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Posted: October 27th, 2022

Natural Law

Natural Law
Natural law is a theory in ethics and philosophy which states that the rules that govern what is right or wrong are inherent in human beings. Scholars indicate that natural law is given by God. It is inherently authoritative and knowledgeable to all people. Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is the father of natural law. Natural law is an integral part of the American legal system. St. Paul (c. 10–67 CE) stated that there was a kind of law written in the hearts of the Gentiles. The writings of St. Paul approve the connection between natural laws and the divine laws. The American legal system is hinged on the concept of natural law. International laws and diverse religious groups across the world base their beliefs, conduct, and practice on the natural law. The First Amendment is a form of natural law since it ascribes that the Congress shall not make any laws prohibiting religious freedom. The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 was enacted to end slavery, which is a moral wrong. Governments across the world have instituted mechanisms of dealing with human behavior in society. The paper aims to discuss natural law, its history, and its relationship with the American legal system.
Natural Law
Natural law means a universal moral standard inherent in human beings to achieve a just society. Natural is a philosophical theory pertaining to the idea that rights, values, and responsibilities are inherent in human beings without positive value (Rhonheimer, 2021). Natural law theory states that people have inherent rights conferred to them by reason, nature, or God and not by legislation. Natural law does not require political order or legislation (Kraynak, 2018). The system of the law states that human beings discover natural law compared to positive law that is taught to people. It involves the morals, ethics, and inherently correct perspectives in society. Positive law constitutes the regulations that governments develop to address social, economic, and political issues in society (Kraynak, 2018). Natural law requires enforcement by institutions such as police and judiciary. For instance, the speed at which individuals are allowed to drive along highways is regulated by the state.
In philosophy, the concept of moral law deals with the question of what is right vs. wrong. For instance, under natural law is wrong to kill another person and take away the sacred life, regardless of the circumstances, such as self-defense (Kraynak, 2018). Unlike laws enacted by governments, natural law is universal and applies to all people everywhere in the same way. Scholars indicate that natural law is given by God, it is inherently authoritative, and knowledgeable to all human beings (Winkel, 2018). The right action in natural law responds non-defectively to what is good. Natural law inclines to what is good and not what is right (Winkel, 2018). Natural law is a defender of all members of society and safeguards the good.
Natural Law vs. Positive Law
Natural laws are based on principles and truth which are inherent since creation. Positive laws are developed through negotiations and opinions of people may change (Winkel, 2018). For instance, during the ancient times, slavery was supported by the government of the day. The approach to slavery with Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence. Changes in positive laws demonstrate they are not divine constructs but human laws to regulate human behavior. Natural law is harmonized by due knowledge and understanding (Winkel, 2018). The laws are universal and apply to all people across the world. It is unlike the positive laws which vary from one country or state to another. For instance, positive law indicates that it is wrong to drive at a certain speed on the highway. The speed varies from one state to another, but the inherent laws and rights are against murder in any country. Taking away the life of another person is not right in any part of the world.
Natural laws are universal and immutable and cannot change as long as the world is existing. On the contrary, positive laws change depending on the moral compass of the legislators (Winkel, 2018). For instance, the issue of abortion rights has been changing depending on the people in power. Natural laws give everyone an equal chance in society. For instance, the Declaration of Independence states that human beings deserve equal opportunities (Tollefsen, 2021). Equality involves giving everyone a fair chance at workplaces and during elections. It is critical for the government to ensure everyone is observing the law of equality.
Despite the differences between natural law and positive laws, positive laws cannot exist in vacuum without natural laws. In situations where the government tries to enact and enforce the positive laws without considering the natural laws, it amounts to dictatorship (Koterski, 2020). For instance, Adolf Hitler in Germany tried to implement positive laws of eliminating the undesirable Jews. Taking the Jews to concentration amounted to denial of freedom and equality (Feng, 2019). Eventually, Hitler authorized the execution of Jews. Statistics indicate that approximately six million Jews lost their lives during the holocaust.
In the latest attempts of enforcing positive laws without consideration of natural law lead to death of George Floyd. The policy makers and enforcement agencies must recognize the value of natural laws that are given by reason, God, and nature (Koterski, 2020). It would be difficult to establish a set of laws without consulting the natural laws. In another attempt, the government is trying to develop laws that lead to death of innocent souls. Abortion rights have almost divided the country due to the impact of natural laws. The value of natural laws impacts how people view arguments in society (Koterski, 2020). The impact shows the relationship between natural laws and positive laws.
