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Natural Law As Propounded By Greek Philosiphers

The concept of natural law theory embodies an ongoing pursuit of ultimate justice. It's essential to recognize that natural law isn't solely of theoretical importance; its historical impact attests to its practical significance. This impact is evident in its role in fostering liberalism and individual freedom, motivating individuals to resist authoritarian rule in both France and Germany.

Natural philosophy has held a significant position in the domains of politics, law, religion, and ethics since ancient times. It has functioned as a force for harmonization, synthesis, and the promotion of peace and justice across various periods, safeguarding the public against injustice, tyranny, and misrule. Blackstone, in recognizing the role of natural law in liberating people from politico-legal disorder and tracing its evolution, asserted that it is superior to all other laws, co-existing with mankind and emanating from God Himself. Any man-made law contrary to the law of nature, he argued, lacks validity.

The perpetual quest for absolute justice is reflected in the natural law theory. It is crucial not to perceive natural law as merely theoretical; its practical value is historically substantiated. It sparked a wave of liberalism and individual freedom, inspiring revolts against totalitarian rule in France and Germany. The origins, development, and validity of international law owe themselves to the philosophy of natural law, with the law of nations drawing its force and authority from it.

Dr. Friedmann asserted that the history of natural law tells a tale of mankind's pursuit of absolute justice and its eventual failure. Consequently, as social and political conditions change, notions about natural law also evolve, acting as a catalyst for transforming prevailing legal systems. The ideology of a universal order governing all individuals and the inalienable rights of the individual constitutes the most significant contribution of natural law theory to legal systems.

In ancient societies, natural law was believed to have a divine origin, while the medieval period ascribed it a religious and supernatural basis. In modern times, it finds a robust political and legal foundation. Lord Lloyd noted that natural law serves as a law of self-preservation or a restriction on certain behaviors. In modern legal systems, it finds expression in the pursuit of socio-economic justice. The entire philosophy of human rights is an outcome of the growing importance of natural justice principles. The natural law theory acts as a catalyst for promoting social transformation, steering societies away from stagnation.

The narrative of natural law throughout history unfolds as humanity's quest for absolute justice, marked by repeated attempts and ultimate failures. Over the last 2,500 years, the concept of natural law has resurfaced in various forms, reflecting the ongoing pursuit of an ideal higher than positive law, even after facing rejection and ridicule. As societal and political conditions have evolved, so too have the perceptions of natural law. The consistent element amid these changes is the appeal to a higher authority than positive law, serving both to justify existing authority and fuel revolts against it.

Natural law has served diverse purposes. It played a pivotal role in reshaping the ancient Roman civil law into a comprehensive and cosmopolitan system. It became a weapon wielded by both the medieval Church and the German emperors in their ongoing conflicts. The assertion of the validity of international law and the plea for individual freedom against absolutism have also been grounded in the principles of natural law. Furthermore, American judges, interpreting the Constitution, invoked natural law to resist state legislation attempting to modify and restrict the unbridled economic freedom of the individual.

The Legacy Of Greece And Rome

The concept of natural law has ancient roots, dating back to the beginnings of philosophy. Similar to Aristotle's assertion that wonder is foundational to philosophy, it is also integral to the development of natural law.

The emergence of the idea of natural law occurs when individuals recognize that not all laws are unchangeable divine decrees. This realization takes place as critical reasoning reflects on historical changes in laws and customs, acknowledging the diversity in legal and moral institutions within its own community and beyond. In the face of this diversity, human reason distinguishes between divine and human law, leading to an encounter with the concept of natural law.

This raises questions about the moral foundation of human laws, the binding nature of laws on an individual's conscience, and the ethical basis for the coercive power of the state's legal and moral order. These inquiries are closely linked to discussions about the best laws or an ideal state, a topic that has intrigued proponents of various natural law systems since the time of Plato. Another related idea emerges, suggesting that tribal deities are not the ultimate religious reality. Behind the popular images of tribal deities, there exists an eternal, all-wise Lawgiver with the authority to bind and release.

Given these considerations, it is understandable that the philosophical concept of natural law originated in the realm of Western culture, particularly among the ancient Greeks. This dynamic and intellectually astute civilization, endowed with an early awareness of individual consciousness and significant political organization, laid the foundations for Western political philosophy.

