‘Natural Law’

John Finnis

in Reason in Action

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199580057
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729379 | DOI:
‘Natural Law’

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An essay from 1986, this chapter provides a summary for American jurists, modified and supplemented in 1996 for a French dictionary of philosophy. It investigates the reasons, philosophical and historical, for labelling some ethical, political, and legal theories ‘natural law’.It shows that a primary concern of such theories is the critique both of ethical dogmatism (whether conventional or religious) and of ethical scepticism, and — emphasizing that ought cannot be inferred from is, attends especially to Max Weber's ‘fact’ versus ‘value’ arguments for scepticism. It then distinguishes natural law theories from other kinds of ethical cognitivism, whether Kantian, intuitionist, or aggregative (e.g., utilitarian). Sections are devoted to criticism of Michel Villey's theses contrasting ius and lex (right and law), and ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ right(s); to explaining the differing kinds of derivation of positive from natural law; and showing the possibility of grounding truly inviolable human rights.

Keywords: Weber; Villey; ethical scepticism; objective rights; subjective rights; aggregative ethics; inviolable human rights; fact and value; is and ought

Chapter.  5540 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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