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February 9, 2020 / Congau

The Authority of Natural Law

There may be a natural law. It may be found in the logic of the universe and be derived from how everything seems to fit together in a common purpose. There may even be religious laws given by God or Allah and transferred to humans by means of sacred revelation. These theories may be true, but that doesn’t help us much when striving to formulate the laws of an actual society.

The laws of nature are not inscribed directly anywhere in nature. We have to observe and draw conclusions and interpretations are bound to differ between people and societies. Religious laws are based on beliefs, which certainly differ. Whether or not we imagine social laws to be based on a higher form of laws, it makes no difference when honest human lawgivers sit down to formulate the laws: They just have to look for the best laws for their society.

If there are natural laws, any disobedience to these laws is a crime. But if we don’t know the laws, we also don’t know what would constitute a crime. Still, people seem to enjoy throwing out their verdict on other people’s behavior. “That’s a crime!” is a commonly heard phrase though the speakers are not lawyers and there’s no reason to suspect that they have an intimate knowledge of the laws of their country. We must assume then that some natural law is referred to, since there exist no formal qualifications for insight into that kind of law.

But some sort of authority is still required for this statement. Do they consider themselves to be philosophers or do they possess a special access to a revealed religious law? If so, we would expect them to go on to explain their sources, but that’s usually not going to happen.

What was meant was probably that they considered the action to be wrong or unethical, but why didn’t they just say so instead of calling it a crime?

It sounds good to invoke an authority when things can’t be explained.

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