Snell, R. J.
38 Articles at

R.J. Snell is Editor-in-Chief of Public Discourse and Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute. Previously, he was for many years Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern University and the Templeton Honors College, where he founded and directed the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He earned his M.A. in philosophy at Boston College, and his Ph.D. in philosophy at Marquette University. His research interests include the liberal arts, ethics, natural law theory, Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the work of Bernard Lonergan, SJ. Snell is the author of Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on Knowing without a God's-eye View (Marquette, 2006), Authentic Cosmopolitanism (with Steve Cone, Pickwick, 2013), The Perspective of Love: Natural Law in a New Mode (Pickwick, 2014), Acedia and Its Discontents (Angelico, 2015), and co-editor of Subjectivity: Ancient and Modern (Lexington, 2016) and Nature: Ancient and Modern (Lexington), as well as articles, chapters, and essays in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He and his family reside in the Princeton area.


Life in the Ruins: Keeping Faith within the Immanent Frame

There is no romance without the real presence of God, no sacramental imagination without the sacraments, and the wonders of fantasy cannot be asserted of primary reality itself.

Date posted: 2023-12-19

Benedict XVI: Apostle of Hope

Benedict lived in a faithless time when people lost themselves and their hope. He reminded them of who they were, and who they could be - children and heirs of God. What good fortune we had to have lived at a time when a man such as this taught us.

Date posted: 2023-02-15

Hang On! Faith and Sexual Ethics

North Park isn't the only Christian university with inner turmoil about human sexuality. Not just colleges and administrations, but denominations and pastors have collapsed and caved on these teachings as well. Some of this is a lack of courage, a failure of spine in the face of cultural disdain; some of this is personal, an experience of a child or friend whose sexual appetites do not easily fit doctrine, and so doctrine must change. But it is always a loss of faith.

Date posted: 2022-10-19

Don't Panic

For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. Such a character has a rage for order and cannot but suffer an anxious repulsion for disorder. Hope, on the other hand, is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence.

Date posted: 2022-09-13

Theorists of the Poison Pill

For the conservative theorists of the poison pill, everything becomes about ideas. According to them, Ockham, Scotus, Bacon, Descartes, Locke - they are the important bad guys who determined the decadence of our time and the problems we should be talking about. But ideas don't work this way; reality does not proceed with perfect logic like it so conveniently does in the textbooks.

Date posted: 2022-02-08

Lockdowns, Mandates, and Conservatives: Remembering the Good of Government

Given the overreach of government, and perhaps especially given the failure of so many elected officials to remember that they do not rule us, it's all too easy to slip into libertarianism by default. But government is not alien or unnatural to our condition and needs. It emerges from the community's associations, affections, bonds, and mutual sense of self-responsibility.

Date posted: 2021-10-09

God and Public Reason

Who would deny that liberalism is falling apart, that the center is not holding, or that a vindictive and evangelistic progressivism is afoot? If so, the natural law cannot but feel like feeble comfort. Still, some of us are unwilling to reject public reason or the hopefulness of John Courtney Murray, for we never assumed his optimism was naivete.

Date posted: 2021-06-21

Against Conservative Rationalism

Humans are frail creatures, depending on much beyond our control. Those who do not recognize this have never seen their father watch the clouds, or had livestock die, or waited as the ultrasound searches for a heartbeat that will never be heard. God is good, and he loves what he has created, but we are dust, and he allows the winds to blow.

Date posted: 2021-04-15

Barbaric dogmatists and the Revolution

In the current moment, we critique and demand, but from a negation; we know - or some think they know - what they don't want, but it is quite unclear if they know what they do want. And since they have rejected moral norms it is impossible for them to give a rational justification for their wants and dislikes. Theirs is an exercise of will, for they have exorcised the logos, and mere will - willfulness - remains.

Date posted: 2021-02-01

The Road to Sexual Revolution: Carl Trueman and the Modern Self

According to Carl Trueman, focusing myopically on problems with sexual morality often results in misguided responses to the sexual revolution. Instead, we must grapple with "a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self."

