The Changing Profile of the Natural Law

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Otherwise put, some norms are authoritative in virtue of their moral content, even when there is no convention that makes moral merit a criterion of legal validity. The idea that the concepts of law and morality intersect in some way is called the Overlap Thesis.

Is natural law timeless?

As an empirical matter, many natural law moral theorists are also natural law legal theorists, but the two theories, strictly speaking, are logically independent. One can deny natural law theory of law but hold a natural law theory of morality. John Austin, the most influential of the early legal positivists, for example, denied the Overlap Thesis but held something that resembles a natural law ethical theory.

Indeed, Austin explicitly endorsed the view that it is not necessarily true that the legal validity of a norm depends on whether its content conforms to morality. But while Austin thus denied the Overlap Thesis, he accepted an objectivist moral theory; indeed, Austin inherited his utilitarianism almost wholesale from J. Mill and Jeremy Bentham. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.

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Thus, a commitment to natural law theory of morality is consistent with the denial of natural law theory of law. Conversely, one could, though this would be unusual, accept a natural law theory of law without holding a natural law theory of morality. One could, for example, hold that the conceptual point of law is, in part, to reproduce the demands of morality, but also hold a form of ethical subjectivism or relativism.

On this peculiar view, the conceptual point of law would be to enforce those standards that are morally valid in virtue of cultural consensus. For this reason, natural law theory of law is logically independent of natural law theory of morality. The remainder of this essay will be exclusively concerned with natural law theories of law. Conceptual Naturalism a. The Project of Conceptual Jurisprudence The principal objective of conceptual or analytic jurisprudence has traditionally been to provide an account of what distinguishes law as a system of norms from other systems of norms, such as ethical norms.

Accordingly, the task of conceptual jurisprudence is to provide a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of law that distinguishes law from non-law in every possible world. While this task is usually interpreted as an attempt to analyze the concepts of law and legal system, there is some confusion as to both the value and character of conceptual analysis in philosophy of law.

As Brian Leiter points out, philosophy of law is one of the few philosophical disciplines that take conceptual analysis as its principal concern; most other areas in philosophy have taken a naturalistic turn, incorporating the tools and methods of the sciences. To clarify the role of conceptual analysis in law, Brian Bix distinguishes a number of different purposes that can be served by conceptual claims: 1 to track linguistic usage; 2 to stipulate meanings; 3 to explain what is important or essential about a class of objects; and 4 to establish an evaluative test for the concept-word.

Bix takes conceptual analysis in law to be primarily concerned with 3 and 4. In any event, conceptual analysis of law remains an important, if controversial, project in contemporary legal theory. Conceptual theories of law have traditionally been characterized in terms of their posture towards the Overlap Thesis. Thus, conceptual theories of law have traditionally been divided into two main categories: those like natural law legal theory that affirm there is a conceptual relation between law and morality and those like legal positivism that deny such a relation.

Classical Natural Law Theory All forms of natural law theory subscribe to the Overlap Thesis, which asserts that there is some kind of non-conventional relation between law and morality. According to this view, then, the notion of law cannot be fully articulated without some reference to moral notions. Though the Overlap Thesis may seem unambiguous, there are a number of different ways in which it can be interpreted. The strongest construction of the Overlap Thesis forms the foundation for the classical naturalism of Aquinas and Blackstone. Aquinas distinguishes four kinds of law: 1 eternal law; 2 natural law; 3 human law; and 4 divine law.

One cannot discover divine law by natural reason alone; the precepts of divine law are disclosed only through divine revelation. The natural law is comprised of those precepts of the eternal law that govern the behavior of beings possessing reason and free will.

The first precept of the natural law, according to Aquinas, is the somewhat vacuous imperative to do well and avoid evil. Here it is worth noting that Aquinas holds a natural law theory of morality: what is good and evil, according to Aquinas, is derived from the rational nature of human beings. Good and evil are thus both objective and universal. But Aquinas is also a natural law legal theorist. The idea that a norm that does not conform to the natural law cannot be legally valid is the defining thesis of conceptual naturalism. Blackstone articulates the two claims that constitute the theoretical core of conceptual naturalism: 1 there can be no legally valid standards that conflict with the natural law; and 2 all valid laws derive what force and authority they have from the natural law.

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It should be noted that classical naturalism is consistent with allowing a substantial role to human beings in the manufacture of law. While the classical naturalist seems committed to the claim that the law necessarily incorporates all moral principles, this claim does not imply that the law is exhausted by the set of moral principles. There will still be coordination problems e. Thus, the classical naturalist does not deny that human beings have considerable discretion in creating natural law.

