Date of Award
Rev. Patrick Murray
In order to understand the problem of the natural law as it confronts us today, and to arrive at any solution or conclusion to this problem, one must first understand the essence of the natural law. Jacques Maritain describes the natural law as "an order or a disposition which human reason can discover and according to which the human will must act in order to attune itself to the necessary ends or the human being."
And, since all law had a religious character, in primitive cultures law was entrusted to priests ad religious judges. However, man soon realized that human law is mutable; different laws were observed by different peoples and in different places. Realizing that a law from the intellect of the supreme law giver would be immutable and that law, as he knew it, was continuously changing, man was forced to conclude that a difference exists between human and divine law. Human law had authority and was binding in conscience; therefore it must have a moral basis. Human reason demanded to know the source of law and the justification of its obedience to human law. This justification could not be based merely in human will, for if it were so based it would have no moral obligation of loyalty to conscience or reason. Therefore, we conclude, that underlying all positive law there is an idea of an eternal, immutable law set forth by an omniscient lawgiver. Should we deny the existence of this eternal law we are faced with either anarchy or positivism with its off-shoot materialism. The former denies all law and recognizes only the ego and self interest. The latter holds that there exists no source or unchangeable basis of positive or human law, and that law is gradually developed through environment, race interests, economic conditions, class struggles and the like. Anarchy and positivism cannot stand the criticism of reason seeking ultimate principles, thus we are forced to admit the existence of a natural law which is the basis of the validity and moral obligation of human law.
The world has possessed the idea of a natural law from very early Greek philosophical history and this idea was more clearly crystalized during the era of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Down through the ages erroneous theories have occasionally overshadowed this idea but today we are living in an era of the restoration of the true concept of the natural law to its rightful position of pre-eminence.
Hightower, Oliver, "Philosophy Of The Natural Moral Law" (1957). Philosophy Undergraduate Theses. 48.