Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Natural Law Lecture One

Philosophical Approach

The first lecture of Natural Law and Human Nature was good. Koterski starts this series off in an unusual, but effective, way. He presents three cases to show the history and importance of the natural law tradition. The first case is Sophocles’s Antigone. I am not going to recount the story, but essentially Antigone defies her king’s direct order not to bury her brother properly. In her defense, she cites a higher law above the king. She appeals to Zeus and to justice as overriding Crion's order.

Next, Koterski discusses the Nuremberg trials. He argues persuasively that the justices leading the trials had to make a kind of natural law appeal in order to try the Nazis. In part because of jurisdiction problems—how can a German by tried under British law for a crime not even committed in Britian—and in part, because German law under the Nazi’s made the actions on trial explicitly legal, the justices had to appeal to a higher law that transcends any sovereign state.

Lastly, Koterski discusses civil rights and Martin Luther King. MLK (and other civil rights activists before and after him) appealed explicitly to the natural law tradition in his defense of civil disobedience.

Given the range of time, culture, custom, and beliefs of these three stories, Koterski is trying to show us that natural law has a long and storied tradition that goes beyond any particular culture or even religious belief.

Koterski ends the first lecture with an appeal to philosophy. He tells us that this lecture series will subject the concepts of law, nature, and human nature to serious philosophical scrutiny. He tells us further that he is guided in his analysis by three philosophical ideas: objectivity, universality, and intelligibility. Objectivity in that he will try and appeal to evidence and argument in ways that are compelling and not mere subjective opinion. Universality in that he is aiming at a justification that applies to every kind of human being. Intelligibility in that these concepts should be ones that readily understandable.

The next lecture looks to be an overview of traditional ethical theories.

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