Friday, February 11, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Nine

Biblical Views of Nature and Law

In this lecture, Koterski discusses some of the religious roots of natural law and the development within religious thinking of the ideas of law, nature, and the connections between the two.

He starts with a discussion based on the Jewish Bible and the importance placed on B’rith or covenant. The theme of a covenant between God and man is one that recurs through out the Jewish Bible. There is the covenant with Adam, then with Noah, then with Abraham, Moses, and King David. Also, Koterski mentions Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant to come that Christians take to refer to Jesus.

This theme of the covenant is important because it sets the terms for the relationship between God and man, and this relationship is one of laws. God commands man to take certain actions and to avoid others, and this is the law. It defines the relationship of God as the sovereign and man as the subject.

In a section that is rather unconvincing, Koterski attempts to find a relationship between this divine command theory of law and the natural law tradition. In natural law, the law is discovered through reasoning and reflection but the divine command is primarily revelation. Koterski argues that natural law will hit upon similar commands. Also, he argues that one can see a kind of inchoate natural kinds theory in the bible when it lays out the distinctions and classification of the creatures.

Next, the wisdom literature is discussed. The most philosophical part of the bible, Koterski argues that it largely deals with the problem of evil and the relationship between goodness and reward/wickedness and punishment. It seems as though overtime the covenants between God and his people changed regarding this relationship of reward and punishment. Under the original covenant with Adam, wrong actions saw immediate punishment. But after Noah, this connection was weakened, and this literature seeks to understand why it was weakened – to allow for human freedom, develop character, etc. – and to show how to act properly even if the connection between the consequences and one’s action is no longer clear.

The relationship to natural law comes in that some of the explanations appear to make an appeal to nature. The claim is that God uses nature to aid his people in coming to see right and wrong, and to cultivate real goodness and justice.

Lastly, we turn to the New Testament and St. Paul. In his Letter to the Romans, we can begin to see more explicit appeals to nature as well as the influence of Stoic thinking. For instance, Paul claims that those who haven’t received the revelation of God’s laws are still responsible for them because God’s will and laws can be known through reflection on the world and nature. One can see what is natural and unnatural, and therefore come to know what is right and what is wrong.


Faust said...

Does you think that natural law is something other than Platonism?

Shawn Klein said...

It is far from clear that natural law is even a little Platonic--assuming you mean something along the lines of an idea contained in Plato's philosophic system. Plato predates the articulation of the natural law tradition.