Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays

Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays

Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays

Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays


Natural law theory is enjoying a revival of interest in a variety of scholarly disciplines including law, philosophy, political science, and theology and religious studies. This volume presents twelve original essays by leading natural law theorists and their critics. The contributors discuss natural law theories of morality, law and legal reasoning, politics, and the rule of law. Readers get a clear sense of the wide diversity of viewpoints represented among contemporary theorists, and an opportunity to evaluate the arguments and counterarguments exchanged in the current debates between natural law theorists and their critics. Contributors include Hadley Arkes, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., John Finnis, Robert P. George, Russell Hittinger, Neil MacCormick, Michael Moore, Jeffrey Stout, Joseph Raz, Jeremy Waldron, Lloyd Weinreb, and Ernest Weinrib.


Not long ago the editor of a collection of essays on natural law theory might have introduced the volume with a lugubrious disquisition on the failure of scholars in secular academic institutions to grasp the contemporary relevance of the idea of natural law. In view of the broad revival of interest in natural law theory among mainstream legal, political, and moral philosophers, however, the editor of the current volume is hardly in a position to portray himself as 'a voice crying in the wilderness'. As much as the role appeals to him, he shall let the reader be spared.

One finds a remarkable assortment of natural law theories on offer in today's market-place of ideas. There are 'liberal' and 'conservative' as well as 'procedural' and 'substantive' theories of natural law. Some theories fit comfortably into the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, others are related to that tradition only remotely, if at all. Some natural law theorists propose to identify basic principles of practical reasoning and morality and to derive from these principles norms to guide the decisions of legislators and, in some cases, judges. Others seek to guide legal interpretation, reasoning, and adjudication on the basis of a putatively necessary connection between law (or legality) and morality.

The essays presented herein will convey an idea of the diversity of contemporary natural law theories. In an essay entitled 'Natural Law and Rights', Lloyd Weinreb argues that rights have a special significance in legal and political theory in view of the central problematic of natural law that he identified in Natural Law and Justice (1987). The reader will discover, however, that Weinreb's conception of natural law has little in common with John Finnis's understanding of natural law, as presented, for example, in 'Natural Law and Legal Reasoning' or Michael Moore's understanding, as set forth in 'Law as a Functional Kind'. Critics who reject 'natural law' in Weinreb's sense may accept the idea in Finnis's or Moore's sense--and vice versa.

At the same time, the implications for legal reasoning and judicial practice of Finnis's account of natural law are consider-

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