Essay: Natural Law

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¶ … constitutes religion, science, sociology and so on is hard to define and ambiguous at times. Take, for instance, fundamentalism in religion, the fact that life is still difficult to define in scientific terms or the complexity of natural law, in Latin, lex naturalis. What each of these three issues have in common is the difficulty they impose on someone trying to get to the bottom of them because there are so many perspectives one could approach them by and none is self sufficient.

In the seventeenth century, two key concepts started to gain power over scholars. These concepts originated in the Medieval period but had not stretched as far as to gain universal dominance until then. I am referring to the laws of nature, something natural philosophy was concerned with and natural law, a term frequently used in jurisprudence and political theories. To be more specific, let's consider science: what applies as law of nature is, for example, Newton's law of gravitation, meaning that gravity is something which is true and valid anywhere in the world, everywhere in the universe. Thus, a law of nature requires foolproof certainty. Say we hold an apple in our hand and then we let it go, the apple will fall. it's something we know and we acknowledge that it is within the apple's "nature" to fall to the ground. Hydrogen atoms combined with oxygen will result into water molecules which is something "naturally" specific for Hydrogen, oxygen and water. There is nothing ambiguous about these observations, as Murray Rothbard has pointed out (9). What then makes natural law such a controversy? The term is often used to refer to theories of ethics, politics and civil law, as mentioned above, as well as religious morality. But unlike in the case of the laws of nature, there is only a quantum of certainty, sometimes none at all, which can be ascribed to natural law.

Because it was pointed out that both concepts, the laws of nature and the natural law, were somewhat common ever since the Middle Ages, it would seem natural, no wordplay intended, to start from there with what concerns the development of natural law. And because we further need a starting point, I will be referring to the theory of Thomas Aquinas, a central figure in the natural law tradition. What Aquinas did was to base his doctrine on the natural law as perceived by him in relation to God and His creation. He encompassed within the field of his doctrine two perspectives. One was in regards to God as the giver of the natural law, the other yielded man's participation as the receiver of the natural law, that is to say that God, as the main principle and reason for things, unites people around Him by setting two distinct, but subsidiary paths: He helps humanity by offering Divine Grace while also advising people on the law. For Aquinas, the two were a perfect blend because following the law came not as the result of something coerced but rather as the fulfillment of one's very nature.

This double perception of reality, grace -- nature, led Aquinas to the conclusion that nature is fulfilled supernaturally, that is to say that people are motivated by the enlightenment of the divine Project when enacting the law and the law is not just perceived as a set of regulations and restrictions, but as positive means for people to reach happiness. Thomas Aquinas' view of natural law, based on a rational -- divine theory, is actually a sequel of Aristotle's natural law. By intuition that the principles of nature lay at the foundation of the moral authority, natural law tradition has adopted the idea that nature can serve as a role model for humanity.

The natural law moral theory, as perceived by Aquinas, is therefore the counsciousness' gift to man through the "enlightenment" posed within us by God. At the same time, through man's expression of the original moral sense, the natural law is what advises people in regards to human conduct so that rational order is assured as well as common wealth. Man's rights and duties thus lead to responsibility and personal dignity. This is how people take part in God's work and are part of the divine: through the intermediary of natural law seeded within humanity by God himself. To conclude, from Aquinas' point-of-view natural law was connected to divinity and was part of God's rational plan for humanity, man thus being the participant in the law but having the reason and free will to act upon it as he wishes. Thomas Aquinas' views have been absorbed and further developed by many scholars throughout time, modernists on natural law having been highly inspired by the Thomistic Natural Law while some of the most modern philosophies have been at least partly influenced by it.

Another central figure regarding the concept of natural law who has shared Aquinas' point-of-view is Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who was born in the sixteenth century, having thus witnessed some of Europe's religious crisis at a time when the English Revolution determined many people to face a loss of religious identity, all the more so as there had been an ancient opposition to the influence of the church in regards to the taxes imposed by the papacy and its involvement in the political affairs. There were those who supported the monarchy as something derived from a social context (people's will), Hobbes including, and others who considered that monarchy was of divine origin. Public debates were constantly going on about several ethical issues, political and social contexts. It was around this time that Thomas Hobbes introduced his work, Leviathan, which encompassed the idea that the world is mechanical and that nature itself follows the same principles that are predominant for the functioning of an organism, say the body of an animal, for example. It was his opinion that, since God had created nature like a mechanism, He must have done the same in regards to human beings. Similarly, man had created state or Commonwealth, to insure protection.

Built according to the very laws that governed nature, man, sought Hobbes, was an assembling of mechanisms, functioning according to cause, interaction with others, the body being represented as a machine "driven" solely by the mind, the emotions and feelings resulting only as effects of some chemical processes. The idea that everything was therefore rational calculation and there was no more spontaneity later inspired Kant in his construction of the moral man. Hobbes believed that people's nature aspired for that which is terrestrial, thus material and because of that, all evil emerged. His vision of natural law shifted from morals towards the idea of man's self-preservation.

Natural law took a step further through the work of John Locke, although questions have been raised on whether or not Locke actually believed in it at all. Often, his ideas are analyzed step-by-step to those of Hobbes, scholars pondering on both similarities and discrepancies. Locke's vision of natural law is sometimes in contradiction: he wrote that beings must obey their creator because it is their natural obligation, a statement that was considered by some as inconclusive because of the religious authority of the times Locke lived in and it was suspected that he might have adopted this vision to avoid any persecution. Locke's most frequently expressed idea was in regards to mankind's self-preservation and that this represented the fundamental natural law. To Locke, the nature of man as a social animal was also related to the aspect of ownership. This raised the issue of natural rights and, what's more, the multitude of rights diverging from here: the right to privacy, the right to defend your property, etc. Even a ruler was expected to live by the same natural law as everyone else and was subjected to the most violent of punishments unless he did so. His theory thus became the perfect ground for many battles raging between or against governments in years to come.

Having presented these three visions on natural law, all of which are more or less interrelated, it should be noted that one of the reasons why objections have been raised in regards to the subject, is to do with a doubt of consistency regarding natural law. It is true that its advocates often shift from one definition to another and cases do exist when some of the definitions seem to be in contradiction with each other. But these so called contradictions, the same advocates argue, appear because of the development of the ages and because of the nature of man himself, always changing and updating system of beliefs and societal standards. However, these objections are more related to the natural law legal theory rather than moral theory. It has been noted that, when speaking of natural law, one must understand its double theories, one of which I've exemplified earlier and the other I've just mentioned. The natural law theory of law doesn't acknowledge… [END OF PREVIEW]

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