philosophy find interesting.

    They also try to keep out of politics as a school–for instance, they could have had Bush speak there at one point, but they refrained because they wisely didn’t want to politicize the school.

    By the same token, are most of the tutors wacko, conspiratorial libertarians like the people at Lew, who espouse a politics that is largely incompatible with traditional Catholic political philosophy and is on the far edge fringe of the political arena? I’d answer that with a big, fat, NO as well.

    Strangely, you still haven’t said much that directly relates to the point of Shulamite’s post. What do you think about Leo Strauss?

  9. kodiak said,

    March 1, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Above it should read–NONE of the tutors would EVER give Leo Strauss…

  10. March 1, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I am glad you were clear about that kodiak, I wanted to diffuse the “hearsay that gets spread on blogs” by being blunt and saying simply “no.”

    Lovethegirls, kodiaks post above with his errata are precisely the view one should have about Strauss and the school.

    As for “it wasn’t what it used to be,” everybody in every class says that and there is nearly no truth to it at all. In fact, I have wondered whether it ever “was what it used to be,” this sounds far too much like the fiction of “the good old days.”

    All that said, shulamite, that is the most lucid articulation I have ever read concerning Aristotlean teleology -far too many people muddy the waters needlessly.

  11. shulamite8810 said,

    March 1, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    I can’t speak to the theo/neocon dispute- I have no knowledge of these things, and I wouldn’t know one even if he was pointed out to me.

    As for the questions about self- evidence, it is said primarily of propositions, and their account is a proposition is self evident when the account of the subject contains the account of the predicate. “Man is an animal” is an example, and more broadly, all definitions are self- evident. It’s important to keep this in mind, for many people think that the self- evident is limited only to those things that are self- evident immediately, like “the whole is greater than its part”. `

    That nature acts for an end is self evident in the sense that “man is an animal”. The Fundamental account of nature is that it is a divine reason (ratio) subsisting in things. This is the most fundamental definition of nature (though the first one given is which is “a principle of motion and of rest in that which it…etc.”)

    The fundamental definition of nature is that it is a participation in the divine mind,
    but all that participates in the divine mind acts for an end.

    But it’s not self- evident to us, we have to start with other things we know better in order to get to the point where we see that it is the very essence of nature to act for an end.

    As to your question “is there anything that cannot be doubted”?. There is a difference between something we can say, and something we can think. Look at what I can say”

    “being is non- being”

    “things can be and not be at the same time and in the same respect”

    or any other combination of words. This does not mean that there is any thought corresponding to the words. If you are asking whether something can’t be said, the answer, as we all can see, is “no”. In this sense, man ca question anything, doubt anything. One can even construct a book of full of all their thoughtless words. But there will be no science in their soul, and science is properly speaking only in the soul, not in speech.

  12. Robert Light said,

    March 4, 2006 at 4:20 am

    “To rebut his friends, Socrates chose to argue one of the most fatefule arguments in cultural history, that Anaxagoras’ physics had to be entirely replaced by a new physics. In that new physics questions about, say, the position of a body with respect to other bodies were to be replaced by the question whether it was best for that body to be in the position in which it actually was. Once the idea of such a physics had been granted, it was a foregone conclusion that bodies, including the body of man, acted for a purpose and therefore had a soul. It was a fateful argument, because it prompted Aristotle to work out in full that new physics which, as it turned out, ‘was worthless and misleading from beginning to end.’ [footnote:] A harsh but not altogether unjust evaluation of it by E.T. Whittaker in his From Euclid to Eddington: A Study of Conceptions of the External World (Cambridge: University Press, 1949), p. 65].”

    —Stanley L. Jaki, The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origins, p. 105 (Freemantle Lectures given at Oxford University, 1977).

  13. Robert Light said,

    March 4, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    BTW — I included this excerpt from Jaki because its illustrative of something that’s not quite clear to me: how it is that one can espouse Aristotelian metaphysics, such as Jaki does, and yet at the same time reject Aristotle’s physics. Seems to me, rejecting Aristotle’s physics (“physis”=nature) amounts to rejecting natural teleology.

  14. Robert Light said,

    March 4, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Hmm, I posted 2006-03-04 @ 18:48 before looking at your email comments to me, which I see rather address the point at hand. Thanks.

  15. kodiak said,

    March 5, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    I think one of the, if not THE, great problem with all those who are in my opinion “the good guys” in our time is that they try to have politics or metaphysics without Aristotle’s Physics, which in a way the keystone that bridges those two sciences.

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