November 02, 2013

Organic Morality.

The natural law theory: the ‘intimate and necessary relationship between the law and a set of objective standards external to the law itself.’[1]  It can be quite difficult to identify these extrinsic standards, considering that in order for them to be natural traits within any given person, they should be objective, universal and unchanging.[2]  Proposals of these extrinsic standards have been put forward throughout history, and include things such as the laws of God, the laws of nature, the principles of justice, moral values, fundamental human rights, and ‘basic goods’.[3]

While different philosophers have different theories of where these extrinsic standards originate, there is one area in particular that stoked interest for me.  The Italian philosopher and theologian St Thomas Aquinas suggests that: ‘a well-made positive law is ultimately derived from the law of God and commands obedience accordingly.’[4]

I think that you may be able to see where I am heading.  I was surprised that some theories of natural law (or the ‘set of objective standards external to the law’) are unavoidably connected to religion, and the concept that some people often perceive religion as the moral compass of humanity.  This concept then raised the question for me: does morality depend on religion?  I understand that there are bounteous arguments for this question, and I do not think that it will ever have an answer that is universally agreed upon.  But, I would like to share a few points with you.

I watched this video ( recently, and if anyone has a spare 13 minutes or so, I implore you to take a look.  It discusses tests that are being conducted at Yale University in the ‘baby lab’ in regards to the morality of babies, and raises the question: are we born with an innate sense of justice?  When answering this question, it is important to bear in mind that a baby’s personal sense of justice has not yet been influenced by anything external to it's own genetics.  If a baby is found to have a sense of justice, it could well be argued to be the most natural and basic form of human justice.

Follow on questions to this topic for me include:  Where does this justice originate?  Is it part of an intelligent design?  Or is it a product of our evolution as a socially reliant species?  But, I guess these are questions for another time - and a whole other argument.

The New Lawyer stated, ‘[a]ccording to most natural law theorists, the natural law is discoverable by human reason’.[5]  This suggests that humans apply consequential ethics by analysing the consequences of their actions and using sound and logical reasoning, before making decisions.  According to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, ‘natural law is how a rational human being seeking to survive and prosper would act’.[6]  Like the babies in the Yale baby lab, it can be suggested that we have an instinctive nature to preference the non-threatening over the threatening, and to serve both justice and punishment where it is earned, essentially to survive.  Saying this though, I agree with the idea that ‘[e]verything about human experience suggests that love is more conducive to happiness than hate is.’[7]

We are so fortunate to live in a country where religious freedom is a constitutional right.  Further, we are part of a nation that is also balanced with the uprising of a secular society that makes room for new evidence and theories.  While there are persuasive arguments for the positive aspects that religion has had on the development of humanity's morality, I believe that it does not depend upon religious teachings.

I really hope that I get to look at jurisprudence in a whole lot more depth through out the course of my studies.

[1] Nikolas James and Rachael Field, The New Lawyer (John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd, 2013) 54.
[2] Ibid 58.
[3] Ibid 55.
[4] Ibid 57.
[5] Ibid 55.
[6] Ibid 57.
[7] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (Bantam Press, 2007) 24.