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 25: The nature of law

Jonathan Crowe


Jonathan Crowe’s chapter examines natural law perspectives in contemporary philosophy of law. Natural law views in jurisprudence are united by the natural law thesis: law is necessarily a rational standard for conduct. This thesis entails that anything that is not a rational standard is either not law or a defective example of law. Crowe begins by surveying the various arguments natural law theorists have presented for their favoured versions of the thesis. He then defends his own preferred route to the thesis, which involves analysing the nature of law as a human artifact. The function of law, Crowe argues, is to serve as a deontic marker for human conduct by creating a sense of social obligation. A law that is poorly suited to this function - such as a badly drafted, unjust or unreasonable standard - will therefore be legally defective, while a putative law that is incapable of playing its function - such as an incomprehensible or deeply repugnant standard - will be no law at all. This view - which Crowe calls the artifact theory of law - vindicates the natural law claim that law is necessarily a rational standard. It also refutes the legal positivist slogan that ‘[t]he existence of law is one thing; its merit or demerit is another’.

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