An Essay on Natural Law

Human Nature provides the basis for morality, claims the theory of Natural Law. This is generally a theistic position; without deriving from a higher consciousness, it seems that Natural Law would have to be amoral.

It is interesting that there is any debate about where morality derives from at all, when morality pushes humanity to pursue and train themselves to act in a way that seems contrary to the instincts that often times benefit their own selves. A moral code would incline a person to take a smaller portion of food so that another human could have the larger; how does that benefit the first person on a carnal level? Without this moral code, the first person would act in a self-seeking way, because his most base instinct is to survive. So, the fact that somehow there is an ancient Law of Nature to be debated- the fact that we have this drive to ponder the philosophies that oftentimes push us to discomfort- seems odd- unless there really is something innate that as humans, we have been provided a code, beyond the carnal drives of survival and procreation, in which to strive.

That being said, I would argue that survival and procreation are too primal to even be considered when it comes to the “moral” aspect of the Law of Nature as they are closer to the carnal instincts of animals than of higher purpose; if this is the case, than contraception and homosexual activity are distracting to the argument. Suicide is self-murder and murder falls into the category of moral code. The person with the drive to end his own life should seek either a chemical remedy to fix his animal self, or he should explore his life and his purpose and attempt to dedicate his time to noble pursuits; if not to make himself happy, then to carry the rest of his life out to perpetuate good. But that’s not what I want to write about; the chapter wasn’t about suicide.

I’d like to now talk about David Hume’s argument: because morality cannot be proven in a conceptual or in an empirical way, then moral knowledge is impossible. Shafer-Landau then goes on to write, “If Hume is right, then no matter the number of descriptions (of heinous and violent actions) we pile on, logic will never tell us which moral conclusion to draw from this evidence.” This sparked a question: how is logic different than morality? Is logic empirical or conceptual? Is the fact that bachelors are unmarried males a statement of logic? No, it’s a material fact: a conceptual truth. It doesn’t need to be rationalized to be true. Is the fact that David Hume was never married a statement of logic? No; it’s an empirical truth. It doesn’t need to be rationalized to be true. Something can be logical without being moral, as can something be moral without being logical. However, they are both used to describe the ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ behind an action. We can take Shafer-Landau’s quote and modify the last bit of it to read, “Morality will never tell us which logical conclusion to draw from this evidence-” because the person who committed the violent action wasn’t acting morally. He may have had a logical reason for doing what he did, but would his reason be logical to another human? When he is taken to court, there will be two sides presented to a jury based on two different logical arguments. And yet, it isn’t logic that is the basis for the argument for the Law of Nature; it is morality. Pencils dropping is my go-to metaphor: if I drop a pencil, it will fall. To argue the material physics of the thing is pointless. Most arguments happen because people perceive things in a different way from one another; there are nuances behind human actions. If there are nuances, then human actions (though the actions themselves are physical) have a force behind them that is metaphysical, and it is the metaphysical nature behind the action that provokes its nature.

OK. So, there are two natures: our animal nature (which includes our drive to survive and procreate- amoral nature), and our higher (human) nature, which is where such drives beyond the instinct for survival are located. If the Law of Nature is correct, then these higher principles should be innate, however, the tendency to fall short of the Law of Nature is much more frequent than the inclination to act morally. In fact, it seems as if we must deliberately work to meet the Law of Nature; dare I even say, to reach for it! And yet, morality has engrained itself throughout our cultures and traditions, within our minds and our hearts, with such a strong grasp that here we are taking an Ethics course in the year 2021. This concept of morality has not gone away though out the course of human history and human evolution. We’ve become less hairy, there are babies born without wisdom teeth, and we still cling to this philosophy. How can the Law of Nature innately exist in a world where we, as humans, innately fail to meet its standards? The only explanation I can think of (although I would be open to a counter argument) is that, originally, we were, and still are, designed to meet its standards. Yes, I did say designed, by an ultimate creator, higher consciousness, prime mover, programmer. We were modeled to reflect the image of God. However, somewhere along the span of time, we fell. This Law of Nature is still within us, and it is still innate, but the Fall is innate as well. It happened, like a pencil dropping from the grasp of one’s fingers to the floor. Fortunately, unlike a pencil, we have life, so we can strive to reach and to climb; unless we find a way to cloud our eyes, we do have the ability to look up and see the Being whom we are to emulate. The moon is the moon, but only when it reflects the light of the sun are we able to clearly see it. When a person reaches for the Law of Nature to direct his actions, it is clear to others that he is doing so, unless they have hidden themselves deep in the shadows of the Cave.

Morality, and the lack there of, are both recognizable to an animal that is designed to meet the standards of morality, however, stray far enough into the Cave and even the reflections of light from the Cave’s mouth will fall to darkness. A man can do whatever he wants when he cannot see the Light; he becomes blinded to the higher reality of his actions within the cool and comfortable darkness of his own selfish instinct.

(based on Chapter 6 of The Fundamentals of Ethics by Russ Shafer-Landau)

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