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Law is, generally, a system of rules which are enforced through social institutions to govern
behavior, although the term "law" has no universally accepted definition. Laws can be made by
legislatures through legislation (resulting in statutes), the executive through decrees
and regulations, or judges through binding precedents (normally in common law jurisdictions).
Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including (in some jurisdictions)
arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves
may be influenced by a constitution (written or unwritten) and the rights encoded therein. The law
shapes politics, economics, and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations
between people.


The term "natural law" is ambiguous. It refers to a type of moral theory, as well as to a type of
legal theory, but the core claims of the two kinds of theory are logically independent. It does not
refer to the laws of nature, the laws that science aims to describe. According to natural law moral
theory, the moral standards that govern human behavior are, in some sense, objectively derived
from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world. While being logically independent
of natural law legal theory, the two theories intersect. However, the majority of the article will
focus on natural law legal theory.

According to natural law legal theory, the authority of legal standards necessarily derives, at least
in part, from considerations having to do with the moral merit of those standards. There are a
number of different kinds of natural law legal theories, differing from each other with respect to
the role that morality plays in determining the authority of legal norms. The conceptual
jurisprudence of John Austin provides a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence
of law that distinguishes law from non-law in every possible world. Classical natural law theory
such as the theory of Thomas Aquinas focuses on the overlap between natural law moral and legal
theories .In contrast, the procedural naturalism of Lon L. Fuller is a rejection of the conceptual
naturalist idea that there are necessary substantive moral constraints on the content of law. Lastly,
Ronald Dworkins theory is a response and critique of legal positivism. All of these theories
subscribe to one or more basic tenets of natural law legal theory and are important to its
development and influence.


At the outset, it is important to distinguish two kinds of theory that go by the name of natural law.
The first is a theory of morality that is roughly characterized by the following theses.

First, moral propositions have what is sometimes called objective standing in the sense that
such propositions are the bearers of objective truth-value; that is, moral propositions can
be objectively true or false. Though moral objectivism is sometimes equated with moral
realism, the relationship between the two theories is controversial. Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
for example, views moral objectivism as one species of moral realism, but not the only
form; on Sayre-McCord's view, moral subjectivism and moral intersubjectivism are also
forms of moral realism. Strictly speaking, then, natural law moral theory is committed only
to the objectivity of moral norms.
The second thesis constituting the core of natural law moral theory is the claim that
standards of morality are in some sense derived from, or entailed by, the nature of the world
and the nature of human beings. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, identifies the rational
nature of human beings as that which defines moral law: "the rule and measure of human
acts is the reason, which is the first principle of human acts" (Aquinas). On this common
view, since human beings are by nature rational beings, it is morally appropriate that they
should behave in a way that conforms to their rational nature. Thus, Aquinas derives the
moral law from the nature of human beings (thus, "natural law").

But there is another kind of natural law theory having to do with the relationship of morality to
law. According to natural law theory of law, there is no clean division between the notion of law
and the notion of morality. Though there are different versions of natural law theory, all subscribe
to the thesis that there are at least some laws that depend for their "authority" not on some pre-
existing human convention, but on the logical relationship in which they stand to moral standards.
Otherwise put, some norms are authoritative in virtue of their moral content, even when there is
no convention that makes moral merit a criterion of legal validity. The idea that the concepts of
law and morality intersect in some way is called the Overlap Thesis.

As an empirical matter, many natural law moral theorists are also natural law legal theorists, but
the two theories, strictly speaking, are logically independent. One can deny natural law theory of
law but hold a natural law theory of morality. John Austin, the most influential of the early legal
positivists, for example, denied the Overlap Thesis but held something that resembles a natural
law ethical theory.


All forms of natural law theory subscribe to the Overlap Thesis, which asserts that there is some
kind of non-conventional relation between law and morality. According to this view, then, the
notion of law cannot be fully articulated without some reference to moral notions. Though the
Overlap Thesis may seem unambiguous, there are a number of different ways in which it can be
interpreted. The strongest construction of the Overlap Thesis forms the foundation for the classical
naturalism of Aquinas and Blackstone. Aquinas distinguishes four kinds of law:

(1) Eternal law;

(2) Natural law;

(3) Human law; and

(4) Divine law.

