Natural Law

Natural Law in the United States

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Jurisprudential view that laws which govern all things have their origin in nature. The natural law concept is that such laws are both eternal and unchanging. Natural law jurisprudence asserts that fundamental rules governing human behavior derive from basic characteristics of a human nature common to all. Natural law jurisprudence has produced in volume more writing than any view of law. Early conceptions of natural law can be seen in the thinking of Aristotle, but the first comprehensive statement of natural law is most commonly attributed to the Greek Stoics and such Roman thinkers as Cicero. The most systematic framework for natural law theory was developed by Thomas Aquinas in the Thirteenth Century. Natural law is opposite from the positivistic theories of private and public morality. Natural law and natural rights are common to all persons of all times and places. As a consequence, if law is created by man (government) that violates one of the fundamental natural rules, the man-made rule is immoral and invalid. Positivistic theories, on the other hand, deny such a universal basis for fundamental rules of conduct and assert that such fundamental rules cannot be known in any objective or authoritative way and that all law is based on human agreement.

See Also

Common Law (Judicial Function) Legal Positivism (Judicial Function).

Analysis and Relevance

The development of natural law and natural rights was an attempt to clarify how people should deal with arbitrary governmental conduct. The concept of natural law provided the foundation for social contract theory which, in turn, was to become a key element in American political thought. John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, for example, provided the theoretical basis for the American Revolution and constitutional movement. Natural law theories also provided the rationale for such declarations as the English Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Natural law also underlies many acts of civil disobedience. If one believes that a law is morally wrong, the person has an obligation to conduct acts of civil disobedience to heighten social consciousness on the issue. The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used this approach in his efforts to combat the immorality of discrimination. The critical question is whether human rights are grounded “in nature,” and if so, whether such a view can be defended without a carefully defined justification. In the absence of such justification, the notion of human rights as products of natural law may provide a rationale for self-serving conduct and a circumstance approaching anarchy where people claim a right to do what they please regardless of the social consequences.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Natural Law from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Natural Law Definition

The law of nature; the divine will, or the dictate of right reason, showing the moral deformity or moral necessity there is in any act, according to its suitableness or unsuitableness to a reasonable nature. A proposition naturally recognized, pointing out actions which are the source of common good. Cumberland, De Lege Nat. V. 1. Sometimes used of the law of human reason, in contradistinction to the revealed law, and sometimes of both, in contradistinction to positive law. They are independent of any artificial connections, and differ from mere presumptions of law in this essential respect, that the latter depend on and are a branch of the particular system of jurisprudence to which they belong; but mere natural presumptions are derived wholly by means of the common experience of mankind, without the aid or control of any particular rule of law, but simply from the course of nature and the habits of society. These presumptions fall within the exclusive province of the jury, who are to pass upon the facts. 3 Bouv. Inst, note 8064; Greenl. Ev. § 44.

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Legal Issue for Attorneys

The law of nature; the divine will, or the dictate of right reason, showing the moral deformity or moral necessity there is in any act, according to its suitableness or unsuitableness to a reasonable nature. A proposition naturally recognized, pointing out actions which are the source of common good. Cumberland, De Lege Nat. V. 1. Sometimes used of the law of human reason, in contradistinction to the revealed law, and sometimes of both, in contradistinction to positive law. They are independent of any artificial connections, and differ from mere presumptions of law in this essential respect, that the latter depend on and are a branch of the particular system of jurisprudence to which they belong; but mere natural presumptions are derived wholly by means of the common experience of mankind, without the aid or control of any particular rule of law, but simply from the course of nature and the habits of society. These presumptions fall within the exclusive province of the jury, who are to pass upon the facts. 3 Bouv. Inst, note 8064; Greenl. Ev. § 44.

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This definition of Natural Law Is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary . This definition needs to be proofread..

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