Heraclitus of Ephesus (536-470 B.C.) is renowned for his assertion that "all things flow; nothing abides." This perpetual change led him to the concept of an eternal norm and harmony that remains unchangeable amid the constant variation of phenomena. A fundamental law, a divine common logos, a universal reason, governs these natural occurrences, emphasizing order over chance, lawlessness, or irrational change. According to Heraclitus, the essence of human nature and ethical goals lies in aligning individual and social life with the general law of the universe, a primordial norm guiding moral behaviour.

He emphasized that wisdom, defined as speaking the truth and attuning oneself to nature, is a virtue common to all. Those who seek intelligence must adhere to this common wisdom, akin to how a city adheres to its laws, which are, in turn, inspired by one divine law. Heraclitus, often considered a conservative aristocrat, urged people not to resist the laws, as they embody the divine law.

On the contrary, he believed that people should defend the laws as they would their city walls. Heraclitus introduced the idea of an eternal law of nature, harmonizing with human reason as it shares in the eternal logos, amidst the diversity of human laws. The contingency and diversity of human laws, Heraclitus argued, reveal the truth of the eternal law, discernible through rational thought, whereas sense perception, limited to the eye and the ear, recognizes only differences. The concept of natural law emerged for the first time as a natural, unchangeable law from which all human laws derive their force.

Heraclitus crafted his doctrine with a practical purpose: to emphasize the value of laws and their binding force in countering the unpredictability of the uncritical masses. The masses, prone to various novelties and lacking discrimination, were susceptible to erratic shifts in opinion and easily swayed by the demagogy of the Sophists.

Judging the Sophists fairly is a complex task. Their teachings, primarily known from Plato's dialogues, their formidable adversary, have reached us in a fragmented form. Additionally, as popular orators inclined toward demagogy, the Sophists favoured oversimplified slogans and paradoxical statements, contributing to a dark reputation as philosophical ropedancers, rationalistic revolutionaries, and scornful of the law. Plato, in particular, played a significant role in shaping this negative perception. However, this judgment may be overly harsh. The Sophists, appearing as revolutionary rationalists to the Greeks, were driven by their bold criticism of contemporary social institutions and cynical scepticism in political matters. Moreover, their reputation was influenced by the high regard their opponents had for the laws and the city-state (polis).

In the Greek polis, laws were a source of pride for citizens, and the Sophists, mostly foreigners, stood out in contrast. Much like Heraclitus, who deemed laws equal in worth to the city walls, philosophers treated the laws, referred to as nomoi, with utmost respect. Those without a polis were considered barbarians. Socrates, despite distinguishing between what is naturally right and legally right, unequivocally deemed the laws of Athens as "right."

Citizens were thus obligated to obey them, a sentiment he upheld until the end. Plato, sharing a similar view, considered the laws of Athens largely inviolable. Although he acknowledged room for improvement in the social order based on these laws, he never deemed it inherently bad. Consequently, to aristocrats in both political outlook and thought, the social criticism of the Sophists was not merely an attack on the foundations of a specific polis order but also a malicious assault on the right order of the polis itself.

Despite these revolutionary ideas, Plato remained staunchly attached to the institution of slavery, and Aristotle consistently sought to justify it through his theory that certain individuals are slaves by nature.

Plato and Aristotle were primarily, albeit to varying extents, focused on the concept of goodness and its manifestation within the state. Their interest, however, wasn't primarily centred around the individual. Instead, they are often characterized as having inclinations toward state socialism or totalitarianism.

For them, in alignment with the notion of order, the primary and foundational objective of justice wasn't freedom for its own sake but rather order. Freedom was deemed valuable only to the extent that it contributed to the establishment of order. Consequently, the law took precedence in their thoughts. They diligently sought to uncover and establish the ethical foundation of laws-not in the manner of the Sophists, who sought freedom from laws.

Their attention was directed towards the state and its order as the ethical realm, the realization of all virtue. This focus clarifies their persistent concern with determining the optimal form of state or government, where the significance of the individual, emphasized by the Sophists, is overshadowed. If we were to view natural law through the lens of its traditionally associated socio-philosophical individualism, there would be minimal space for the concept of natural law in the philosophies of Plato and even Aristotle.

Natural Law

The notion of natural law has evolved through various iterations. Its origins trace back to the ancient Greeks, who conceptualized a universal governed by an eternal, unchanging law, distinguishing between what is just by nature and what is just by convention. Stoicism provided a comprehensive classical formulation of natural law, asserting that the universe operates under a rational principle. The Stoics contended that all humans possess reason and can comprehend and adhere to its laws.