Eternal law is comprised of those laws that govern the nature of an eternal universe; as Susan
Dimock puts it, one can "think of eternal law as comprising all those scientific (physical, chemical,
biological, psychological, etc.) 'laws' by which the universe is ordered." Divine law is concerned
with those standards that must be satisfied by a human being to achieve eternal salvation. One
cannot discover divine law by natural reason alone; the precepts of divine law are disclosed only
through divine revelation.

The natural law is comprised of those precepts of the eternal law that govern the behavior of beings
possessing reason and free will. The first precept of the natural law, according to Aquinas, is the
somewhat vacuous imperative to do good and avoid evil. Here it is worth noting that Aquinas
holds a natural law theory of morality: what is good and evil, according to Aquinas, is derived
from the rational nature of human beings. Good and evil are thus both objective and universal.

But Aquinas is also a natural law legal theorist. On his view, a human law (that is, that which is
promulgated by human beings) is valid only insofar as its content conforms to the content of the
natural law; as Aquinas puts the point: "Every human law has just so much of the nature of law as
is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no
longer a law but a perversion of law" To paraphrase Augustine's famous remark, an unjust law is
really no law at all. The idea that a norm that does not conform to the natural law cannot be legally
valid is the defining thesis of conceptual naturalism. As William Blackstone describes the thesis,
"This law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior
in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no
human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their
force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original" In this passage,
Blackstone articulates the two claims that constitute the theoretical core of conceptual naturalism:
1) there can be no legally valid standards that conflict with the natural law; and

2) All valid laws derive what force and authority they have from the natural law.


Lon Fuller rejects the conceptual naturalist idea that there are necessary substantivemoral
constraints on the content of law. But Fuller, believes that law is necessarily subject to
a procedural morality. On Fuller's view, human activity is necessarily goal-oriented or purposive
in the sense that people engage in a particular activity because it helps them to achieve some end.
Insofar as human activity is essentially purposive, according to Fuller, particular human activities
can be understood only in terms that make reference to their purposes and ends. Thus, since
lawmaking is essentially purposive activity, it can be understood only in terms that explicitly
acknowledge its essential values and purposes:
The only formula that might be called a definition of law offered in these writings is by now
thoroughly familiar: law is the enterprise of subjecting human conduct to the governance of rules.
Unlike most modern theories of law, this view treats law as an activity and regards a legal system
as the product of a sustained purposive effort.

To the extent that a definition of law can be given, then, it must include the idea that law's essential
function is to "achieve social order through subjecting people's conduct to the guidance of general
rules by which they may themselves orient their behavior"

Fuller's functionalist conception of law implies that nothing can count as law unless it is capable
of performing law's essential function of guiding behavior. And to be capable of performing this
function, a system of rules must satisfy the following principles:

(P1) the rules must be expressed in general terms;

(P2) the rules must be publicly promulgated;
(P3) the rules must be prospective in effect;
(P4) the rules must be expressed in understandable terms;
(P5) the rules must be consistent with one another;
(P6) the rules must not require conduct beyond the powers of the affected parties;
(P7) the rules must not be changed so frequently that the subject cannot rely on them; and
(P8) the rules must be administered in a manner consistent with their wording.

On Fuller's view, no system of rules that fails minimally to satisfy these principles of legality can
achieve law's essential purpose of achieving social order through the use of rules that guide
behavior. A system of rules that fails to satisfy (P2) or (P4), for example, cannot guide behavior
because people will not be able to determine what the rules require. Accordingly, Fuller concludes
that his eight principles are "internal" to law in the sense that they are built into the existence
conditions for law.

