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natural law theory


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The view of the status of law and morality especially associated with Aquinas and the subsequent scholastic tradition. More widely, any attempt to cement the moral and legal order together with the nature of the cosmos or the nature of human beings, in which sense it is also found in some Protestant writers, and arguably derivative from a Platonic view of ethics, and is implicit in ancient Stoicism. Law stands above and apart from the activities of human lawmakers; it constitutes an objective set of principles that can be seen true by ‘natural light’ or reason, and (in religious versions of the theory) that express God's will for creation. Non-religious versions of the theory substitute objective conditions for human flourishing as the source of constraints upon permissible actions and social arrangements. Within the natural law tradition, different views have been held about the relationship between the rule of law and God's will: Grotius, for instance, sides with the view that the content of natural law is independent of any will, including that of God, whilst Pufendorf takes the opposite view, thereby facing the problems of one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma. In modern writers the natural law tradition may either assume a stronger form, in which it is claimed that various facts entail values, or a weaker form, which confines itself to holding that reason by itself is capable of discerning moral requirements. As in the ethics of Kant, these requirements are supposed binding on all human beings, regardless of their desires. See also categorical imperative, nature, synderesis.

Subjects: Law — Philosophy.


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