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Von Hügel Institute

for Critical Catholic Inquiry

A talk by Dr. Eduardo J. Echeverria, jointly organised by the VHI and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE)


What are the foundations on which we live? What supports our societies and holds them together? In particular, how do states  discern their moral bases and, consequently, also the normative  sources that motivate them to moral practices, normative sources,  such as human rights and their corresponding responsibilities,  goods, such as truth and justice, objective values, such as human  dignity, moral principles, without which a state cannot exist? 

Some of these questions were raised in the context of answering  the fundamental question that was put to the then Joseph  Ratzinger, Cardinal-theologian, and now Emeritus Pope Benedict  XVI, and Jürgen Habermas, who for decades has been a leading  figure in German and Continental philosophy as a whole. This fundamental question is: Does the liberal secular state live from normative sources that  it cannot guarantee itself? This fundamental question was  originally raised in 1967 by the German Catholic Supreme Court  jurist, Ernst Wolfgang Böckenförde. In their debate on January  19, 2004, which was hosted by the Bavarian Catholic Academy,  Munich, Ratzinger and Habermas were called to address the topic  of "Pre-political moral foundations in the construction of a free  civil society, with specific reference to the democratic constitutional state." 

Put differently, is the state itself the source of truth and  morality? Can it produce the normative basis of human rights from its own self via democratic processes? Must the state recognize a  higher norm? Do human beings  govern only by participation in a  higher law, by sharing in the care of divine providence for the  common good? In sum, does the liberal state live from normative  sources that it cannot guarantee itself?

This paper is now available online.

Professor Eduardo J. Echeverria received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the Free University of Amsterdam and his S.T.L. from the University of St. Thomas, Rome. He is Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Echeverria is the author of Dialogue of Love: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic Ecumenist (2010); “In the Beginning…”: A Theology of the Body (2011); Berkouwer and Catholicism, Disputed Questions' (2012).

The event is part of the graduate seminar in Christian Theology at the Faculty of Divinity and it is jointly organised by the VHI and the KLICE.

Wednesday, 4 March, 2015 - 14:30 to 15:30
Event location: 
The Lightfoot Room - Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge



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