Thomas Hobbes’s Natural Law Theory and its 19 Laws Explained Here

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Natural Law Theory

What is the natural law theory? Do man-made laws correspond to natural laws? Let’s find out all about this theory and how it correlates with man-made laws of the world…

The natural law theory is based upon what is believed to be the Cosmic law, commonly known as the law of Nature, which is the ultimate basis for governing and judging human conduct in relation to his interaction with all other Nature’s creatures, including his own species. As opposed to positive law (man-made law), there is no constitutional basis for natural law – the philosophy of natural law is founded upon the belief that all human beings are governed by natural laws pertaining to ethics and morals which are not legislated as such.

These are considered Nature’s lex non scripta – unwritten codes of law. The origins of the identification, interpretation and documentation of these natural laws can be traced back to ancient Greece where eminent Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Cicero and Zeno of Citium (founder of Stoicism) emphasized the existence and importance of the natural law theory of ethics and code of conduct.

To put it simply, this theory states that human reason, conscience and common sense should be used to judge fairness of one’s conduct and/or actions with relation to the consequences such conduct or action is likely to give rise to. As opposed to positive laws that are framed for and pertain to a specific political, social or religious community, the natural laws are not standardized and the application of these laws and their validity in a particular situation are decided solely on the basis of the instinctive judgment of the human conscience – what we generally refer to as the right thing to do.

Natural Law Theory Definition

When faced with the task of defining what natural law is’, we are often at a loss to specifically structure a precise definition. However, a standard definition of the theory of natural law should include the following points of observation under its jurisdiction:

  • Natural laws are Cosmic laws that are not made by humans.
  • These laws may not be specifically taught to us but are felt by all at a subconscious level, as if genetically programmed in our psyche. For instance, whether or not specified by law, we are all aware that murder is not fair!
  • These laws apply to all human beings at all times, irrespective of Nature imparted differences like gender and race or man-made categorizations like religion, region, culture, caste, creed, language, etc.
  • Natural laws are, as such, moral codes which we collectively know as the conscience. Anything which does not conform to these codes comes across as immoral or unfair and all human beings, possessing average intelligence and emotional quotients, when faced with the commission of such unfair acts suffer from what we call a guilty conscience, whether or not we admit it.
  • In ancient times, the validity and righteousness of the positive laws of some of the most glorious civilizations, such as the Greeks, were tested by pitching them against and comparing them with the natural laws. While drafting the laws of any nation, effort was always made to conform the positive laws as close to the natural laws as possible.

What are the Natural Laws?

Thomas Hobbes, a 16th century English philosopher, rose to wide acclaim owing to the documentation of what, as put down by him, the nineteen laws of Nature pertain to in his legendary treatises, Leviathan and De Cive. To put it in his own words, Hobbes observation of the natural law holds that it is “…a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or takes away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinks it may best be preserved.” The nineteen natural laws, as observed by Hobbes (most of them in his own words), are as follows:-

1. ….every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war.
2. …a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth, as for peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.
3. …men perform their covenants made.
4. …a man which receiveth benefit from another of mere grace, endeavor that he which giveth it, have no reasonable cause to repent him of his good will.

5. …every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest.
6. …upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offences past of them that repenting, desire it.
7. …in revenges, men look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow.
8. …no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of another.

9. …every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature.
10. …at the entrance into the conditions of peace, no man require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest.
11. …if a man be trusted to judge between man and man, that he deal equally between them.
12. …such things as cannot be divided, be enjoyed in common, if it can be; and if the quantity of the thing permit, without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have right.

13. …the entire right, or else…the first possession… of any object which …can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common… may be decided upon by a method of lottery.
14. …those things which cannot be enjoyed in common, nor divided, ought to be adjudged to the first possessor; and in some cases to the first born, as acquired by lot.
15. …all men that mediate peace be allowed safe conduct.
16. …they that are at controversie, submit their Right to the judgment of an Arbitrator.
17. …no man is a fit Arbitrator in his own cause.

18. It is immoral/ incorrect for any person to take upon the responsibility of a judge in any case in which greater profit, or honor, or pleasure apparently ariseth [for him] out of the victory of one party, than of the other.
19. In case of a dispute regarding the facts of the case, it is the duty of the judge to give equal weight to the testimony of both parties. In the absence of adequate evidence, such a judge should pass verdict on the case based upon the testimony of other witnesses.

This theory, as observed from the above discussion, is founded upon cosmic principles of right and wrong which are instinctively etched upon the human psyche at a sublime level of consciousness. Whether we are consciously told or not, we are always instinctively aware of whether we are doing the right things or doing things in the right way or not. This subliminal understanding and subconscious awareness of human ethics and cosmic fair play is what guides us in our decision between right and wrong, good and bad.

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