History of Natural Law
Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is held as the father of natural law when he stated that what was just by nature may be contrary to what is just by law. Aristotle and Plato were the initial philosophers who defined natural law (Tollefsen, 2021). Aristotle did not have a clearly-defined framework of natural law. His basic argument was that what is just by nature supersedes what is just by law. The arguments of the philosopher demonstrate that communities can only thrive if their basis of the law is on the natural law. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman scholar and lawyer argued that natural law contributes to the good in society (Evans, 2019). The good in society is defined by following the divine laws such as respecting the sacredness of life, giving everyone an equal chance, and living in peace. Contributions during the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment were critical in additional contributions to natural law and natural law theories (Tollefsen, 2021). The contributions shape the legal frameworks of the current generation laws. The laws borrow heavily from the contributions of the scholars and philosophers.
St. Paul (c. 10–67 CE) stated that there was a kind of law written in the hearts of the Gentiles (Romans 2:14–15). Gratian, an Italian monk, stated that natural law is equal to divine law (Tollefsen, 2021). Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) believed that nations and societies were subject to natural law. Human rights activists have applied natural law to challenge the inhumane acts in society, such as the killings by Adolf Hitler (Tollefsen, 2021). Confrontations against the inhumane acts of government are derived from the natural laws compared to the positive laws.
The writings of St. Paul approve the connection between natural laws and the divine laws. The divine laws are given by a superior being. People have a religious belief despite their differences. The connection to the religious beliefs shows that natural laws are strongly entrenched in people’s lives. For instance, although the government prohibit murder, the religious background abhors killing another person (Winkel, 2018). The Holy Scriptures recommend harsh punishment equal to death for any person who takes the life of another. In other writings St. Paul would encourage people to consider good and wise decisions in everything they do. The encouragement is a demonstration of the source of natural law which is the divine law.
Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas had a tremendous impact on the natural law arguments. One of the conclusions of Aquinas is that man-made laws are only valid if they support the natural law (Winkel, 2018). The philosopher argued that the government of the day should observe natural law, or else, the people will be justified to overthrow it. For instance, religious beliefs have been cited as justifications for disobeying laws set by the government. One of the classic examples is when Martin Luther King Jr. invoked religious beliefs and natural law to support his decision to disobey the rules causing racial segregation (Kraynak, 2018). The government of the day did not support equality for all men. It was right for the activist to fight for the good in the society by supporting the weak in society.
English philosopher John Locke was passionate in the argument that if the government does not support natural, it would secularize the concept of natural law by arguing they were natural rights (Mansfield, 2021). He argued that people can overthrow a government if it does not protect their liberty, property, and life. The argument by John Locke that governments have a right to protect and support natural law resemble the elements of the Declaration of Independence. The declaration of independence states that individuals have the right to freedom, liberty, and equality. The declaration ends by stating that people have a right to overthrow a government that does not support equality, liberty, and freedom (Mansfield, 2021). Governments should not argue that they are the founders of the natural law. The government is only mandated to support natural law and develop avenues for ensuring people enjoy their rights. Some forms of government deny people their inherent rights by neglecting their duties in society.
The secularization does not object the focus on the creator who is the genesis of natural law. One of the landmark moments of protecting the life, liberty, and property of the people is when Thomas Jefferson made a declaration of independence (Lisska, 2019). According to Jefferson, all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. The focus is on the creator who made the human beings and gave them unalienable rights (Lisska, 2019). No form of power can deny people their rights. Countries that deny people their inherent rights always experience instability and tension.
The liberty of the people starts before their entry into society. The government has no mandate to regulate the rights people had before entry into society. For instance, people’s relationship with God are outside government regulation since they existed before society (Mansfield, 2021). James Madison states that the government could not meddle into the religious beliefs of the people. The opportunity for religious freedom puts the society at risk of undermining the principle goal of natural law of achieving good. For instance, religious freedom gives people liberty to worship evil forces of darkness. Pursuing dark forces such as witchcraft and magic may cause harm in the society. The liberty may undermine the objective of natural law (Mansfield, 2021). Philosophers argue that application of natural law should have a divine illumination to avoid overstepping the boundaries of liberty. The First Amendment is a form of natural law since it ascribes that the Congress shall not make any laws prohibiting religious freedom.
Natural Law and American Legal System
The American legal system is hinged on the concept of natural law. The focus of the legal system is to help people live peaceful and good life. Anything that undermines the good in society is immoral and should be removed (Kraynak, 2018). Governments across the world encourage people to observe moral standards of behavior. For instance, although some governments may allow people to practice prostitution, they do not allow individuals to pay for it or coerce adults or underage people to sexual relations. One of the issues controversial in prostitution is that individuals may compel young girls into sexual activities without their consent. It is important to protect the rights of the people enshrined in the Declaration of Independence (Lupton, 2019). The declaration shows that everyone should have a fair chance and equal opportunity to enjoy life.
