Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law

Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law

Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law

Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law

Synopsis

One of the central problems in the history of moral and political philosophy since antiquity has been to explain how human society and its civil institutions came into being. In attempting to solve this problem philosophers developed the idea of natural law, which for many centuries was used to describe the system of fundamental, rational principles presumed universally to govern human behavior in society. By the eighteenth century the doctrine of natural law had engendered the related doctrine of natural rights, which gained reinforcement most famously in the American and French revolutions. According to this view, human society arose through the association of individuals who might have chosen to live alone in scattered isolation and who, in coming together, were regarded as entering into a social contract.

In this important early essay, first published in English in this definitive translation in 1975 and now returned to print, Hegel utterly rejects the notion that society is purposely formed by voluntary association. Indeed, he goes further than this, asserting in effect that the laws brought about in various countries in response to force, accident, and deliberation are far more fundamental than any law of nature supposed to be valid always and everywhere. In expounding his view Hegel not only dispenses with the empiricist explanations of Hobbes, Hume, and others but also, at the heart of this work, offers an extended critique of the so-called formalist positions of Kant and Fichte.

Excerpt

Perhaps no other philosopher poses greater difficulties for his readers or promises greater rewards for diligent study than Hegel. in writing of the dividends to be derived from the “supreme thought-treasure” of Hegel’s works, John N. Findlay has rightly praised Hegel’s “stock of invaluable methodological principles by which one’s own thought may be guided.”

Among these principles is Hegel’s concern to preserve the unity of thought and reality, his concern to avoid the bifurcation of the abstract and the concrete, the ideal and the actual. Hegel’s thought exemplifies a singleminded concern to avoid what Whitehead later would call “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” Acutely aware of the philosophical and scientific tendencies to ignore the level of abstraction involved in our description of things, our habit of accepting some reduced and thereby distorted account of the object of thought in lieu of a genuine explanation, Hegel was concerned to comprehend—that is, to transcend a merely manipulative understanding of the world. He was contemptuous of accounts of the world that are merely possible, or that are incomplete and arbitrary descriptions of parts of the world distorted by isolation. He insisted on a philosophical account that could claim to be more than arbitrary, exhaustively concrete, and absolute in its comprehensive interrelatedness.

Nowhere are these central concerns more clearly evidenced in brief scope than in Hegel’s essay on Natural Law. Appearing at the very beginning of Hegel’s prolific philosophical life, this essay provides a useful prologue, both in content and in methodology (which are for Hegel quite inseparable), to what follows. in this early essay are readily apparent Hegel’s demonstration of the . . .

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