Tuesday, October 25, 2011
On Natural Law
Brief excerpt from Arkes' piece on the symposium held this last weekend.
What has been strangely lost among certain Catholic jurists and lawyers is that the natural law finds its ground in “the laws of reason,” not in appeals to faith or “belief” or woolly sentiment. Anyone tutored in those laws of reason may be able to explain then that, from a person’s height or weight or color, or from his disabilities, such as deafness, we cannot draw any moral inferences as to whether we are dealing with a good or a bad man, who should be welcomed or shunned. One may be able then to explain why it could never be right to withdraw medical care from a patient afflicted with deafness or Down’s syndrome on the grounds that he has a diminished life “not worth living.” Judges often find themselves leaning on the canons of reason in this way, but with little awareness that they are “doing” natural law.
At the time of the American Founding, Alexander Hamilton thought it critical to reject the argument of Thomas Hobbes that all morality is conventional; that until laws are made, there can be no clear sense of right and wrong. What Hobbes rejected, said Hamilton, was the existence of that “superintending principle,” that God who is the source of “an eternal and immutable law, which is. . .obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.” Even when governments break down, there is no “right” to rape or murder or commit any other wrongs, as though there was no right and wrong without the law.