Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy

By A. P. d'entrèves | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
A RATIONAL FOUNDATION OF ETHICS

"MANKIND is ruled by two laws: Natural Law and Custom. Natural Law is that which is contained in the Scriptures and the Gospel." These words are taken from another great law-book, the authority of which for a time evenly balanced that of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. They form the opening paragraph of the Decretum Gratiani (ca. 1140), the oldest collectio of Church law embodied in the Corpus Iuris Canonici.1 They provide the best introduction to the medieval conception of the law of nature.

Once again that ancient notion was called to play a capital role in the history of thought. In the hands of professional philosophers it became the corner-stone of a complete system of ethics. But that remarkable achievement would probably not have been possible had not the notion of natural law undergone a thorough transformation. The lawyers of the Church-- the Canonists--stand out among medieval lawyers for the freedom and daring with which they recast the whole problem of law and morals. They gave natural law an unprecedented coherence, clearness and force. Canon law has been said, and correctly, to constitute the principal vehicle, in the Middle Ages, of the doctrine of the law of nature2

____________________
1
Corpus Iuris Canonici was the name adopted by the Council of Basle in 1441 to indicate several collections of Church laws of which the first-- the Concordia discordantium Canonum--is reminiscent of the Digest, the others of the Code. The Concordia, or as it is usually called the Decretum Gratiani, was the work of an Italian monk, Gratian, who was active in Bologna, the great medieval centre of law studies, in the first half of the twelfth century.
2
This, according to Sir Frederick Pollock, is the explanation of the fact that the doctrine of natural law was never popular among English lawyers. In Anglia minus curatur de iure naturali quam in aliqua regione de mundo, wrote an early commentator of Bracton. For a further discussion of the relationship between the law of nature and the Common law, see Sir W. HOLDSWORTH, A History of English Law, Vol. II, App. ii..

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Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Foreword 5
  • Introduction 7
  • Chapter I - A Universal System of Laws 17
  • Chapter II - A Rational Foundation of Ethics 33
  • Chapter III - A Theory of Natural Rights 48
  • Chapter IV - The Essence of Law 64
  • Chapter V - Law and Morals 80
  • Chapter VI - The Ideal Law 95
  • Conclusion 113
  • Index 123
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