The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections

The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections

The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections

The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections

Synopsis

The tradition of natural law is one of the foundations of Western civilization. At its heart is the conviction that there is an objective and universal justice which transcends humanity¿s particular expressions of justice. It asserts that there are certain ways of behaving which are appropriate to humanity simply by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings. Recent political debates indicate that it is not a tradition that has gone unchallenged: in fact, the opposition is as old as the tradition itself. By distinguishing between philosophy and ideology, by recalling the historical adventures of natural law, and by reviewing the theoretical problems involved in the doctrine, Simon clarifies much of the confusion surrounding this perennial debate. He tackles the questions raised by the application of natural law with skill and honesty as he faces the difficulties of the subject. Simon warns against undue optimism in a revival of interest in natural law and insists that the study of natural law beings with the analysis of ¿the law of the land.¿ He writes not as a polemicist but as a philosopher, and he writes of natural law with the same force, conciseness, lucidity and simplicity which have distinguished all his other works.

Excerpt

It is civilization which makes life with other men in society tolerable and which provides individuals with the opportunities to realize their potentialities as human beings. Too often we are apt to take the achievement of civilized life for granted, to assume that what is will always be. Yet the forces of barbarism are always present both in man and in society and constantly threaten to undo the work of centuries. We were all appalled when the forces of barbarism took over the reins of political power in Germany, a nation famous for its civilized achievements in the realms of philosophy, music and art. Civilization there appeared to be but a thin veneer, its achievements swept aside in a moment of bestial passion. What happened there can happen anywhere for the forces of barbarism are as universal as man's civilized achievements. Indeed man himself embodies both potentialities.

What we know as Western civilization has many roots and a long history. Its achievements have been established in numerous institutions and habitual ways of acting. Yet tradition alone cannot guarantee its continued existence unless each generation understands that tradition and appropriates . . .

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