In the American legal system, the concept of natural law and human rights are intertwined. Theorists supporting natural law believe that governments should enact laws to support morality in society (Kraynak, 2018). For instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to support racial discrimination, which the people believed to be wrong. Similarly, the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 was enacted to end slavery, which is a moral wrong (Winkel, 2018). The two examples demonstrate the connection between the positive law and the natural law. Discrimination has metamorphosed into different aspects relating to respect for equality and liberty (Lupton, 2019). It is important to note that discrimination cases are high in workplaces.
The government does not grant opportunities for people to enjoy natural rights without a designed framework. People are expected to adhere to a framework to enjoy the natural law. For instance, the American Declaration of Independence and the U.S (Winkel, 2018). The constitution is a reference point for natural rights. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated in a 1991 confirmation hearing that the Supreme Court should refer to natural law in interpreting the constitution (Winkel, 2018). Justice Thomas was positive that natural law is an integral part of the American legal system. One of the landmark cases involving an interpretation of the natural law is Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in 2014 (Rhonheimer, 2021). The court ruled that it is wrong for profit-oriented companies to provide health insurance packages that undermine religious faith. The landmark case illustrates that the natural law is an integral part of the American legal system.
Natural Law in the International Law
International law has a deep connection with natural law since it involves aspects of how nations would resolve crisis in the past. International bodies such as the United Nations appreciate the inherent rights and equality guaranteed for everyone (Vadlamannati et al., 2018). The bodies appreciate that people have inherent rights that are not guaranteed by legislation but by God or a divine power. United Nations espouses the components of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which state that every human being is born in dignity and deserves equal treatment and right (Vadlamannati et al., 2018). The international body appreciates that observing the natural law will ensure peace and stability across nations. For instance, one of the rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the freedom of thought. Human beings have the right to think and come up with opinions. Dictators suppress the thoughts of other people but democratic systems allow people to give their views.
The international community has been vital in reinforcing what is good and not what is evil in society. International bodies such as the UN endeavor through peace efforts to reduce political and security tensions (Martin & Gurbai, 2019). The body appreciates that security issues like war lead to deaths, which is against the good of the society. Some of the efforts includes developing mechanisms such as treaties to ensure nations remain in peaceful existence. It is imperative to ensure communities are in peace to facilitate growth and development (Martin & Gurbai, 2019). However, the efforts do not set the stage for natural law but only reinforce what has been already established by reason, God, and nature.
Middle East countries basing their faith on the Islamic law appreciate the role of God-given values and laws. Islamic faith indicates that God is the author of the law and no one should deviate from it. The argument goes to the extent of prescribing harsh punishment for people who are violating the Islamic faith. “Maruf,” which means “the well- known” is a concept in the Islamic faith that relates to the knowledge of the people about what is good and evil (Khan et al., 2019). Scholars in the Islamic law indicate that it is God-given, ready-made, completely divine, without human input at all. Islamic scholars believe that God made the natural laws and gave them reason to establish what is good and evil.
Hinduism supports the natural law by demonstrating that restraint is obligatory. The Hindu argue that it is not possible to achieve the highest perfection without the highest restraint. Karma is one of the laws governing the Hindu (Kemenuh, 2020). Karma indicates that society sets the kind of behavior that people should adhere to in society. Similarly, atheism supports the natural law since atheists have to use reason to determine what is good and evil. Application of reason determines what is evil and governs the human actions. Scholars indicate that religion is the basis of natural law and that natural law cannot exist minus God (Kemenuh, 2020). Even in communities that do not appreciate the existence of God, they appreciate that there is a higher power governing what is right and wrong.
Strengths of Natural Law
Natural law is applicable in different landmark cases in the world today. One of the strengths is that natural law is based on reasoning and not revelation. Reasoning aspect allow people to easily understand the principles of natural law and how to apply it (Lupton, 2019). Application of natural law is universal and relevant across the world. For instance, the world put to an end slavery and discriminatory practices since they do not ascribe to the principles of natural law. Communities use the natural law to establish specific standards of practice (Lupton, 2019). It helps communities realize that a higher is in operation in guiding communities to establish specific standards of practice. The standards of behavior prevent deviant behavior that undermine the welfare of the society. It is vital for communities to adhere to the standards to prevent anarchy.