Rather she claims only that such discretion is necessarily limited by moral norms: legal norms that are promulgated by human beings are valid only if they are consistent with morality. Critics of conceptual naturalism have raised a number of objections to this view. First, it has often been pointed out that, contra Augustine, unjust laws are all-too- frequently enforced against persons. As Austin petulantly put the point: Now, to say that human laws which conflict with the Divine law are not binding, that is to say, are not laws, is to talk stark nonsense.

The most pernicious laws, and therefore those which are most opposed to the will of God, have been and are continually enforced as laws by judicial tribunals.

Suppose an act innocuous, or positively beneficial, be prohibited by the sovereign under the penalty of death; if I commit this act, I shall be tried and condemned, and if I object 6. Another frequently expressed worry is that conceptual naturalism undermines the possibility of moral criticism of the law; inasmuch as conformity with natural law is a necessary condition for legal validity, all valid law is, by definition, morally just.

Thus, on this line of reasoning, the legal validity of a norm necessarily entails its moral justice. As Jules Coleman and Jeffrey Murphy , 18 put the point: The important things [conceptual naturalism] supposedly allows us to do e. If we really want to think about the law from the moral point of view, it may obscure the task if we see law and morality as essentially linked in some way. Moral criticism and reform of law may be aided by an initial moral skepticism about the law. There are a couple of problems with this line of objection. First, conceptual naturalism does not foreclose criticism of those norms that are being enforced by a society as law.

Insofar as it can plausibly be claimed that the content of a norm being enforced by society as law does not conform to the natural law, this is a legitimate ground of moral criticism: given that the norm being enforced by law is unjust, it follows, according to conceptual naturalism, that it is not legally valid. Thus, the state commits wrong by enforcing that norm against private citizens. Conceptual jurisprudence assumes the existence of a core of social practices constituting law that requires a conceptual explanation. The project motivating conceptual jurisprudence, then, is to articulate the concept of law in a way that accounts for these pre- existing social practices.

A conceptual theory of law can legitimately be criticized for its failure to adequately account for the pre-existing data, as it were; but it cannot legitimately be criticized for either its normative quality or its practical implications.

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A more interesting line of argument has recently been taken up by Brian Bix. Critical Appraisal of Natural Law Theory The concept of natural law has been used to support different ideologies from time to time. It has been used not only to support absolutism, individualism but also to overthrow government. The natural law philosophy has contributed a lot in the development of law and legal system.

The natural law principles of justice, morality and conscience have been embodied in various legal systems. Man-made positive laws are arbitrary ant contingent whereas natural being regulated by laws of nature is inevitable and obligatory. Natural law helped in denouncing the divine authority of the Church. It helped in generating a favorable climate for reformation, renaissance and provided a sound foundation for fundamental human rights.

Natural law also played an important part in the development of modern law. Legal history testifies that it was natural law which directly or indirectly provided a model for the first man- made law. Despite the merits of natural law philosophy, it has been criticized for its weakness on the following grounds:- 1. For instance. It is natural for men to beget children, as it is for trees to bear fruit. But many would like to take the help of family planning measures in order to restrict the growth of population but no one would like to restrict the growth of fruit on trees.

Therefore, giving birth to children may be a natural phenomenon but it may not always be considered as obligatory moral duty of men to conform to this conduct. The rules of morality embodied in natural law are not amenable to changes but the legal rules do need a change with the changing needs of society. The concept of morality is a varying content changing from place to place; hence, it would be futile to think over the universal applicability of law. It depends on the society. One society may adhere to monogamy while the other one may permit plurality of marriages.

Disputes relating to laws of nature and morality cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny as the verdict may always be questioned since it is based on subjective discretion of the judge.

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Despite the above shortcomings, it cannot be denied that natural law has played a crucial role in shaping the law. Its significance lies in the fact that an unjust law may not last long and it is bound to lose public support in the absence of obedience by the people. Natural Law Ideas in English Law In some braches of modern English law, principles of natural justice are openly invoked to test the validity of legal acts but that does not apply to test the validity of any Act of parliament as Parliament is supreme in England.

A custom is not permitted by courts if it is not reasonable. By means of an order of prohibition or certiorari, the high court in England can control administrative acts and quasi-judicial decisions of administrative bodies which are contrary to the rules of natural justice. Natural law ideas have exercised the most profound and enduring influence upon English law as guiding principles in law making.

The attempt of Lord Mansfield to introduce the doctrine of unjust enrichment in English law was an applications of the principles of natural justice. The concept of quasi-contract in English law is based on natural law principles. I refer to the doctrine of the law of nature, one of the nobles conceptions in the history of jurisprudence.

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