After reading about and discussing the Theory of Natural Law in class, I find myself encountering several problems with the idea of Natural Law as an applicable standard for human morality and as a basis for positive law:
1. A integral theme within the Theory of Natural Law is that not only does nature demonstrate how things ARE, it also demonstrates how they OUGHT TO BE. Things operate morally if they are serving their natural purpose. When things can’t serve their purpose, something is wrong. This concept is supposed to apply to human conduct. Some ways of acting are “natural,” and these are morally good; on the other hand, “unnatural” ways of acting are morally bad.
So, for example, people should help their neighbors because they are naturally inclined to be beneficent. Not only are we morally inclined to, we are morally obligated to because of this inclination. Someone who doesn’t care for others is seen as messed up in some way because he or she is going against the natural law that humans should care for one another. Perhaps more controversially, sex for any reason other than making babies should be considered wrong under Natural Law because it doesn’t work to serve its natural purpose; it falls under the category of “unnatural,” making it morally wrong under Natural Law.
However, Natural Law encounters problems in its confusion of is and ought to be. Using the fundamentals of logic, these two terms operate in different manners, and one can’t be used to draw the other as a conclusion. Just because people are naturally inclined to help others doesn’t necessitate that they ought to. Just because sex produces babies doesn’t necessitate that it only be used for that purpose. Facts and values don’t translate.
2. The Theory of Natural Law doesn’t align well with modern notions of science and the nature of the world. Scientific thought has no place for “facts” about morality. When science explains nature, it makes no reference to purpose or value. What happens happens purely out of cause-and-effect. Modern society, secular and scientific, is likely to find the notion of Natural Law outdated and unrealistic.
3. Natural Law relies on people using their reason to determine what is morally right. However, it doesn’t seem that this is an easy task, nor a realistic expectation for much of society. For thousands of years, slavery was accepted as natural, morally accepted practice. It took thousands of years for enough people to employ their reason well enough to determine that slavery didn’t align with the natural moral code of humanity. This history of atrocious standards of morality throughout society means that either humans aren’t very well-equipped to determine natural law, or that natural law as a concrete, foundational basis for human morality doesn’t exist.
Encountering just these initial issues with Natural Law, I find it difficult to imagine it being an applicable source of judging and creating positive law. Though it’s impossible to deny the importance of morality within a legal system, I’m simply unconvinced Natural Law is the ultimate source of the morals all people should accept and try to emulate, especially when used as a basis for law.