Date posted: 2020-12-22

Ingratitude, Mob Violence, and Providence

Our culture's deep ingratitude is the long, nihilistic outworking of the logic of modern thought itself. When human experience is reduced to only will and power struggle, there no room for gratefulness. Those of us who have not renounced cosmic order and the providence that brings that order to fulfillment, by contrast, know that all things willed or permitted by God work for good. Thus we should be grateful - profoundly grateful - for everything.

Date posted: 2020-09-12

Education and the Restoration of Moral Agency

Many students today lack a real formation in moral order and agency. Few adults have taught them what a worthwhile life looks like and what they could do to achieve it. University educators must give students access to authoritative moral claims, even as they allow them to judge and decide for themselves.

Date posted: 2020-08-30

Be Responsible: Why We Should Reject COVID Digital Contact Tracing

Given the continued spread of coronavirus and the inherent limitations of stay at home orders and social distancing, many health authorities are developing contact tracing plans.

Date posted: 2020-08-24

COVID Stories: Decisions to Treat and the Quality of Life

In June of this year, Michael Hickson, 46, who had three years earlier suffered a heart attack which left him a quadriplegic, was denied food and water by medical professionals who judged him to not "have much of" a quality of life. He died on June 11th at St. David's South Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas.

Date posted: 2020-07-26

"Going to Die Anyway": COVID-19 Deaths of the Elderly are No Laughing Matter

More disturbing, however, is a palpable nonchalance demonstrated by some, thankfully few, who seem to think that deaths of the elderly somehow matter less than the deaths of younger people. "They were going to die soon anyway, what does it matter?" some seem to suggest. Others don't just hint at this attitude but state it clearly and directly: "They were on their last legs anyway."

Date posted: 2020-05-28

COVID-19 Vaccine and Fetal Tissue

As reports emerge of a likely "second wave" of COVID-19 outbreaks expected this Fall, and with such outbreaks the possibility of extended or intermittent lockdowns through the end of the year, if not longer, the need and demand for a vaccine grows.

Date posted: 2020-04-27

Pandemics and the Agency of Citizens

While medical experts' job is to save lives from the coronavirus, it is the responsibility of citizens to ask and decide what makes a worthwhile life. There is more to life than mere living; our own self-respect as responsible agents, who govern ourselves under the law (human and moral), ought not be so easily jettisoned.

Date posted: 2020-04-15

The Coronavirus Has Unveiled a Deeper Political Disease

A crisis like a pandemic forces citizens to confront what they hold in common. But the coronavirus has revealed that many, whether boomer or millennial, do not even see themselves as citizens - as participating in and being partially responsible for the common good.

Date posted: 2020-04-10

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Ethics of Triage

Doctors, nurses, and administrators will need to make difficult decisions, possibly with tragic consequences for individual patients. Likewise, some patients and their families may wonder if they should forgo or end treatment, allowing another the use of a scarce ventilator, for example.

Date posted: 2020-03-30

Coronavirus and the Ethics of Stockpiling

Given the spread of COVID-19, it's unsurprising that people are stocking their pantries and closets with food and medication, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. Supply chain disruption has already resulted in shortages of some drugs and medicines with concerns that protective devices such as face masks may be unavailable for hospitals. When it comes to emergencies such as pandemics, how ought we think - ethically, that is - about stockpiling?

Date posted: 2020-03-13

No Religion Needed: The Moral Horror of Assisted Suicide

The very reason why someone would object to a purely religious claim deceptively being presented as a non-religious claim is the very same reason why assisted suicide is wrong. It is wrong, always and everywhere, to treat persons as mere tools. No matter how we feel about it.

Date posted: 2020-01-04

Quiet Hope: A New Year's Resolution

Despair is the unforgivable sin, for the despairing conclude that God will not or cannot act, that the universe is fundamentally unfriendly and inhospitable to the true, good, and beautiful, and that humanity has lost the imago Dei. To judge in this way is to deny the goodness of the world and its Creator and sustainer, and that is the sin of all sins.

Date posted: 2020-01-01

The Immorality of Happiness?

We are a people formed to believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; increasingly, however, our misunderstanding of happiness is coming at the expense of both life and liberty.

Date posted: 2019-11-29

Coherence, Calvinball, and the Consistent Ethic of Life

A consistent life ethic (CLE) should consider the totality of an act: not simply the consequences, but also the intention, the object chosen, and the circumstances of the act. Charles Camosy deserves our respect for boldly declaring the case for CLE, but the devil remains in the details. Without agreement on those details, the consistent life ethic remains as unpredictable and random as Calvinball.

