Natural Law, Laws of Nature, Natural Rights: Continuity and Discontinuity in the History of Ideas

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A&C Black, Sep 22, 2005 - Philosophy - 143 pages
Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2006

The existence and grounding of human or natural rights is a heavily contested issue today, not only in the West but in the debates raging between "fundamentalists" and "liberals" or "modernists in the Islamic world. So, too, are the revised versions of natural law espoused by thinkers such as John Finnis and Robert George. This book focuses on three bodies of theory that developed between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries: (1) the foundational belief in the existence of a moral/juridical natural law, embodying universal norms of right and wrong and accessible to natural human reason; (2) the understanding of (scientific) uniformities of nature as divinely imposed laws, which rose to prominence in the seventeenth century; and (3), finally, the notion that individuals are bearers of inalienable natural or human rights. While seen today as distinct bodies of theory often locked in mutual conflict, they grew up inextricably intertwines. The book argues that they cannot be properly understood if taken each in isolation from the others.

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About the author (2005)

Francis Oakely is Edward Dorr Griffin Professor of the History of Ideas Emeritus at Williams College and President Emeritus of the College. He is also President Emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies. He has held appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, at the National Humanities Center, and at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. During the 1900-2000 academic year, he was the Sir Isaiah Berlin Visiting Professor in the History of Ideas at Oxford University. In 200l he gave the Merle Curti Lectures in intellectual history at the University of Wisconsin/Madison, and in 2002 the Gilson Lecture at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto. His most recent book, The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church, 1300-1870 (Oxford UP, 2003) won the Roland H. Bainton History Prize of the Sixteenth-Century Society. Among his other books are Omnipotence, Covenant, and Order, Politics and Eternity, and The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages

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