While individuals, endowed with free will, may not always obey the law, acting in accordance with reason is deemed as "following nature." Christian philosophers embraced and adapted the Stoic theory, equating natural law with the law of God. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, viewed natural law as a discernible aspect of God's eternal law accessible to humans through reason. Positive law, or human law, is then seen as the application of natural law to specific social contexts. Similar to the Stoics, Aquinas believed that a positive law contradicting natural law is not true law.

During the Renaissance and Reformation, as society secularized, natural law theory found new grounding in human reason. Hugo Grotius, a 17th-century Dutch jurist, posited that humans are inherently reasonable and social, and rules dictated by reason enable harmonious coexistence. Grotius extended this argument to develop the first comprehensive theory of international law.

Natural law theory eventually led to the concept of "natural rights," championed by John Locke. Locke argued that individuals in a state of nature are free and equal but surrender certain rights upon entering society for security and the common good. Fundamental prerogatives rooted in natural law, pertaining to personal integrity and property, are retained as natural rights. This theory served as a philosophical foundation for both the American and French revolutions, influencing Thomas Jefferson's articulation of "inalienable rights" in the United States Declaration of Independence.

In the 19th century, natural law theory waned in influence as utilitarianism, Bentham's positivism, materialism, and the historical school of jurisprudence gained dominance. However, in the 20th century, natural law theory experienced a resurgence, partly in response to the rise of totalitarianism and increased global interest in human rights. In the context of contemporary discussions, we now shift our focus to Classical Realism's interpretation of natural law-a concept defined as an "unwritten law" applicable universally and recognizable by human reason alone, representing a body of moral principles shared by all humankind.

Natural Law: Its Meaning And Definition

There is no consensus on the precise definition and meaning of natural law, and the term 'natural law theory' has been construed differently over time, adapting to the evolving needs of legal thought. Nevertheless, the most remarkable quality of the natural law theory lies in its adaptability to address new challenges posed by a changing society. Advocates of natural law philosophy posit that it is a law intrinsic to human nature, existing independently of conventions, legislation, or any institutional frameworks.

Dias and Hughes characterize natural law as a legal system whose validity stems from its inherent values, distinguished by its dynamic and organic properties, rather than being predetermined by the State or its agencies.

Cohen contends that natural law isn't a set of enacted or interpreted laws enforced by courts. Instead, it represents a perspective and a humanistic approach adopted by judges and jurists. It encompasses a myriad of ideals, including morality, justice, reason, good conduct, freedom, equality, liberty, ethics, and more.

From a jurisprudential standpoint, natural law comprises rules and principles believed to originate from a supreme source beyond political or worldly authority. Some thinkers attribute these rules to a divine origin, while others argue that they arise from nature or reason. Even modern sociological jurists have turned to natural law to underpin their sociological ideology and the concept of law as a means to reconcile conflicting interests within society.

Natural Law In Greek Period

In his Academy, Aristotle engaged in a systematic and technical exploration of Greek jurisprudence. Isaeus, a jurist from the fourth century, is considered the first notable figure in Greek jurisprudence, while Aristotle and Theophrastus stand out as the foremost jurists for their ground breaking work in writing an "Esprit des Lois" (Spirit of Laws) and comparing various legislations and constitutions. Although the development of Greek jurisprudence and court practices from Solon to Aristotle showed only modest progress, the underlying conception of law has deep roots in Greek thought, evolving through an extended process of intellectual exploration.

The Greeks employed multiple terms to convey the idea of law. The first term, associated with geometry, metaphorically signifies what is right, akin to a right line-rectum, regula-as seen in orthopaedics. In Greek, there is no equivalent to the Latin "jus," which denotes that which unites or binds individuals, encompassing concepts of joining (jungere), yoke (jugum), and marriage (conjugium).

The second term refers to law created by reason and rooted in reason, contrasting with notions of fate or destiny. It also denotes a relationship, principle, or formula. The third term, absent in Homer and emerging only in Hesiod's works around the seventh century, initially denotes old and traditional customs. It also encompasses habits arising from the necessity of conforming to prevailing conditions, encompassing political and social environments, as well as the psychological dispositions associated with those conditions.