These internal principles constitute a morality, according to Fuller, because law necessarily has
positive moral value in two respects:
(1) Law conduces to a state of social order and

(2) Does so by respecting human autonomy because rules guide behavior.

Since no system of rules can achieve these morally valuable objectives without minimally
complying with the principles of legality, it follows, on Fuller's view, that they constitute a
morality. Since these moral principles are built into the existence conditions for law, they are
internal and hence represent a conceptual connection between law and morality. On Hart's view,
all actions, including virtuous acts like lawmaking and impermissible acts like poisoning, have
their own internal standards of efficacy. But insofar as such standards of efficacy conflict with
morality, as they do in the case of poisoning, it follows that they are distinct from moral standards.
Thus, while Hart concedes that something like Fuller's eight principles are built into the existence
conditions for law, he concludes they do not constitute a conceptual connection between law and

Unfortunately, Hart overlooks the fact that most of Fuller's eight principles double as moral ideals
of fairness. For example, public promulgation in understandable terms may be a necessary
condition for efficacy, but it is also a moral ideal; it is morally objectionable for a state to enforce
rules that have not been publicly promulgated in terms reasonably calculated to give notice of what
is required. Similarly, we take it for granted that it is wrong for a state to enact retroactive rules,
inconsistent rules, and rules that require what is impossible. Poisoning may have its internal
standards of efficacy, but such standards are distinguishable from the principles of legality in that
they conflict with moral ideals.

Nevertheless, Fuller's principles operate internally, not as moral ideals, but merely as principles of
efficacy. As Fuller would likely acknowledge, the existence of a legal system is consistent with
considerable divergence from the principles of legality. Legal standards, for example, are
necessarily promulgated in general terms that inevitably give rise to problems of vagueness. And
officials all too often fail to administer the laws in a fair and even-handed manner even in the best
of legal systems. These divergences may always be prima facie objectionable, but they are
inconsistent with a legal system only when they render a legal system incapable of performing its
essential function of guiding behavior. Insofar as these principles are built into the existence
conditions for law, it is because they operate as efficacy conditions and not because they function
as moral ideals.


Ronald Dworkin's so-called third theory of law is best understood as a response to legal positivism,
which is essentially constituted by three theoretical commitments: the Social Fact Thesis, the
Conventionality Thesis, and the Separability Thesis. The Social Fact Thesis asserts it is a necessary
truth that legal validity is ultimately a function of certain kinds of social facts; the idea here is that
what ultimately explains the validity of a law is the presence of certain social facts, especially
formal promulgation by a legislature.

The Conventionality Thesis emphasizes law's conventional nature, claiming that the social facts
giving rise to legal validity are authoritative in virtue of a social convention. On this view, the
criteria that determine whether or not any given norm counts as a legal norm are binding because
of an implicit or explicit agreement among officials. Thus, for example, the U.S. Constitution is
authoritative in virtue of the conventional fact that it was formally ratified by all fifty states. The
Separability Thesis, at the most general level, simply denies naturalism's overlap Thesis; according
to the Separability Thesis, there is no conceptual overlap between the notions of law and morality.
As Hart more narrowly construes it, the Separability Thesis is "just the simple contention that it is
in no sense a necessary truth that laws reproduce or satisfy certain demands of morality, though in
fact they have often done so.

Dworkin rejects positivism's Social Fact Thesis on the ground that there are some legal standards
the authority of which cannot be explained in terms of social facts. In deciding hard cases, for
example, judges often invoke moral principles that Dworkin believes do not derive
their legal authority from the social criteria of legality contained in a rule of recognition.

In Riggs v. Palmer, for example, the court considered the question of whether a murderer could
take under the will of his victim. At the time the case was decided, neither the statutes nor the case
law governing wills expressly prohibited a murderer from taking under his victim's will. Despite
this, the court declined to award the defendant his gift under the will on the ground that it would
be wrong to allow him to profit from such a grievous wrong. On Dworkin's view, the court decided
the case by citing "the principle that no man may profit from his own wrong as a background
standard against which to read the statute of wills and in this way justified a new interpretation of
that statute.

