Edited by Anna Grear and Evadne Grant
Chapter 4: Radicalism and conservatism in environmental law
The nature of law has long been a central question of the Western philosophical tradition. For much of its history, the question formed part of a broader inquiry into the human condition, and the means by which human beings, through collective effort, might realize a good and virtuous form of life. With the introduction of Christianity into Europe, these inquiries took on a different significance. Natural law theories sought to explain the entire basis of governance and law through contemplation of a divinely created natural order of which human beings are but one part. It is often remarked that the present appetite for human rights is explicable by the need to fill the gap left behind by the departure of natural law ideas in the West: that human rights doctrines are the pale, secularized echo of no-longer-held beliefs in a normative order immanent in nature. But the natural law theories of the major Christian writers centred upon ontological questions concerning the fundamental nature of being in the cosmos, rather than merely seeking to describe the content of an objective morality. For Augustine and Aquinas, and their intellectual heirs, questions of morality were to be derived from the inquiry into reality and being, not separated from it. Eventually, the attempt to ground the structure and content of law and government in broader credal positions was to collapse in the face of the fragmentation of Europe’s religious inheritance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
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