Law serves a variety of functions. Laws against crimes, for example, help to maintain a peaceful, orderly, relatively stable society. Courts contribute to social stability by resolving disputes in a civilized fashion. Property and contract laws facilitate business activities and private planning. Laws limiting the powers of government help to provide some degree of freedom that would not otherwise be possible. Law has also been used as a mechanism for social change; for instance, at various times laws have been passed to inhibit social discrimination and to improve the quality of individual life in matters of health, education, and welfare.
Law is not completely a matter of human enactment; it also includes natural law. The best-known version of this view, that God 's law is supreme, has had considerable influence in many Western societies. The civil rights movement, for example, was at least partially inspired by the belief in natural law. Such a belief seems implicit in the view that law should serve to promote human dignity, as for instance by the enforcement of equal rights for all.
Natural Law, in ethical philosophy, theology, law, and social theory, a set of principles, based on what are assumed to be the permanent characteristics of human nature, that can serve as a standard for evaluating conduct and civil laws. Natural law is considered fundamentally unchanging and universally applicable. Thus, natural law may be considered an ideal to which humanity aspires or a general fact, the way human beings usually act. Natural law is contrasted with positive law, the enactments of civil society.
Probably the most famous of the ancient God-giving code, however, is that found in the first five books of the Bible, the laws of Moses. The heart of this code is the Ten Commandments presented by Moses to the people of Israel. These commandments are the basic summary of all moral law designed to regulate the behavior of individuals with regard to each other.
The Ten Commandments
The ancient Greek philosophers were the first to elaborate a doctrine of natural law. In the 6th century BC, Heraclitus spoke of a common wisdom that pervades the whole universe, “for all human laws are nourished by one, the divine”. Aristotle distinguished between two kinds of justice: “A rule of justice is natural that has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting it or not; a rule is legal [conventional] that in the first instance may be settled in one way or the other indifferently. ” The Stoics, especially the philosopher Chrysippus of Soli, constructed a systematic natural law theory. According to Stoicism, the whole cosmos is rationally ordered by an active principle, the Logos, variously named God, mind, or fate. Every individual nature is part of the cosmos. To live virtuously means to live in accord with one 's nature, to live according to reason. Because passion and emotion are considered irrational movements of the soul, the wise individual seeks to eradicate the passions and consciously embrace the rational life. This doctrine was popularized among the Romans by the 1st-century BC orator Cicero, who gave a famous definition of natural law in his De Republica: “True law is right reason in agreement with Nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. . . There will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and for all times.” In the Corpus Juris Civilis a compilation and codification of Roman legal material prepared in 534 under Emperor Justinian I, a jus naturale is acknowledged.
Christians found the natural law doctrine of the Stoics quite compatible with their beliefs. St Paul spoke of Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law doing “by nature what the law requires” (Romans 2:14).
The teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the natural law is the most widely known. In his Summa Theologiae (Summary Treatise of Theology, 1265-1273) Aquinas called the rational guidance of creation by God the “Eternal Law”. The Eternal Law gives all beings the inclination to those actions and aims that are proper to them. Thus, according to Aquinas, it is possible to distinguish good from evil by the natural light of reason.
The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius is considered the founder of the modern theory of natural law. The German jurist Samuel von Pufendorf, the first to hold a chair of natural law in a German university, more fully developed the concept of a law of nature. The 17th-century English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke proposed an original state of nature from which a social contract arose and combined this theory with that of natural law.