J. Budziszewski

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J. Budziszewski (born 1952) is professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, where he has taught since 1981. He specializes in ethics, political philosophy and the interaction of these two fields with religion and theology.[1]

Budziszewski has written widely, in both scholarly and popular venues, about a variety of moral and political issues including abortion, marriage, sexuality, capital punishment, and the role of judges in a constitutional republic. His principal area of publication is the theory of natural law. He has been a leading advocate for natural law theory over the past twenty years.[2] In this context, he has given particular attention to the problem of moral self-deception: What happens when human beings tell themselves that they don't know what they really do. Among his research interests are also virtue ethics and the problem of tolerance.[1]

Apart from his scholarly philosophical work, Budziszewski is known for articles and books of Christian apologetics, addressed to a broad audience including young people and college students. Known as one of the prominent evangelical intellectuals in America and former atheist, Budziszewski was received into the Roman Catholic Church on Easter Sunday 2004.[3] After his conversion, he continues to address his writings and lectures on Christian themes to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, as well as to those who are uncertain of their beliefs but are sincerely seeking.[3][4]


After graduation from high school in 1970, Budziszewski began studies at the University of Chicago, choosing it partly because of its biopsychology program (which in fact he never entered) and partly because of its reputation as a hive of left-wing activity. Intellectually, Budziszewski was then obsessed with mind-body problems; politically, he was far to the left. After two years, however, he quit school in the conviction that he should learn a trade and join the proletariat. Becoming a welder, he worked a variety of jobs, ending up at the Tampa shipyards. When he realized that he belonged in college after all, he earned his BA at the University of South Florida, his MA at the University of Florida, and his PhD at Yale University. He has been teaching at the University of Texas at Austin since finishing his doctoral studies in 1981, where he teaches courses on the American Founding and the natural law tradition of Thomas Aquinas.

Research on self-deception[edit]

One of Budziszewski's research interests has been to analyze what he regards as general human tendency to self-deception.[5] The problem arises from a theoretical tenet defended by Thomas Aquinas, who he said "we must say that the natural law, as to general principles, is the same for all, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge."[6] This claim amounts to saying that the most general principles of right and wrong are not only right for everyone but known to everyone, even though the same cannot be said of their remote implications. According to Budziszewski, Aquinas is right. He argues that often, even when people appear to be ignorant of the moral basics, the hypothesis that they are self deceived provides a better explanation of their actual behavior.[7]

This leads to Budziszewski's theory of guilty knowledge, of violated conscience. Following Aquinas, Budziszewski distinguishes between synderesis, which supplies the first principles of practical reason and which he calls "deep conscience," and conscientia, which he calls "surface conscience" and supplies judgments about particular acts. According to Budziszewski, conscience operates in three different modes: In the cautionary mode, it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates an inhibition against committing it. In the accusatory mode, it indicts us for wrong we have already done. In the avenging mode, it punishes the individual who knowingly does wrong but refuses to admit that he or she has done so. Conscience is therefore teacher, judge, or executioner, depending on the mode in which it is working.[8]

The most original part of this schema is what Budziszewski says about the avenging mode. The most obvious penalty of guilty knowledge is the feeling of remorse. Remorse is not always present. However, Budziszewski suggests that even when remorse is absent, guilty knowledge generates objective needs for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification. Calling these other four "Furies" the "greater sisters of remorse," he argues that they are "inflexible, inexorable, and relentless, demanding satisfaction even when mere feelings are suppressed, fade away, or never come."[7]

He argues that

[t]he normal outlet of remorse is to flee from wrong; of the need for confession, to admit what one has done; of atonement, to pay the debt; of reconciliation, to restore the bonds one has broken; and of justification, to get back in the right. But if the Furies are denied their payment in [their proper] coin, they exact it in whatever coin comes nearest, driving the wrongdoer's life yet further out of kilter. We flee not from wrong, but from thinking about it. We compulsively confess every detail of our story, except the moral. We punish ourselves again and again, offering every sacrifice except the one demanded. We simulate the restoration of broken intimacy, by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves. And we seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves.[9]

Budziszewski holds that the only way to break this vicious circle is to admit that one has done wrong and to repent, in reliance on the grace of God. Failure to break out of the vicious circle leads to a variety of moral pathologies in the individual, the culture, and the body politic.[10]

Research on tolerance[edit]

