“Human beings are a part of nature and apart from it.” The argument of Natural Law and Justice is that the philosophy of natural law and contemporary theories about the nature of justice are both efforts to make sense of the fundamental paradox of human experience: individual freedom and responsibility in a causally determined universe.
Lloyd Weinreb restores the original understanding of natural law as a philosophy about the place of humankind in nature. He traces the natural law tradition from its origins in Greek speculation through its classic Christian statement by Thomas Aquinas. He goes on to show how the social contract theorists adapted the idea of natural law to provide for political obligation in civil society and how the idea was transformed in Kant’s account of human freedom. He brings the historical narrative down to the present with a discussion of the contemporary debate between natural law and legal positivism, including particularly the natural law theories of Finnis, Richards, and Dworkin.
Weinreb then adopts the approach of modern political philosophy to develop the idea of justice as a union of the distinct ideas of desert and entitlement. He shows liberty and equality to be the political analogues of desert and entitlement and both pairs to be the normative equivalents of freedom and cause. In this part of the book, Weinreb considers the theories of justice of Rawls and Nozick as well as the communitarian theory of Maclntyre and Sandel.
The conclusion brings the debates about natural law and justice together, as parallel efforts to understand the human condition. This original contribution to legal philosophy will be especially appreciated by scholars, teachers, and students in the fields of political philosophy, legal philosophy, and the law generally.
Natural Law and Justice is an extraordinarily wide-ranging and penetrating analysis of the relationships among positivism, natural law, and contemporary discussions of equality, liberty, community, and free will. Current explorations of positivism and natural law tend to be narrow and sterile; Weinreb’s discussion places them in a much larger historical and theoretical context. A particular strength of the book is its range and historical sweep. It greatly deepens understanding of the many topics with which it deals… Most important, Natural Law and Justice gets to the foundations of contemporary discussion of both liberalism and communitarianism and natural law and positivism. For this reason, the book should be highly illuminating to all those interested in political theory, philosophy, and law. This is a remarkable achievement.
[Weinreb’s] mode of inquiry reminds one of Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being or Leo Strauss’s Natural Rights and History… The book is beautifully written…challenging and stimulating.
A very fine scholarly work, simultaneously enriching our understanding of the history of natural-law thinking and challenging us to join in a promising new departure… It asks us to move beyond the issues of citizen and state to those of human creativity and self-determination. Weinreb’s agenda is perceptive and his argument well reasoned. If justice is to be central to law rather than an external constraint on its operation, we must now examine how justice can be made central to ourselves and the relationships we form.
A fine contribution to legal philosophical literature… This volume is an excellent contribution to the literature that is concerned with transcending the positivists’ wall between law and justice.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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