Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory
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Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory

Jonathan Crowe and Constance Y. Lee

This thought-provoking Research Handbook provides a snapshot of current research on natural law theory in ethics, politics and law, showcasing the breadth and diversity of contemporary natural law thought. The Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory examines topics such as foundational figures in Western natural law theory, natural law ideas in a variety of religious and cultural traditions, normative foundations of natural law, as well as issues of law and governance. Featuring contributions by leading international scholars, this Research Handbook offers a valuable resource for scholars in law, philosophy, religious studies and related fields.
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Chapter 19: Natural law and natural justice: a Thomistic perspective

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy’s chapter offers Thomistic accounts of natural law and natural justice that differ in important respects from other accounts often associated with Aquinas. Murphy begins his discussion by considering Aristotle’s taxonomy of justice in the Nicomachean Ethics, adopted by Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae. This view of justice, Murphy argues, does not emphasise rules or norms laid down by some higher source, as contemporary natural law accounts often do; rather, it emphasises what Murphy, following Aristotle, calls particular justice: the personal virtue through which individuals are disposed to respect the legitimate claims - that is, the entitlements - of others. This conception of justice differs significantly from the general or social justice that is emphasized in contemporary political philosophy and jurisprudence. According to Murphy’s interpretation, natural justice is what is owed naturally to members of the community - it provides a pre-conventional yardstick for social dealings, independently of formal legal codes or institutions - and Thomistic natural law is primarily an ethical phenomenon that has been consistently misconstrued in voluntarist and positivist accounts of what natural law entails. Instead of the idea that natural law represents some kind of juridical standard, Murphy insists that Aquinas’s theory of natural law concerns the intrinsic ethical demand on individuals to act reasonably and responsibly.

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