Social Movements and Public Interest Litigation Groups
Throughout history, there has been tension between our adherence to either positive law or natural law. A not uncommon reason for conflict among men and nations has been that one participant in the conflict enacted a written norm or customary practice, or relied on conventional law in undertaking certain actions, with unjust results. In spite of the argument that the actor's activities conformed with "conventional" or "positive" law, consisting of prevailing laws, norms, or practices, these activities seemed to violate a higher moral law, or our innate "natural law" precepts, which originate either from our ability to reason or from revelations from God.
Early philosophers were aware of the dichotomy between natural law and positive law. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, makes a distinction between justice that is natural and justice that is conventional. Conventional justice consists of written norms that are established by the members of a political society largely due to necessity. Natural justice, however, consists of rules that are common among all people according to nature and are perceived though unwritten, as each person carries within him a conception of justice ( Edwards 1981).
Plato further articulated the notion of natural law as immutable and derived from the order of nature. Natural law precepts are aimed at attaining ultimate goodness. We may find harmony and justice only if we live in conformity with the truths of nature ( Edwards 1981). In The Commonwealth, Cicero followed