On Dworkin's view, the Riggs court was not just reaching beyond the law to extralegal standards
when it considered this principle. For the Riggs judges would "rightfully" have been criticized had
they failed to consider this principle; if it were merely an extralegal standard, there would be no
rightful grounds to criticize a failure to consider it. Accordingly, Dworkin concludes that the best
explanation for the propriety of such criticism is that principles are part of the law.



At the heart of natural law theory is the idea that everything in existence has a nature which
gives everything in existence a purpose and goal in life, and that all these natures are related such
that everything in existence is in one way or another connected to other things in existence. This
idea makes natural law theory conflict with both atheism and agnosticism. Atheism denies the
existence of a Creator for the universe. This idea conflicts with natural law theory which holds that
the Creators existence has a purpose; the purpose is considered obvioussomething that is not
under the control of the things in existence. Natural law theory, therefore, holds that life must be
aligned with this purpose rather than secondarily adjusting purpose to life. The idea of a purpose
for lifewith the attribute that purpose dominates existence rather than existence dominating
purposecannot be rationally accepted without first accepting the existence of a Creator. Nothing
else can subject existence to a pre-defined purpose. It is the case, therefore, that he who denies
God must also deny that existence has a purpose; so, he must deny natural law theory in its entirety.

Furthermore, if relations do indeed exist between the things in existence, as natural law theory
effectively states, then all things in existence must have come into existence at the same time. And
how could all things have come to existence at the same time? For, in the case of the relations
between the things in existence, nothing could exist without the preexistence of its survival needs
in order to sustain it upon arrival. The atheist would argue that all things in existence evolved from
one original thing. This position seems to ignore, however, the observable fact that existence
consists not only of living things but also of non-living things. Obviously, there exist relationships
between the living and the non-living, such as the dependence on water and sunlight. Equally
obvious is the fact that the non-living things in existence cannot evolve. What the atheist must say,
therefore, is that both the living and the non-living came into existence at the exact same time with
perfect relations between one another, after which the living things evolved in perfect co-
ordination between themselves without there ever developing a conflict in the relations, and all
this by sheer coincidence! This is so utterly unimaginable that one must say he who denies God
must also deny the existence of relations between things; so, he must deny natural law theory in
its entirety.

While agnosticism accepts the existence of a Creator, it refuses to research His reality deeply
who He is, why He created creation, et cetera. This position can only be justified if one assumes
that He did not intend anything with His creation and has, since creation, completely disconnected
Himself from His creation, as if He does not care about how His creation proceeds in the existence
He has given. Natural law theory stands diametrically opposed to this view, as it claims existence
has a purpose. As explained, a purpose can only be given to existence by a Creator. The presence
of a purpose for creation therefore implies that the Creator did not disconnect from his Creation
after creating, as He set for it a course. Therefore, neither the atheist nor the agnostic can accept
natural law theorywhich, by the way, proves Grotius was wrong when he said, What we have
been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be
conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, or that the affairs of men are of no
concern to him. How strange it is, therefore, that western civilizationwhich refuses God to play
an active role in determining the life of man,today is the ideology of the atheists and the
agnosticsutilizes natural law theory.


As aforementioned, at the heart of natural law theory is the idea that everything in existence has a
nature which gives everything in existence a purpose and goal in life, and all these natures are
related in one way or another, such that everything in existence is somehow connected to other
things in existence. Specifically for the human being, natural law theory adds to this the idea that
the human mind is able to identify the way of life that makes man live in accordance with his
nature. Essentially, it says that if man applies his mind, he will find the natural way of life, and if
he then lives his life in accordance with his nature, then he will fulfill the purpose and goal of his
life; hence, he will experience happiness in life. Also explained earlier is why this is an implicit
acknowledgement of the existence of a Creatorpurpose and relations prove his existence

