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Natural law is a theory of ethics, a theory of politics, religious morality, and civil law. The theory of natural law in terms of ethics can be applied to law, religion, and politics. In essence, natural law is determined by the universe, or human nature. It is most often referred to as the rules which guide moral behavior. Positive law is considered man made while natural law is that which is determined by nature. As such, natural law is a major component of critiquing positive law. Positive cannot be created or known without the foundation of natural law. As such, natural law can be used to determine legal statutes under natural rights or natural justice.
Natural law states that certain rights are universally recognized by human nature. English common law, for example, has been greatly affected by natural law thanks to philosophers of the time including Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Natural law plays a large role within natural rights and is a major component of the Declaration of Independence as well as the United States Constitution. Aristotle emphasizes the difference between nature and law. Law can vary in its command from place to place while nature remains the same in all places. As such, the law of nature was posed as a form of natural justice. Aristotle was said to be the father of natural law (Shellens, 1959, p. 77). Aristotle posits that natural justice is a subsidiary of political justice which should be established within a political community. Socrates argued that law is merely a matter of contract which binds those states men to their duty and to justice.
Machiavelli argued that virtu’, even whilst occupying the role of a statesman, is circumstantial; that the best or just action might be considered unjust but is still serving the best interests. Machiavelli was a Western philosopher who was influenced by Greek philosophers such as Plato. Nonetheless, Machiavelli often argues against the philosophy of Plato. Plato believed in rulers who would rule based in moral virtue, which is defined by natural law or rather, guided by natural law. Machiavelli, conversely, believes in what he deemed “virtu” and suggested that what should be done is whatever was in the best interest of this, natural law aside.
Plato speaks of the orderly universe in which we live. In The Republic, Plato suggested that ethics and politics overlapped in terms of their essential features and were, more or less, the same. He did not distinguish between public life and private life, as we do today. No private life was ever kept from the public during his time.
During the time of Machiavelli, the reason for the state was to serve the people, not for the people to serve the state. Machiavelli believed that a ruler’s only purpose was making war and protecting citizens from other states’ attacks. This would mean only protecting the natural rights of the citizens of the country, even if it came at the cost of violating the natural rights of other citizens from another country. As such, a ruler was justified in acting in whatever fashion was necessary to maintain the country, even if said act was unjust. Plato argued that a ruler could never be unjust and could never violate natural law.
Plato is against the ruler who rules based only on might, as seen in The Republic, and supportive of the idea of natural law or natural human rights. Socrates remained bound by an interest in ethics and natural law. He stated that knowledge gained by an individual is what makes for a good life. Knowledge is strongly identified as virtue. Thereby, if a person can obtain knowledge he or she can also obtain virtue and as such, one can teach virtue, particularly one who is in a position of authority as a leader. Knowledge of natural law would lead to an understanding that certain rights and justices are as natural as human nature and the universe and a continued education in such theory would show leaders and individuals involved in government that these were to remain as such. This creates a foundation for any political and economic system. Since the notion of private and public life being separate entities was not a popular one, Socrates stated that a person must seek knowledge prior to seeking private interests because knowledge served as the only path to making decisions concurrent with natural law.
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