natural law

natural law
The ambiguity of the term natural law rests upon a metaphorical link between regularities in nature and the authoritative regulation of human activity. In its latter use, ‘natural law’ refers to principles of law and morality, supposedly universal in scope and binding on human conduct. In medieval Christian theology natural law was held to be a God-given system, but from the Reformation onwards, attempts were made to give natural law secular foundations in human nature and reason. In the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes , for example, ‘laws of nature’ provide rational grounds for the social contract, and so for the establishment of political authority. Since the eighteenth century, legal theory has tended to be hostile to the notion of natural law-the conventional, socially and historically formed character of law being more commonly emphasized. However, the increase in moral authority attaching to human rights since the Second World War owes much to the natural law tradition.
The idea of the natural world as created by God, and so being subject (like human society) to God's authority, led to the metaphorical extension of the notion of natural law to refer to regularities in nature. Here, again, the idea had its religious and its secular adherents, though from the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the principal division was between rationalists and empiricists. The former tended to attribute necessity to the laws of nature, some of them (such as Leibniz) supposing these to be rationally demonstrable from a priori principles. The empiricists held that knowledge of the laws of nature could be established only on the basis of observation and experiment. On this view the regularities summarized in laws of nature could not justifiably be held to have any necessity about them. Our expectation that such regularities would continue into the future, however unavoidable in practical life, was (David Hume argued) nevertheless rationally ungrounded, and a mere habit of mind.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • natural law — n: a body of law or a specific principle of law that is held to be derived from nature and binding upon human society in the absence of or in addition to positive law ◇ While natural law, based on a notion of timeless order, does not receive as… …   Law dictionary

  • Natural Law — • In English this term is frequently employed as equivalent to the laws of nature, meaning the order which governs the activities of the material universe. Among the Roman jurists natural law designated those instincts and emotions common to man… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Natural law — Natural Nat u*ral (?; 135), a. [OE. naturel, F. naturel, fr. L. naturalis, fr. natura. See {Nature}.] 1. Fixed or determined by nature; pertaining to the constitution of a thing; belonging to native character; according to nature; essential;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • natural law — ► NOUN 1) a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as inherent in all human beings and forming a basis for human conduct. 2) an observable law relating to natural phenomena …   English terms dictionary

  • natural law — n. 1. rules of conduct supposedly inherent in the relations between human beings and discoverable by reason; law based upon man s innate moral sense 2. a law of nature: see LAW (sense 8a) 3. the laws of nature, collectively …   English World dictionary

  • Natural law — For other uses, see Natural law (disambiguation). Natural law, or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis), is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal.[1] Classically, natural law refers to the use of… …   Wikipedia

  • natural law — a principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature, right reason, or religion and as ethically binding in human society. Cf. positive law. [1350 1400; ME] * * * In jurisprudence and political philosophy, a system of right or justice… …   Universalium

  • Natural Law — A set of rules inherent in human behavior and human reasoning that governs human conduct. Natural law is preexisting and is not created in courts by judges. Philosophers and theologians throughout history have differed in their interpretations of …   Investment dictionary

  • natural law — noun a rule or body of rules of conduct inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society (Freq. 4) • Syn: ↑law • Hypernyms: ↑concept, ↑conception, ↑construct • Hyponyms: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • NATURAL LAW —    a term borrowed from STOIC PHILOSOPHY used by CHRISTIAN philosophers to argue that a RATIONAL order can be detected underlying the universe which enables individuals to make informed judgements about RIGHT and WRONG on the basis of REASON. It… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

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