The nature of law

Philosophica 23 (1):43-45 (1979)
Abstract
The stock of natural law has risen in recent years. It is partly due to growing dissatisfaction with the elucidations offered by the legal positivists, and partly because sceptical arguments have lost their edge. In the heyday of logical positivism it was easy to say ``I don't understand what you mean by `right' . . .'' and break off discussion without more ado; but, as the bounds of unintelligibility increased and came to encompass almost the whole of human knowledge, an inability to understand became not so much a boast as a confession. Many people may still be unclear about the metaphysical foundations of the moral sciences; but we are disinclined to doubt that they are serious disciplines, or to think that they need to be, or even could be, reconstructed without any moral element. Moreover, the events of this century have begun to penetrate the academic consciousness. Having witnessed the terrible tyrannies of the Nazis, the Communists and the Third World, we find it difficult to divorce our thinking about law from our thinking about morals. Although 'duty' is still an unfashionable word, people are constantly talking about the rights that are being denied them and the wrongs being inflicted on them. And these rights claimed and wrongs resented are grounded not on some existing legal enactment or a one-time social contract, but on the nature of man and the nature of the state, and are therefore, although very different from their mediaeval articulation, arguments of natural law.
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