The fourth term implies the idea of sharing, division, separation, or equal parts and is applied to signify law, justice, or statute.

The fifth term represents the abstract and absolute concept of right or justice.

The sixth term is a component of the fifth, similar to how "lex" is a part of "jus" in the Latin legal context.

Natural Law Institute Proceedings

It indicates the path toward a goal, as evidenced by the Latin words: dicere, digitur, indicare, judicare. Aristotle aptly refers to natural law as justice recognized and acknowledged without any formal or conventional declaration, arising from human nature and grounded in the essence of our existence. The Greeks possessed a distinct concept of law. Unlike our modern understanding, which involves a court, a judge, and a set of technical rules managed by specialists, the Greeks viewed the law through a more metaphysical lens.

They perceived it as absolute and enduring, something not to be easily altered, considering it, like poetry, of divine origin. While Greek laws underwent occasional changes and revisions, the Greeks generally regarded the law as possessing sovereignty. Socrates, in the Crito, explicitly expresses his subservience to the law, engaging in a dialogue with the Laws and acknowledging the absolute authority of the law.

For the Greeks, law held a position above society; it served as the binding force of the city and was intricately tied to the city's formation. The Greek city, essentially an ethical society, was originally established to ensure justice for all, functioning as an educational institution with the city itself serving as the vehicle for citizens' education. The central theme here is education; Plato's Republic outlines the ideal curriculum for secondary education, while the Laws present the optimal curriculum for the university level.

The term "natural law" is fraught with ambiguity, confusion, and potential misinterpretation, particularly for us, inheritors of a two-thousand-year-old Christian legacy. In contrast to the Greeks, who believed in city education and generation, the expression "natural law" carries a specific Christian connotation today. In the context of pagan Greece, natural law was viewed solely as a product of human reason. Furthermore, the contemporary understanding of the term "law" implies something fixed, proclaimed, and written, while the addition of "natural" suggests a connection to human nature.

However, natural law is inherently unwritten, making it challenging to define and grasp definitively. It is universal, with all individuals possessing a natural, infallible, and practical understanding of it: the imperative to do good, avoid evil, punish transgressors, and preserve one's own being. These principles are immanent in human nature, integral to our essence, and represent the universal concept of justice.

Ancient Period:
The narrative of natural law finds its origins in the philosophy of ancient Greece, and its true significance remains a subject of ongoing debate. The term encompasses a variety of elements under the umbrella of Greek Philosophy and Medieval Rationalism.

In the Greek tradition, law was traditionally closely linked to both justice and ethics. The interplay between nature and institution stands out as a hallmark of Greek enlightenment in shaping conceptions. The guiding principle is that which holds universal validity, determined by nature for all humanity, transcending distinctions of people and time. Whatever nature decrees is inherently just and authorized.

The utilization of natural law, in its diverse manifestations, has undergone significant fluctuations throughout its historical trajectory. Various theories of natural law exist, differing primarily in their perspectives on the influence of morality in establishing the legitimacy of legal norms. In the context of my research within this seminar, I address the different applications of natural law individually, opting not to consolidate them into a singular theory.

Plato (437-347 B.C)

While Plato does not explicitly articulate a theory of natural law (he seldom uses the phrase "natural law" except in Gorgias 484 and Timaeus 83e), John Wild suggests that elements akin to many natural law theories can be discerned in Plato's concept of nature. According to Plato, our existence unfolds within an orderly universe. Fundamental to this order or nature are the forms, with the Form of the Good being paramount. Plato describes it as "the brightest region of Being," attributing it as the cause of all things.

The perception of the Form of the Good guides individuals toward wise actions. In the Symposium, the Good is closely linked with the Beautiful. In the Republic, Plato envisions the ideal community as one established in accordance with nature. Here, he underscores the necessity for a meticulous division of labor, asserting that "each man ought to do his work to which he is called upon by his capacities."

Aristotle (384-322 B.C)

Aristotle's connection with natural law is often attributed to the interpretation given to his works by Thomas Aquinas, although there is ongoing debate about whether Aquinas accurately understood Aristotle's intentions. This interpretation had a notable impact on early translations of Aristotle's passages, with some later translations presenting a more faithful rendering. Aristotle acknowledges that natural justice is a subtype of political justice, specifically the system of distributive and corrective justice envisioned in the best political community. If this were to be codified as law, it could be termed natural law. However, Aristotle does not delve into this possibility and even suggests in the Politics that the best regime might not govern through law at all.