What natural law theory is effectively saying, therefore, is that the human mind can find the
purpose given to life by the Creator of life simply by looking at the natural inclinations of creation.
Clearly, this idea assumes that satisfaction of the natural inclinations of creation is the purpose
with which the Creator created existence. What is the proof for this? In the absence of revelation,
there is none. The assumption Because man has natural inclinations, it must be his purpose in life
to satisfy these inclinations is purely speculative. It can also be imagined that the Creator
intended some of the natural inclinations of creation to be a test for creationthat the Creator
really wants man to abstain from some of what he inclines to. This in turn means the natural law
theory does not have the ability to convince the mind becausebased on these assumptionsit
lacks a rational argument. Natural law theory can only be believed, then, as one would believe in
Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism. So, the truth of the matter is, if one accepts as fact the
existence of a Creator, then one must accept as fact that only the Creator knows with certainty
what He intended with His creation. That only He knows with certainty how He wants His creation
to proceed in its life. In the absence of a revelationas in, information flowing from the Creator
to creationcreation can only speculate about all this. Natural law theory is not internally
consistent, as its conclusion (the mind can determine natural law) is not lined with its implied
assumptions (there is a Creator who cares about creation).


If, for just a second, one were to ignore the fact that the human mind cannot determine the purpose
of life in the absence of revelation from the Creator, and just assume the human mind can determine
the purpose of life as the natural law theory claims, then it will be shown that the natural law theory
has very undesirable natural consequences.
The human mind is limited, namely. The human mind can only think about what has been
experienced by man, either directly or by means of reliable narration, for instance. This means that
at any moment in time other than at the end of it, the human mind will not be able to identify the
complete natural law. For, the complete natural law requires man to have experienced all that can
be experienced, and new experiences do not end until time ends. Until the end of time, therefore,
under the natural law theory, the law must follow the experiences of man. So what natural law
theory is really saying to humankind is, Get in trouble first, and then I will come to rescue
you. The guidance of natural law theory will leave man struggling with problems until the end
of time.

The minds of human beings are furthermore prone to disagreement because experiences differ
between humans, as well as their abilities to think. This means that never will there develop a
consensus about what the natural laws are. The guidance of natural law theory will, therefore, leave
man in perpetual conflict about what is correct.


Also to say that human laws which conflict with the Divine law are not binding, that is to say, are
not laws, is to talk stark nonsense. The most pernicious laws, and therefore those which are most
opposed to the will of God, have been and are continually enforced as laws by judicial tribunals.
Suppose an act innocuous, or positively beneficial, be prohibited by the sovereign under the
penalty of death; if I commit this act, I shall be tried and condemned, and if I object to the sentence,
that it is contrary to the law of God, who has commanded that human lawgivers shall not prohibit
acts which have no evil consequences, the Court of Justice will demonstrate the inconclusiveness
of my reasoning by hanging me up, in pursuance of the law of which I have impugned the validity.

As the fundamental and all-embracing obligation imposed upon man by the Creator, the natural
law is the one to which all his other obligations are attached. The duties imposed on us in
the supernatural law come home to us, because the natural law and its exponent, conscience, tell
us that, if God has vouchsafed to us a supernatural revelation with a series of precepts, we are
bound to accept and obey it. The natural law is the foundation of all human law inasmuch as it
ordains that man shall live in society, and society for its constitution requires the existence of an
authority, which shall possess the moral power necessary to control the members and direct them
to the common good. Human laws are valid and equitable only in so far as they correspond with,
and enforce or supplement the natural law; they are null and void when they conflict with it.

Logically, chronologically, and ontologically antecedent to all human society for which it
provides the indispensable basis, the natural or moral law is neitheras Hobbes, in anticipation of
the modern positivistic school, taughta product of social agreement or convention, nor a mere
congeries of the actions, customs, and ways of man, as claimed by the ethicists who, refusing to
acknowledge the First Cause as a Personality with whom one entertains personal relations, deprive
the law of its obligatory basis. It is a true law, for through it the Divine Mind imposes on the
subject minds of His rational creatures their obligations and prescribes their duties.