A second major area of Budziszewski's scholarly work is the problem of toleration. Budziszewski considers toleration one of the virtues. Like the Aristotelian moral virtues, it lies in a mean between extremes. One way to miss the mark is overindulgence, whereby we tolerate what we ought not tolerate. The other way is narrowmindedness, whereby we fail to tolerate what we ought to tolerate. Because "tolerating" means not just putting up with things, but to put up with things that we find false, bad, or offensive, the question may arise why toleration is a virtue at all. According to Budziszewski, the answer is that sometimes the nature of the good itself requires putting up with some evil. Christians, for example, tolerate atheists not because they are in doubt about the truth of Christian beliefs, but because of their conviction that faith, by its nature, cannot be coerced, and that God does not desire unwilling obedience.[11]

This analysis of tolerance makes Budziszewski a sharp critic of contemporary liberal theories of toleration, which are commonly based on moral neutrality, on suspension of judgment about goods and evils. Budziszewski insists that if we were to suspend judgment consistently, we could neither defend the practice of toleration, nor decide which bad things should be tolerated. The true foundation of toleration is not suspension of judgment, but better judgment, and not neutrality about goods and evils, but deeper insight into them. Indeed, argues Budziszewski, the proponents of neutralist theories actually suspend judgment only selectively, using a facade of neutrality in order to smuggle their moral views into policy without having to defend them.[11]

Research on the natural law tradition[edit]

A significant portion of Budziszewski's work focused on the natural law tradition. His understanding of the natural law is much indebted to that of Thomas Aquinas.[12] In his book, The Line Through the Heart, Budziszewski attempts to show us how the natural law continues to illuminate the ethical and political dimensions of human existence today despite our best efforts to ignore it.[13] Natural law is a fact in that it is real, we know it, and we cannot change it. It is a theory because we can reflect on our pre-theoretical knowledge of the natural law and attempt to develop a systematic account of it. Finally, the natural law is a scandal, it angers us because it confronts us.[13]

Research on Thomas Aquinas[edit]

Most recently, Budziszewski has become known for an ongoing series of publications on the work of Thomas Aquinas, especially line-by-line commentaries on portions of the Summa Theologiae (see Works.)


  • The Resurrection of Nature: Political Theory and the Human Character (Cornell, 1986)
  • The Nearest Coast of Darkness: A Vindication of the Politics of Virtues (Cornell, 1988)
  • True Tolerance: Liberalism and the Necessity of Judgment (Transaction, 1992)
  • Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (InterVarsity, 1997)
  • How to Stay Christian in College: An Interactive Guide to Keeping the Faith (NavPress, 1999)
  • The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man (Spence, 1999; republished by Wipf and Stock, 2010)
  • What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Spence, 2003; second edition by Ignatius Press, 2010)
  • Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices (Baker Academic, 2006)
  • Natural Law for Lawyers (Blackstone Legal Fellowship, 2006)
  • The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction (Intercollegiate Studies Institute Press, 2009)
  • On the Meaning of Sex (Intercollegiate Studies Institute Press, 2012)
  • Commentary on Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Law (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
  • Companion to the Commentary. (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
  • Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Virtue Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness and Ultimate Purpose (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
  • Commentary on Thomas Aquinas on Divine Law (Cambridge University Press, 2021).
  • How and How Not to Be Happy (Regnery Publishing, forthcoming March, 2022).


  1. ^ a b UT College of Liberal Arts
  2. ^ Kevin Lee: "Contemporary Challenges to Natural Law Theories", The Catholic Social Science Review 12 (2007): 41.
  3. ^ a b "Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: Interview with J. Budziszewski". Ignatius Press. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  4. ^ Audio Library Download
  5. ^ For the most accessible treatment of this theme, see What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Spence Publishing, 2003, second edition forthcoming 2011 from Ignatius Press); for the most scholarly treatment, see The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction (ISI Books, 2009).
  6. ^ Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, I II, Q. 94, Art. 4
  7. ^ a b J. Budziszewski: What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, chapter 7; see also The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man.
  8. ^ J. Budziszewski: What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, chapter 7; see also The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man.
  9. ^ J. Budziszewski: What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, p. 140; see also The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man
  10. ^ J. Budziszewski: What We Can't Not Know: A Guide,chapter 7; see also The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man.
  11. ^ a b J. Budziszewski: The Line Through the Heart, chapter 10. See also J. Budziszewski: True Tolerance: Liberalism and the Necessity of Judgment (Transaction, 1992)
  12. ^ J. Budziszewski: The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction. Wilmington: Del: ISI Books. 2009.
  13. ^ a b Steven McGuire: Book Review of J. Budziszeski's "The Line Through the Heart". http://lehrman.isi.org/blog/post/view/id/461

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