Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King and Natural Law

Inside Catholic's Ronald J. Rychlak calls his Letter from Birmingham Jail "one of the finest modern appeals to natural law" — Natural Law from a Birmingham Jail — while George Donnelly writes, "People must recognize the difference between natural law and statutes passed by mere men – and act accordingly" — Celebrate MLK Day: Disobey an Unjust Law.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Robbie George wrote a very good law review article on King's natural law theory and his appeal to a transcendent moral authority to bolster his commitment to non-violent civil rights protesting.

6:36 AM  
OpenID haraldhardrada said...

Segregation was once considered natural law as well.

Just what is natural law?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Read King's Letter from a Birmingham City Jail and find out! He sets out a pretty good summary of natural law thinking in the letter.

2:03 PM  
OpenID haraldhardrada said...

"Read King's Letter from a Birmingham City Jail and find out!"

I know what MLK Jr.'s ideas are. That's not what I asked. I asked why should I accept his definition of natural law rather than someone else's?

Did segregationists not consider their bigotry "natural law" as well? What makes claims about "natural law" better than someone's say-so?

PS - The blog author's traditionalism makes it seem more likely that he would be a racist in earlier days than I would.

4:19 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

What makes claims about 'natural law' better than someone's say-so?"

Your human faculty for reasoning.

"The blog author's traditionalism makes it seem more likely that he would be a racist in earlier days than I would."

I invite you to learn about the School of Salamanca, whose "conclusion was, given that all humans share the same nature, they also share the same rights to life and liberty."

6:30 PM  
OpenID haraldhardrada said...

"Your human faculty for reasoning."

Humans vary rather widely in their capacity for different forms of reasoning. Furthermore, most people systematically violate normative standards of reasoning and decision making. Even experts have fallen prey to the things like the Allais paradox.

And the majority of people even struggle with modi ponens et tollens.

"I invite you to learn about the School of Salamanca"

The ideas of these individuals would be noxious to other self-proclaimed natural lawyers.

You haven't advanced your argument at all.

4:33 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

"Humans vary rather widely in their capacity for different forms of reasoning."

Of course. Reason is not fool-proof. But just as unaided reason can lead one to knowledge of the existence of God, reason can lead one to an understanding of human nature, if imperfect.

"The ideas of these individuals would be noxious to other self-proclaimed natural lawyers."

We are not talking about "self-proclaimed natural lawyers," but about a Natural Law tradition as articulated from Aristotle, through Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, the School of Salamanca, down to our present day, a pillar of Western Civilization.

This same Natural Law tradition has served as the basis for dialogue between the Catholic Church and other world religions and civilizations for some time. One need only look at the work of this blog's namesake in China, the Kristapurana in India, Fray Bartolme de las Casas in the Indies, or today's cooperation at the UN between the Vatican and the Islamic Republic or Iran. We might even say it began with the Apostle Paul's speech on the Areopagus.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Tiago said...

haraldhardrada:

Read up on history and ethnology; you will find that there are a few precepts which are held by most societies: respect for life of its citizens, at least, the institution of marriage, a taboo on stealing, prohibition against homosexuality, principles of fair arbitration, etc. Of those, perhaps only one precept which is widely found does not belong to natural law, which is disdain and hatred of foreigners -- this comes from sin and fear of what is different.

No society is a perfect example of natural law, but by looking at these averages, you can get a pretty good grasp of what precepts compose natural law. This is what you were asking, was it not?

11:30 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Well said, Tiago. Interesting that this "one precept which is widely found [that] does not belong to natural law, which is disdain and hatred of foreigners," is also condemned in the Old Testament.

12:13 AM  
OpenID haraldhardrada said...

"Of those, perhaps only one precept which is widely found does not belong to natural law, which is disdain and hatred of foreigners -- this comes from sin and fear of what is different."

Nice non-falsifiable statement.

"No society is a perfect example of natural law, but by looking at these averages, you can get a pretty good grasp of what precepts compose natural law."

Argumentum ad populum / naturalistic fallacy. I'm not impressed.

7:34 AM  

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