Gómez-Lobo, who holds the Ryan Chair in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown University, proposes to provide "A broad outline of the foundations of our common morality" (p. 60), a morality based on the recognition of a broad range of basic human goods. In my opinion he succeeds marvelously. His work is a readable and insightful conversation into the starting point and basic structure of moral philosophy.
Chapter one is a short presentation of the basic moral principle: do good and avoid evil. The most important aspect articulated here is the role of practical reason, our ability to use our rational powers to guide us in our actions (p. 3). Chapter two lists his selection of basic goods: life, family, friendship, work and play, beauty, knowledge both practical and theoretical, and integrity. In a running conversation with the reader, Gómez-Lobo describes what he means by these goods, distinguishes the goods from evils which could limit them, such as misery and sickness limiting the goodness of a particular life, and appeals to experience and intuition as the basis of recognizing the value of the good in itself.
Chapter three clarifies the selection by relating his list to other goods like material property, freedom, dignity, and pleasure, which he for the most part admits as part of the good life but which seem inadequate as ultimate human goals as many modern moral philosophers suggest. The latter part of this chapter includes an extremely important consideration of the intelligibility of the core of each basic good as distinct from its concrete embodiment, which might be seriously deficient (p. 37). Gómez-Lobo is appealing to the mind and its ability to develop an objective abstraction of these goods. In effect he is touching at a fundamental option for the starting point of philosophy.
Chapter four balances the objective orientation of the book by describing the personal skills needed to recognize and pursue the human goods he described. They include vigilance, commitment, inclusiveness, detachment, impartiality, care and respect. With example after example, Gómez-Lobo describes what he means by each of these moral skills and how they function in a moral decision.
With chapters five and six, the author turns to the issue of human actions and their moral evaluation, the rules or norms for judging actions. After briefly discussing the elements of the human act and of moral agency (ch. 5), Gómez-Lobo then suggests seven basic areas of norms or rules of morality, ranging from those concerning human life, those concerning the family and broader communities, to concerning integrity. Finally he deals with the important issues of conflicting norms, precedence in the claims of norms, and the principle of double effect.
Chapters seven and eight describes Gómez-Lobo's position on abortion and euthanasia. He draws on the foundations he has laid in the earlier part of the book to defend his stance against both. He picks these two issues precisely because today they are so vigorously contested. Using a vast array of examples, he examines both in terms of human moral agency (who did what and why?) and analyzes the moral value in terms of human goods. How will human goods be affected by the action itself?.
Subtitled "An Introduction to Natural Law Ethics," the book hardly uses the word "natural law" or any appeal to nature. Gómez-Lobo relegates these concepts to an appendix. In this way he avoids the morass of trying to define human nature. Instead, he appeals to examples all part of a running dialogue with the reader to identify the human goods that in fact we have lived by. This little book should be of great value to students and others who desire a conceptual structure for their moral positions in the midst of the present confusing array of moral views.