Natural Law and Natural Rights

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OUP Oxford, Apr 7, 2011 - LAW - 494 pages
3 Reviews
First published in 1980, Natural Law and Natural Rights is widely heralded as a seminal contribution to the philosophy of law, and an authoritative restatement of natural law doctrine. It has offered generations of students and other readers a thorough grounding in the central issues of legal, moral, and political philosophy from Finnis's distinctive perspective. This new edition includes a substantial postscript by the author, in which he responds to thirty years ofdiscussion, criticism and further work in the field to develop and refine the original theory.The book closely integrates the philosophy of law with ethics, social theory and political philosophy. The author develops a sustained and substantive argument; it is not a review of other people's arguments but makes frequent illustrative and critical reference to classical, modern, and contemporary writers in ethics, social and political theory, and jurisprudence.The preliminary First Part reviews a century of analytical jurisprudence to illustrate the dependence of every descriptive social science upon evaluations by the theorist. A fully critical basis for such evaluations is a theory of natural law. Standard contemporary objections to natural law theory are reviewed and shown to rest on serious misunderstandings.The Second Part develops in ten carefully structured chapters an account of: basic human goods and basic requirements of practical reasonableness, community and 'the common good'; justice; the logical structure of rights-talk; the bases of human rights, their specification and their limits; authority, and the formation of authoritative rules by non-authoritative persons and procedures; law, the Rule of Law, and the derivation of laws from the principles of practical reasonableness; the complexrelation between legal and moral obligation; and the practical and theoretical problems created by unjust laws.A final Part develops a vigorous argument about the relation between 'natural law', 'natural theology' and 'revelation' - between moral concern and other ultimate questions.

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Chapter 1 of this book one of the most significant contributions to legal philosophy of the 20th Century. By itself, it justifies giving the book 5 stars and counting it as a classic. Giving the book a one star rating is clearly a sign of bias and ignorance, as just one of the two is not sufficient to discredit the book. Finnis works in a particular tradition, which is not that of Hume, Bentham or Kant. The fact that such a tradition is at odds with modernity does not mean that there is nothing to be learnt from it. I do think that at times Finnis is too conservative in the conclusions he reaches *within* his own conceptual framework, which has enough resources to make peace with some things that he condemns, but these specific concerns are irrelevant to evaluating the book's merits, in exactly the same way that Kant's excessive rigidity has not invalidated his general approach. 

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Ignore the reviewer who prefaced his "review" with "I hate natural law." Irrespective of whether one finds Finnis' arguments persuasive this is an excellent book on the topic. Finnis is a partisan of natural rights and natural law but he does not allow this to prevent him treating the subject well. Invaluable to writing my undergraduate dissertation, I would reccomend this to individuals studying natural law from the perspective of politcal science, theory or philosophy, or as a companion to a theological study of the topic.  


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About the author (2011)

John Finnis is Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of University College. He is Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame.

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