Natural law is also referred to as moral law. It is commonly referred to as the law of nature, divine law, or law that is universal and eternal in nature. It is also a product of reasons. Scholars have assigned various interpretations to it at various times in history. This is the divine law, or the command of God placed on men, according to the Stoics. Natural law is the rule of reason for Cicero and the eternal law for Hookes. The core principle of this philosophy is morality, which is seen as the ultimate standard by which the validity of human laws is assessed.
What are the “reasons”?
Natural law scholars claim that the law is based on reason. Though no clear definition of reason exists, it can be described as a higher principle. To put it another way, all just, fair, and reasonable principles are regarded as reasons.
Development of Natural Law
The evolution of natural law can be split into four stages, which are as follows:
The Greek thinkers pioneered the idea of natural law and defined its essential attributes. There was a great deal of political unrest in Greece at the time, prompting jurists to consider developing new universal rules to combat and control arbitrariness and tyranny. The following are some of the ancient period’s scholars:
1) Zeno: The famous Greek philosopher, equates natural law with divine law, arguing that law and justice should be founded on reasons.
2) Socrates: According to him, the law is the result of correct reasoning. He was a firm believer in “human insight.”He believes that man has his own insight that allows him to know what is good and bad, and that he should act in accordance with that insight.
3) Aristotle: The entire world, according to Aristotle, is a product of nature. He divides man’s life into two parts, claiming that man is God’s creation and that he possesses the ability to reason, allowing him to understand principles and articulate his acts. He goes on to claim that principles of natural justice can be revealed for this reason.
4) Stoics: Aristotle’s idea inspired the Stoics, who developed their own natural law theory with some modifications. According to them, the universe functions because of reason, and man’s reason is also a part of this world, therefore when he lives according to reason, he is living naturally. One of man’s responsibilities is to obey the law of nature, which, according to the Stoics, is incumbent on everyone.
5) Cicero: Law, according to Cicero, is the ultimate reason, deriving its authority from nature. He claims that man is the highest creation because of his reasoning faculty and that his welfare is the ultimate goal of his creation, hence this reason dictates what should be done and what should not be done. It is the reason that man can be judged on his sense of justice and injustice.
Speculative notions inspired the catholic church’s theological and philosophical views during the Middle Ages. The conflict between the church and the state was beginning, and the church needed to assert its dominance. Many catholic philosophers and theologians devised more logical and systematic theories with the goal of establishing stability.
The law, according to Thomas Aquinas, is an ordinance of reason made by him for the common welfare, which the society cared for and promoted. He divided law into four sections.
- Law of God/ eternal law.
- Natural law revealed through reasons
- Divine law/ law of scriptures.
- Human laws
The part that manifests itself for natural reasons is known as natural law. Humans use it to manage their own affairs and relationships. Positive law, according to Aquinas, must conform to natural law, and it is only valid to the extent that it is compatible with natural law.
Period of the Renaissance
This period was defined by the emergence of new ideas, new branches of knowledge, and scientific discoveries, and it saw substantial changes in all aspects of knowledge. New classes arose as a result of the rise of commerce, and they demanded additional protection from the states. The concept of nationalism arose as a result of this. All of these forces coalesced to overthrow the church’s control. New theories defending the state’s sovereignty began to develop. All of these concepts were founded on the reasons.
The following are the major philosophers of this period:
1) Thomas Hobbes: He was a proponent of the monarch’s absolute power, and he believed that subjects had no right to challenge the ruler. Man lived in a chaotic situation in his natural state; his life was filled with fear and selfishness.
In order to alleviate their suffering, the people engaged in a contract in which they turned over all of their rights to one person. Nature’s law can be traced back to the reason that dictates what a man should or should not do. Man’s innate demand for safety and order can only be met by establishing a superior authority that must be authoritative. As a result, he urges the sovereign that he must rule according to natural law.
2) Rousseau: Natural law and the social contract were given new interpretations by Rousseau. A social contract, in his opinion, is a fictitious fabrication of reason. Man enjoyed a joyful existence before the social contract, and there was equality among men.
Humans, according to Rousseau, entered into a contract to defend their rights to equality and freedom, delegating their rights to the entire community, which Rousseau refers to as common will.
Theory of the General Will: According to Rousseau, it is a person’s duty to obey the general will because doing so allows him to follow his own will. Rousseau’s natural law philosophy held that government and regulations must comply with the general will and that if they do not, they may be overturned. In short, Rousseau stood for the common good rather than the individual good.
The decline of natural law theory:
Natural law doctrines reflected, to a large extent, the tremendous economic and political upheavals that had occurred in Europe throughout the nineteenth century. The spirit of eighteenth-century thought was reason or rationalism. The issues posed by new changes and advancements necessitated political and practical responses. Individualism spawned a collective viewpoint, and modern science and political ideologies began to disseminate the idea that there are no absolute, unchangeable values. Many historians have dismissed the social contract notion as a myth. Natural law received a powerful jolt as a result of all of these circumstances.
The revival of Natural law theories:
Natural law theories were revived at the end of the nineteenth century for the following reasons:
- It arose as a response to legal doctrines that over-emphasized the relevance of positive law.
- It was thought that abstract thinking was not entirely unnecessary.
- Positivist theories failed to address issues arising from shifting social conditions.
- It also contributed to the resurrection of fascist ideologies and natural law ideas, as the world witnessed massive destruction of human life and property during the two world wars, and the concepts of natural law were used to achieve peace.
A close examination of natural law principles reveals one thing: the concept of natural law has evolved over time. Whether it’s absolutism or individuality, it’s been used to defend practically every philosophy. It has also sparked a number of revolutions. The formation of positive law has also been impacted by natural law. Natural law principles are focused on achieving the law’s ends, so the study of law will be incomplete if it fails to meet its goals. As a result, natural law ideas can be found in virtually every country’s legal system.
This article has been written by Naveen Talawar, Student At Karnataka State Law University’s Law School.
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