January 10, 2012

Natural Law: Cicero

Natural Law

The Roman philosopher Cicero, neither a Jew or Christian made many observations on natural law, and was often cited by the founding fathers in their writings.  The fundamental key point he espouses is that reason is unique to human beings and akin to the reasoning power of his Creator.  Animals do not share the same our reasoning capabilities.  Between man and other creatures there is a gigantic gap insofar as mental processes is concerned.

We make laws to inflict punishment and protect the good, but those laws we make are made in order to bring what we see in Nature in harmony with what Nature should be.  If that was not the case, and in fact we make law unto ourselves, why then do we not see laws that ordain what is bad such as rape, murder, stealing, etc?  Yes, we have had periods of time when laws have been passed that made such actions legal (ie Germany in WWII), but when history is taken as a whole, these periods of time are viewed by humans as evil and contrary to 'right reason.'

We constantly appeal to nature's law when we write our own laws, that is what Cicero is getting at.  Cicero further makes the point that Justice can never be achieved through laws that are passed in violation of standards set up under the laws of Nature. 

I would also say in concurrence with Cicero's observations that the conscience bears witness to that truth, that their is a natural law that governs the universe, which is why we feel guilt or shame when we do commit certain acts of violence. 

Cicero Quotes:
  • No un-just laws are passed:
“But if the principles of justice were founded on the decrees of peoples, the edicts of princes, or the decisions of judges, then Justice would sanction robbery and adultery and forgery of wills, in case these acts were approved by the votes or decrees of the populace. But if so great a power belongs to the decisions and decrees of fools that the laws of Nature can be changed by their votes, then why do they not ordain that what is bad and baneful shall be considered good and salutary? Or, if a law can make justice out of injustice, can it not also make good out of bad? 
  • Natural Law defined by Cicero:
    “The animal which we call man, endowed with foresight and quick intelligence, complex, keen, possessing memory, full of reason and prudence, has been given a certain distinguished status by the Supreme God who created him; for he is the only one among so many different kinds and varieties of living beings who has a share in reason and thought while all the rest are deprived of it. But what is more divine, I will not say in man only, but in all heaven and earth, than reason? And reason, when it is full grown and perfected, is rightly called wisdom. Therefore, since there is nothing better than reason, and since it exists both in man and God, the first common possession of man and God is reason. But those who have reason in common must also have right reason in common. And since right reason is Law, we must believe that men have Law also in common with the gods. Further, those who share Law must also share Justice; and those who share these are to be regarded as members of the same commonwealth. If indeed they obey the same authorities and powers, this is true in a far greater degree; but as a matter of fact they do obey this celestial system, the divine mind, and of the God of transcendent power. Hence we must now conceive of this whole universe as one commonwealth of which both gods and men are members.”
  • Cicero: True law=Natural Law
    "True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrong-doing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked. It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment."
    More Cicero quotes can be found at OurRepublic.
    Other Notions of Natural Law:
    Secular Humanistic Law
    Two significant assumptions undergird Humanistic legal theory. First, God does not exist therefore there is no transcendent, fixed moral standard or absolute source of rights. The basis of traditional theistic morality is an illusion and therefore harmful. Some humanists argue theistic based law is immoral because traditionally it represses man’s need to freely express himself.

    The second humanistic assumption is man is a perfectible, evolving, self-transforming animal. Because man is good, evil is the result of bad social constructs. Law is a tool whereby man can shape society and further man’s evolutionary progress. Man is perfectly capable of making up laws to regulate his civil relationships without reference to God.

    This legal philosophy was most clearly articulated by view jurist Oliver Wendell Holms, (March 8, 1841 – March 6, 1935) who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He writes, “I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand.”

    So, if we are merely evolved animals from whence do we get our rights? Humanists appeal to an evolutionary version of natural law theory. They assert there is one true morality that binds all mankind. Societal evolution can account for natural law, but it is an ever-evolving law. So, “common sense” must determine what constitutes natural law based on their results. This is called pragmatism.
    If men aren’t endowed with unalienable rights by the Creator whose “common sense” get’s to determine what are man’s rights and duties? Who gets to decide what works and doesn’t? Answer: The man/men with the power to back up their opinions with the barrel of a gun.

    Humanists argue legal theory is based entirely on human reason. This is called legal positivism. The authority for law and rights resides in the state. Thus the state becomes de facto God. Legal reality and truth are what the state decrees. Combine legal positivism with evolution and you get capricious, arbitrary laws. There is no authority above the state to which citizens can appeal when the state becomes tyrannical.

    New Age Humanism
    While New Age mystical humanists are more focused on inner subjective enlightenment, it has legal implications. Because all of reality is divine, man becomes the epicenter of all authority. There can be no outside imposition of law or restraint as that might inhibit man’s self-actualization as god. Each man is in effect his own god and source of his own self-law.

    As your inner awareness and enlightenment grows, any rules that you may have previously agreed to abide by may not be agreeable to you any more. To obey rules you disagree with is to deny your godhood. Man must do what feels right to him at the moment. Eventually, a sufficiently enlightened society will no longer need law. Reliance on God’s law is considered unenlightened. Because man is essentially good, outside laws restrict the full expression of man’s goodness and godhood.

    Islam has a very comprehensive, complex and detailed legal tradition that covers all of a Muslim’s life. Their system of law is called Sharia. Of forty-eight nations considered not free, twenty-five of them are Muslim. The world’s freest nations with the highest regard for human rights are those that have been impacted by Christianity. Islam denies non-Muslims equality and freedom. Muslim men enjoy special status over non-Muslim men and all women. Religious minorities are subjected to a special tax, if they are even allowed to exist. They deny original sin, so all men are capable of saving themselves by complying with Allah’s law.

    For more please see these summaries on law.

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