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 20: Natural law and physics: the state of nature

Michael Detmold


Michael Detmold’s chapter considers the physical and embodied character of natural law, focusing in particular on its relationship to causality. Natural law, Detmold argues, has its basis in human bonds, as exemplified by the law of contract. Contracts bind the parties – and they do so in a physical sense, by giving form to the parties’ freedom to act. A breach of contract disrupts the relations between the parties in a way that directly shapes their physical world. The natural law, understood in this way, is not something imposed on humans from some third position, as in Rawlsian accounts of justice or legal positivist theories of law - rather, it arises from the first and second positions of the parties themselves. Two parties in an original position have no choice but to deal with each other - without dealings, there would be no common world between them. Between two humans, many dealings may be possible, but the shortest distance between them - the one that least impedes their mutual freedom - is that dictated by the natural law (or what Detmold calls ‘the law of love’). Natural law, in this sense, creates causal order out of pure random. The beginning of the moral universe therefore mirrors the origins of the physical world.

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