I will be comparing meanings of Natural law in accordance to two thinkers. I have chosen to use Thomas Hobbes (1651) and John Locke (1690). I will start firstly by giving a rough idea or definition of what Natural Law is and then bring in the Greeks perspectives of Natural Law using thinkers such as Augustine, Aristotle and last but not least Thomas Aquinas. After the introduction of the Greeks perspectives of Natural Law I will then be discussing Hobbes and Locke's beliefs for this matter and finally comparing both Hobbes and Locke's views.
Natural law theory is one of the most important theories in the philosophy of classical realism and is generally misinterpreted by many who dismissed it as a medieval relic. The idea began with the ancient Greeks understanding of a universe governed in every particular by eternal unchangeable law in their distinction between what is just by nature and just by convention. Natural law theory dates back to the time of the Greeks as I have mentioned earlier and great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle.
It is seen to be defined as the law which states that humans are in born with certain laws predetermined into them which allow them to determine the difference between right and wrong. With Aristotle there is less reference to natural law than to the distinction between natural and conventional natural law where 'natural' meant harmony with reason. He recognized the difference between things that were right or wrong in them and things that were merely right or wrong as means to other ends.
There are also leading explanations of natural law to be found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas; which contains the most comprehensive statement of Christian doctrine on natural law. In addition to the fact, that it is perceived that Christian philosophers modified Stoic natural law theory categorizing natural law with the law of God. The Stoics believed that a positive law that violates natural is not true law which Aquinas is seen to agree to.
Aquinas distinguishes between four categories of law, eternal law, natural law, divine law and humanly posited law, his definition of natural law speaks of involvement of eternal law in rational beings. In other words, since human beings are by nature rational beings it is morally appropriate that they should behave in a way that corresponds to their rational nature as a result Aquinas derives the moral law from the nature of human beings; therefore natural law.
The most important position adopted by Aquinas is that a law which fails to conform to natural or divine law is not a law at all, he did not make this statement but rather quoted Augustine "an unjust law is no law at all" suggesting that laws must be relatively just to be laws. In other words a law which fails to be consistent with natural or divine law is not a law at all.
What is distinctive about Aquinas' understanding of natural law is that it was neither exclusively juristic nor just a label for discussing natural order in human powers as well as he is not committed by his view that the basic principles of the natural law are obvious to asset that everyone has expressed these principles propositionally or that everything people say and believe about moral questions including moral principles is be found with them.
Finally Aquinas believes that laws which conflict with the needs of natural law lose their ownership to bind morally, in other words a government which abuses its authority by ratifying laws which are unjust surrenders it's right to be obeyed as it lacks moral authority. The first thinker I will be discussing is Thomas Hobbes. Firstly Hobbes is identified with his saying that life is solitary, poor, brutish, and nasty and short which in a way gives us a background on his view of life.
He is seen to adopt a fairly authoritarian philosophy which places order above justice, in other words he suggests that people are compelled to obey the sovereign and have no option to remove him whatever they the people think of his actions and beliefs. Hobbes' perspective of natural law is seen to be a teacher, as it teaches us the need for self preservation as law and government are required if we are to protect order and security. We therefore need by the social contract to surrender our natural freedom in order to create an orderly society.
In addition, Hobbes argued that the 'laws of nature' support unlimited rights of all against all in an imaginary pre civil society, which gives way to the complete absence of rights except for those that the sovereign allows in the civil state. "ones so called pre civil rights" however is simply the power that one actually has there being no question of rights or obligations of any kind at all in the state of nature, in other words natural law gave the citizen the right to turn down a sovereign who threatens their life but otherwise the citizens rights are unimportant since they cannot disobey under any other conditions.
According to Hobbes the first law of nature is peace, and then second comes the view that we mutually part ourselves from certain rights so to achieve peace. This mutual transferring of right is a contract and is the basis of moral duty in addition to the point that every act we perform is actually self serving; that is in his view an explanation of human action including morality must recognize our essential selfishness and our differences are never so great as to make some of us natural slaves and others natural masters in a state of nature, Locke also supports this conception of equality in "two treatises government".
Finally Hobbes concludes that we are in a natural state of a continuous war of all against all, where no morality exists and we all live in constant fear until this state of war ceases; everyone has a right to everything including another person's life. One may bring forward the view that it is clear why Hobbes does not endorse the natural law view, as to do so would be to say that the rulers power is limited by a set of natural apparently deontological rules which would make them the source of law rather than the sovereign's will.
