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Natural Law and Justice

Natural Law and Justice

Lloyd L. Weinreb

ISBN 9780674604261

Publication date: 03/01/1990

“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.

    —Cass R. Sunstein, University of Chicago


  • Lloyd L. Weinreb is Dane Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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