Criticism of Natural Law
Critics of natural law appreciate that it is a perfect approach to solving problems in society. One of the criticisms is that natural law states what ought to be done, but that is not what actually happens in society (Rhonheimer, 2021). Critics indicate that it is not always a simple school of thought. Natural law theory is based on right reasoning, but the reasoning cannot be scrutinized empirically. The natural law suffers from the multiple reasoning problem (Winkel, 2018). For instance, people can have different explanations and arguments about what is good for society. In America today, some people argue that life is sacred and only the divine giver should take it away. Others argue that capital punishment is a deterrent to serious crimes (Winkel, 2018). Additionally, critics indicate that it is not possible to empirically prove that a Supreme Being exists. For instance, the argument that life is sacred and belongs to a divine giver is not an issue to test in a laboratory. Communities have a hard time depending abortion rights that undermine the position of the Supreme Court to grant life and be at liberty of taking it back.
Critics of natural law indicate that the natural theory of law is at the disposal of everyone and triggers diverse arguments. People make arguments that they believe suit their believes and reasoning (Mansfield, 2021). For example, the issue of abortion has triggered different beliefs and arguments. Some groups argue that they are at liberty to do what they wish with their bodies. Others argue that people cannot terminate the life of an unborn baby. The argument makes natural law a ‘harlot’ since it is at disposal of everyone (Mansfield, 2021). It requires strict definitions of law to ensure judicial interpretations do not comprise personal ideas and morality.
The Supreme Court is under a slippery test since the application of natural law in the abortion cases presented in court. One of the areas of criticism is that the natural law would incline to preventing killing of innocent souls (Lisska, 2019). The application of natural law would go against the freedom fighters who want to choose what they want to do with their bodies. The application of natural law in such critical cases sets the precedent on how courts will argue future cases. The interpretation of the law is a critical determinant of protecting the natural law. Major cases have been overturned by the Supreme Court on the basis of failure to adhere to the precepts of natural law (Lisska, 2019). The objective of the natural law is to protect people’s liberty. The Supreme Court judges must be sober in their decisions to avoid setting the wrong precedent.
Principles of Natural Law
The principles of natural law are well-defined using the precept of double effect by Aquinas natural law theory. The theory states that the objective of natural law is to pursue good and shun evil. Natural law acts as a compass to guide people in making decisions on what is good and bad (Tollefsen, 2021). For instance, preserving life is a good act according to natural law. It is essential for people to preserve life despite the prevailing factors that may demand someone to terminate it. For example, killing someone is not good since it undermines the percepts of natural law that life is sacred and should be preserved (Tollefsen, 2021). The theory states that women should not feel justified to abort a baby even if they might have conceived after an abortion.
Aquinas natural law theory states that human beings have weaknesses in adhering to the principles of natural law because of their sinful nature. Aquinas notes that human beings need illumination to achieve what is good in their lives (Kraynak, 2018). Illumination from the divine law helps people to achieve what is acceptable and morally good. Aquinas argues that natural law can have double effect and remain justified. For instance, a child who has been raised in an abusive family takes away the life of the father who wants to continually abuse him (Kraynak, 2018). According to Aquinas, a child may perform such acts due to the motive (Rhonheimer, 2021). The intention of the son is self-defense to prevent further harm. Self-effect is justified under the double effect theory, which states that individuals pressed to the corner may be prompted to make wrong decisions that jeopardize the life of another.
Natural law should adhere to various principles to achieve the intended objective. The first principle is that the act must be a good one. People should consistently make decisions to achieve good and not evil (Rhonheimer, 2021). Natural law applies in making moral decisions. People should apply reason to arrive at the conclusion of good decisions. The second principle is that the intention must be good. If the intention is not good, it will be morally unacceptable to right an act. The third principle is that a good act must be for serious reasons (Lupton, 2019). For instance, double effect theory argues that people may terminate a life if the intention was self-defense.
Natural laws are based on principles and truth which are inherent since creation. Natural law is written in people’s hearts and does not require government legislation. Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is held as the father of natural law when he stated that what was just by nature may be contrary to what is just by law. The focus of natural law is to achieve what is good for society. Natural law is universal and applies to all people everywhere in the same way. It is unlike the positive laws that change from time to time. Natural laws are universal and immutable and cannot change as long as the world is existing. Some critics of natural law indicate that it is at the disposal of everyone since different people can craft diverse arguments about what is good in society. The scholars who have made a tremendous contribution to the natural law indicate it is a form of divine law given to people by God, reason, or nature to cement good in society.

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