The primary evidence supporting the idea that Aristotle believed in natural law is found in the Rhetoric. Aristotle notes the existence of a "common" law, in addition to the "particular" laws established by each community, which aligns with nature. This universal law is described as the law of Nature, representing a natural justice and injustice applicable to all individuals, even those without any formal association or covenant.

The famous quote, "Not of to-day or yesterday it is, But lives eternal: none can date its birth," underscores the enduring nature of this universal law. However, some critics argue that the context of this statement suggests that Aristotle may have only advised the rhetorical advantage of appealing to such a law, especially when the local "particular" law opposed the argument being presented. They also contend that Aristotle deemed two out of the three proposed candidates for a universally valid, natural law in this passage to be incorrect. Consequently, there is ongoing dispute regarding Aristotle's theoretical role in the natural law tradition.

Socrates (470-399 B.C)

Socrates holds a significant position among the Stoic philosophers of ancient times, recognizing and advocating for the importance of truth and moral values. His philosophy asserts the existence of a natural moral law, analogous to the natural physical laws. Socrates contends that human insight enables individuals to discern between good and bad, facilitating an appreciation for moral values. According to him, 'virtue is knowledge,' and anything lacking in virtue is considered 'sin.' Socrates categorizes justice into two types:

  1. Natural justice and
  2. Legal justice.

Natural justice follows universal principles applicable uniformly across all locations, whereas legal justice may vary depending on the specificities of time and place.

Socrates emphasizes that the reasonability of a particular law should be evaluated through human insight. Laws deemed appropriate are those in harmony with the principles of the law of nature and supported by human reasoning. Natural law, according to Socrates, is a subset of law that transcends specific circumstances and endures through different periods.

It's crucial to note that while Socrates acknowledges the authority of positive law, he argues for the necessity of natural law in ensuring the security and stability of the community. This underscores the idea that, for Socrates, a balance between positive law and natural law is essential for the well-being of a society.

These reflections lead to the conclusion that natural law is far from being a mere academic speculation, reserved for those with leisure to contemplate. It is fundamental in practical life. The concept of natural law has had a peculiar journey in Greece. When considering the expressions of Homer, Hesiod, Theognis, Sophocles, Xenophon, and Plato, it becomes apparent that, in their views, natural law is divine and universal. It is perceived as a gift from the gods, akin to justice and poetry, and is believed to exist everywhere in the world. Rooted in reason, inherent in human nature, natural law, for these thinkers, is immanent in humanity.

For Pythagoras and Heraclitus, the foundational principles of justice underlying natural law are found in equality, insight, the law of retaliation, and the law of reason. Justice is viewed as harmony and equilibrium, with man positioned at the center of the cosmos. Plato sees justice as a spirit, a guiding force animating human actions. The inner sense of justice, discerned by the conscience, holds a higher spiritual truth than the laws of the state. Natural law, according to Plato, is eternal, a divine gift from the gods.

With Aristotle, natural law is singular, divine, and universal. The Stoics, on the other hand, perceive it as human and universal, as diverse as individuals themselves. The destiny of natural law takes a peculiar turn, initially labeled divine and then gradually becoming human over the centuries.

This destiny is likened to that of Fire, initially divine and a source of love and unity under the gods, but when placed in the hands of Prometheus, it becomes the origin of arts, inventions, and the principle of division on Earth. Yet, a more tragic and peculiar destiny is that of humanity in the world. The Greeks, focusing intensely on man, derived their concept of natural law from their study of human nature. It stands as one of their greatest contributions to global culture and civilization, a new idea that remains relevant today.

The Greeks, with their poetic insight, crafted words to encapsulate this concept. Natural law, as seen by the Greeks, imbues Greek law with humanity and personality, possessing a soul and spirit. The poetic essence of natural law is so profound that it cannot be separated from the divine. The Greeks, with their childlike awe, expressed this perspective, and their inventions and philosophy still feel fresh today. Natural law, in essence, is the manifestation of the divine law in humanity.

When individuals respect the divine within themselves, they live in peace, for the divine, representing measure and order, is synonymous with peace. Socrates, gazing at the Parthenon, saw it as a symbol of order, harmony, measure, and proportion-a representation of natural law for the ancient Greeks.

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