Date posted: 2019-11-16

Pampering or Truth? What Makes for a Worthy Life

We stewards of the western tradition have good answers for what makes life worth living. If only we could be imaginative enough to give new voice to those ancient truths and avoid the stultifying fate of pampered souls.

Date posted: 2019-10-05

Does Climate Change Justify Engineering a New Type of Person?

Do I have duties to a person who does not exist (yet), since they are not actually a person? On the other hand, if my actions do violate the well-being of a person who will exist in the future, does it matter than they do not yet exist, since they will exist when my actions harm them?

Date posted: 2019-09-16

Protecting the Body: Principles for the Future

Perhaps ours is the last generation with recognizable bodies, but it would be quite terrible if these new bodies were incapable of fully human lives, however insecure and vulnerable these lives of ours may be.

Date posted: 2019-09-08

The Nones: Education without Divinity or Selfhood

If questions of ultimate meaning and purpose are shuttled to the side, as they are in so many of our schools and colleges, the various disciplines and domains of knowledge can never attain a unifying vision.

Date posted: 2019-08-31

Parental Rights and the Duties of Conscience

Children are no small matter. We don't simply have offspring or produce another member of the species, for children are persons endowed with intrinsic and unalienable dignity. To have a child is to become responsible for a being of incalculable value and worth.

Date posted: 2019-05-11

Persons, not Compost: How to Think About Dead Bodies

The human person is not two beings - not a body plus a soul/mind where the mind is the "real" person and the body just a possession or impediment. Neither is the human person simply matter. Instead, the human person is an ensouled body.

Date posted: 2019-02-25

New York's Take on Fundamental Rights

In recent days, news outlets have reported on the likely passage of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) in New York state. Among other changes, the RHA repeals the requirement for abortion to be performed by a licensed physician and expands access to third-trimester abortions. Additionally, the RHA would codify abortion as a "fundamental right."

Date posted: 2019-02-02

Ethics, Faith, Morality or Reason: Untangling Popular Rhetoric

We can know the basic principles of morality. In fact, we know and act on these principles all the time. Morality is not simply a matter of faith, it is knowable by any and all who wish to know.

Date posted: 2018-12-22

A Bridge to Nowhere: Fr. James Martin and the Catholic/LGBT Divide

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has attempted to build a bridge between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, but by shirking the difficulty of confrontation, he has traded genuine encounter for a thin and generic substitute

Date posted: 2017-07-07

Intelligible Goods, Marriage, and Intellectual Conversion

Unless we ask the "what" and "why" in ethical debate, we aren't doing ethics. Debating ethics requires intellectual conversion and thus a commitment to intelligible reality.

Date posted: 2013-06-08

Reason and Compassion in the Marriage Debate

In their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George draw our attention to the question that matters most in the marriage debate -- what marriage is -- and make a reasonable and compassionate argument for marriage as a one-man one-woman union.

Date posted: 2012-11-27

Protect the Weak and Vulnerable: The Primacy of the Life Issue

Public officials -- especially the President -- are obligated to protect the intrinsic equal dignity of all human beings, regardless not only of sex and race, but also without regard to age, size, condition of dependency, vulnerability, or the esteem of others. Abortion and embryo-destructive research are profound and lethal violations of this principle of equality to which the law (and the President) must respond.

Date posted: 2011-08-22

Sex Gone Wrong

In the latest issue of The Atlantic we learn that the world of online pornography reveals eternal truths about men and women. These aren't happy truths, and the needlessly prurient article makes them all the more miserable. ... Overcoming the normalized brutalization of women requires a faithful recovery of the traditional understanding of the marital act, for that understanding forbids those acts which alienate and use the body, consciously or not, and allows only those acts in which women and men give themselves to each other in integrated and comprehensive ways. One might even say that the tradition teaches how to make love rather than merely to attain a degraded and brutalizing pleasure.

Date posted: 2011-03-21

Marriage and the Law of Tradition

Custom and tradition, far from being necessarily irrational, are often the vehicles of guiding and binding reason.

Date posted: 2010-11-09