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Natural Rights and Natural Law

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Title: Natural Rights and Natural Law


1
Natural Rights and Natural Law
  • In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas
    Jefferson makes reference to self-evident
    truths, among which are certain inalienable
    rights
  • Martin Luther King makes reference explicitly to
    natural law (as well as the U. S. Constitution)
    to argue that racist laws are inherently unjust
  • What is this natural law?

2
Definitions
  • Natural Law encompasses a tradition of moral and
    legal philosophy reaching back to Aristotle and
    the Roman Stoics (Cicero)
  • There is a secular and a theological version (the
    latter connect nicely to the notion of divine
    command theory studied earlier cf. St Paul)
  • Neither focuses upon civil law (what we
    normally mean by law) instead, these
    traditions use Law in the same sense as Kant
    the moral law

3
Sources of Natural Law Tradition
  • Suppose we took the worlds current major legal
    systems and threw out any provisions that were
    unique to one or only some. Would there be
    anything left?
  • Political Problem of the Roman Empire
  • How do we govern a multinational, multicultural,
    pluralistic commonwealth encompassing many
    nationalities, religions, ethnicities, and legal
    systems? What laws shall we uniformly enforce
    upon ALL subjects (regardless of race, color, or
    religious creed)?

4
Transition from Secular to Sacred
  • Solution Common legal core, the Roman code
  • But of this code, Cicero writes
  • True law is right reason in agreement with
    nature it is of universal application,
    unchanging and everlasting it summons to duty by
    its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its
    prohibitions. . .We cannot be freed from its
    obligations by Senate or People, and we need not
    look outside ourselves for an expounder or
    interpreter of it . . . There will not be
    different laws at Rome and at Athens, or
    different laws now and in the future, but one
    eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for
    all nations and all times, and there will be one
    master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for
    he is the author of this law, its promulgator,
    and its enforcing judge.

5
Natural Law the Sacred Tradition
  • Twin pillars of Western civilization
  • Greco-Roman (Logos) Ciceros Stoic philosophy
    of divine Reason
  • Judaeo-Christian (Torah) -- St. Pauls Letter to
    the Church at Rome
  • the Gentiles have the Torah written on their
    hearts
  • St. Thomas quoting Hebrew Psalms the light of
    Your countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us

6
Natural Law St. Thomas
  • Gods law is imprinted upon us . . . The light
    of natural reason, whereby we discern what is
    good and what is evil, is nothing else than an
    imprint on us of the divine light
  • There are at least some moral truths, derived
    from God and grounded in God, that everyone,
    regardless of their religious beliefs or cultural
    background, must be responsible for knowing
  • Distinguish this (as Romans did) from civil or
    positive law, and also from divine or
    revealed law (the Church has custody of this)

7
Main Points of Medieval Natural Law Tradition
(St. Thomas)
  • These laws or moral principles are thought to
    stem from God, and to reveal the handiwork of God
    in nature
  • natural laws are moral principles that are
    absolute, universal, unconditional, binding on
    everyone, and known (or available to be known) by
    everyone through right reason (natural light
    of reason)
  • They are prescriptive and can be disobeyed or
    ignored by corrupt use of human freedom

8
Examples of Natural Law(s)
  • Golden or Silver rules (Confucius, Rabbi
    Hillel, Jesus, the Blessed One)
  • Principle of reciprocity
  • Prohibition of unjustifiable homicide
  • Respect for Life
  • everyone, everywhere seems to have some versions
    of these
  • Danger mistaking ones own cultural or
    religious habits or even prejudices for universal
    natural law

9
Relation of Natural Law to Other Kinds of Law
  • Descriptive laws of nature by contrast
    summarize known physical conditions or
    constraints that apply in fact w/o exception
    (cannot be disobeyed)
  • Civil or Positive Law speed limits, tax laws,
    torts and contracts, property
  • can be added to, but cannot contravene natural
    law (cf. Martin Luther King)

10
Impact/Influence of Natural Law Tradition
  • Constitution U. S. Declaration of Independence
    (Jefferson)
  • International Law (Grotius, Pufendorf)
  • JUST WAR THEORY (jus ad bellum AND jus in bello
    law of war)
  • Kant and the Categorical Imperative
  • Gandhi, King, and notion of principled civil
    disobedience

11
Some Important Features of Natural Law
  • Principle of Forfeiture if you take another
    life, you forfeit your own right to life
  • Principle of Double Effect a wrong or evil
    result brought about as a consequence of some
    morally right action (undertaken with intention
    to do good) is not itself blameworthy
  • Most common in medicine military

12
Summary (St. Thomas)
  • Eternal law is a class that encompasses Divine
    or revealed law (special revelation), plus
  • NATURAL LAW (reason)
  • Contrast that to Civil Law (what humans legislate
    in specific national or local settings)
  • Natural law is knowable to everyone we are
    responsible for our disobedience
  • Civil Law cannot conflict with natural law
    such conflicts indicate injustice
  • Just War Theory is an important element of
    natural law
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