During most of this century, a distinct separation has existed between natural law perspectives and perspectives about the nature of law and about social choices that have dominated American law schools. One could find elaborations of natural law in Catholic law schools and periodicals, but these expressions exercised little influence on the mainstreams of legal thought. In the last two decades, non-Catholics have grown to realize that they have much to learn from natural law approaches, and natural lawyers have tried to enhance their own understandings by references to other perspectives. I am emboldened to proceed by my strong belief in the importance of this interchange, though I know I speak at a time of reexamination and turmoil within the Church over critical premises of Catholic morality, and my own grasp of natural law theory still is far from adequate.
I shall concentrate on three discrete subjects, involving different relationships between moral appraisal and legal norms. My first subject is the general justification defense in criminal law. Here, the main political choice involves the content of a particular legal norm. Natural law, at least in one traditional form, stands as a competitor to a pervasively utilitarian approach regarding the proper scope of such a defense. My second, more general, subject concerns the reasons that citizens and officials in a liberal democracy properly employ when they decide whether to support proposed laws and policies. Here, my inquiry is twofold. How would natural law approaches be treated under proposals that rational, secular morality should govern political choices? May natural law views properly be relied upon even if they have a distinctly religious tinge? My third subject is the citizen's political decision whether to obey the law. Here the issue is whether natural law offers a convincing account of the reasons and extent of a citizen's duty to obey.
The two dominant questions about natural law thinking that underlie these three subjects are how far it provides a convincing alternative to consequentialist evaluations of moral choice and how far it is sustainable independent of particular religious premises.
Law | Natural Law
Natural Law and Political Choice: The General Justification Defense – Criteria for Political Action and the Duty to Obey the Law,
Cath. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/3809