However from his view humans can not establish a state in which the ruler is by all accounts bound by moral laws that command him irrespective of his desires not only because such laws do not exist but also because no law can rule humans without explanation by a human judge. Now I will be moving on to the second theorist John Locke who we are prone to think of as the exponent of social contract as well as the fact that he is seen to have referred repeatedly to natural law in traditional terms to support the weakest points in his argument.
There is the view that Thomas Locke's theory rests on an account of man's rights and obligations under god. According to John Locke human beings in the state of nature are free and equal yet insecure in their freedom as when they enter society they surrender only such rights that are necessary for their security and for the common good.
From Locke's perspective of the state, he argues that the state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens and when the government fails to preserve its citizens natural rights the citizens have the right and duty to withdraw their support and rebel; as for him it is only right and proper that the sovereign be removed if he loses the support of the people and sovereign can only claim legitimate power if the subjects are satisfied that the sovereigns actions are for the benefit of the whole common wealth.
Locke comes up with two important principles, the first being revolutionary nature. That is that when a government is unjust or authoritarian he -Locke- acknowledges the right of 'oppressed people' to 'resist tyranny' and overthrow the government. And secondly there is the attaches' considerable importance to man's right to property. That is that God owns the earth and has given it to us to enjoy, therefore, no right of property.
These principles suggest that Locke is hailed as the source of the idea of private ownership and criticized as the forefather of modern capitalism. According to Locke's perspective of Natural Law it is seen as the source of rights that limited the royal power, Locke did little more than declare that the creators' purpose is clearly the law of his creation. In other words natural law is what is obvious to any reasonable person.
Locke greatly believes that there is a natural law rooted and grounded in the reasonable nature of man; that is that there are natural rights existing in the virtue of such law among which the right of property in things with which men have mixed their labour is cardinal and finally there is a natural system of government under which all political power is a trust for the benefit of the people and the people are at once the creators and the beneficiaries of that trust.
Therefore over all Locke argues the view of equality, that is that the power and jurisdiction is shared and no one having more than another. In addition to the fact that he suggests that if one is to feel that he is able to take advantage of the law of nature which could also be his freedom then it is valid to come up with the assumption that everyone else may feel the same way and this could endanger sovereignty's power. Locke concludes that in a state of nature, one man comes by a power over another but yet no absolute or arbitrary power to use a criminal when he has got him in his hand.
In other words, beings in a state of natural law combined together to form or agree to a sovereign of power which should take control of harmony and peace and if the sovereign or power fails to do so then the people are most likely to rebel or no longer support that power. In contrast Locke is seen to reject Hobbes view that original state of nature was nasty, brutish and short and that individuals through a social contract surrender their rights to a supreme sovereign who was the source of all morality and law as social contract in his view preserved the natural rights to life, liberty and property and the enjoyment of private rights.
Unlike Locke Hobbes views natural law as a 'killer' as one is ready to do anything that is possible including fighting or war in order to be able to grip or keep hold of life. On the other hand Locke looks at it from a different perspective, his view is based more on one would rather grip on to what is available rather than lose it to move on to and another law if we are to lose the advantages of the natural law.
One may bring forward another concept that Hobbes view of a continual war with every man against every man and continual fear and danger of violent death was greatly a disagreement with Locke, as he has a different view of man being as naturally moral and would willingly contract into civil society is not to agitate his 'brutish' state but rather that he may develop peace and security in a more competent manner. That is that one gives away his power and freedom in favour of the state.
Over all there are agreements and disagreements between hobbes and locke. Firstly Hobbes views man as evil, while locke sees him in a more optimistic manner. However they both agree that all beings are equal according to natural law while on the other hand their ideas of natural law differ greatly. Firstly hobbes sees natural law as a state of war were everyman is an enemy to everyman as I had mentioned earlier while locke in contrast has a more optimistic view that the natural law is a state of eqaulity and freedom.
Here is where hobes and locke differ with their views of government as locke argues that government is necessary in order to preserve natural law in contrast to Hobbes who sees government as necessary in order to control natural law. Both Hobbes and Locke believe that because no one is superior mentally or physically to be able to establish leadership or ruler ship over everyone else without their cooperation.