Contra Naturam


There’s a revival of interest in natural law, but while its adherents claim to hold the philosophic high ground, they’ve failed to recognize the doctrine’s weaknesses. Classical natural law holds that our moral requirements are rooted in the natural world and the instincts and preferences that form human nature. However, this runs afoul of the logical distinction between empirical and normative statements; and while other natural lawyers say they’ve avoided this problem, their “New Natural Law” implausibly asserts that rational self-interest will lead us to the good. It won’t, because rational self-interest can’t explain the duties we owe other people. As such, NNL doesn’t even count as a moral theory. Of whatever stripe, natural law theories have no place in legal debates.