Natural Law vs. Positive Law

Laws are rules established by a governing authority to organize and maintain orderly existence. It can generally be divided into two principles: Natural law, which is based on the divine, and Positive law which states that laws are what the lawmakers command. Throughout history many philosophers have come to be linked to either branch of law. Philosophers such as Aristotle advocated Natural law, while others, such as Thomas Hobbes, supported Positive law. Each provided strong notions that helped form modern day law.

Aristotle believed that because humans are capable of a higher level of thinking that they could therefore judge for themselves. This is also known as rationalism. He was committed to his belief that because of our higher level of thinking, humans are capable of obtaining true happiness. He believed that the sole purpose for law was to make people happy. Any law that served towards the betterment of the people was therefore just, and any law that made people unhappy was unjust and ought to be disobeyed and debated over in order to satisfy all.

He felt that the reason behind unjust laws was their grounds were flawed and were unable to serve justice. Aristotle’s perception of justice was associated with laws that made the majority happy; only if the people were happy could justice ever be served. This view contrasts that of Thomas Hobbes whose standpoint reflected Positive law. In conflicting with Aristotle’s belief that humans can govern themselves due do rationalization, Hobbes believed that humans are violent and war like and that they have a right to all things.

He was dedicated in his theory that Natural law grants too much freedom to humans. Hobbes argued that a governing body was necessary to control society by enforcing laws and deciding through law what was morally right and wrong. He felt that people could reach happiness and justice, but only with the presence of law to act as a guide. “The rights of the people were given and taken away by the state for their own good” (Understanding the Law, 138).

He concluded that justice was dependent on a governing body and the obedience to civil, not natural law. Natural and Positive law both strive towards a common goal, that is the ultimate happiness of the people. The only difference is how they go about obtaining it. Natural law is based on the divine and therefore people can, in a sense, govern themselves by rules set out by the divine. Also, that justice is found in making laws that fully satisfy people.

However, Positive law states that people can reason for themselves, although without a written set of laws and a governing body to impose them, society cannot function in an orderly manner. No matter what philosophy of law one believes, it is important to understand that true happiness can only be found in accordance with the law. WORK CITED # ^ Shellens, “Aristotle on Natural Law,” 75? 81 # ^ “Natural Law,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. # ^ “Natural Law,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. # ^ Burns, “Aquinas’s Two Doctrines of Natural Law.