Zac Altin has an article in MercatorNet about the natural law and its place in Confucian thought. It adds quite a bit to the brief exchange in our comment streams a few days ago – I particularly liked his robotic analogy.
Here’s part of his discussion:
… we are constrained by the logical limits of our own essential qualities. Tall people like me are constrained by stupidly low kitchen benches. Short people are constrained by wall cabinets placed at a reasonable height. One person cannot be both short and tall at the same time in the same way. We should therefore choose things that are suited to our nature.
In ethics, choosing things in accordance with our nature is known as ‘natural law’. Unfortunately, whenever an ethicist uses the term ‘natural law’ a certain proportion of his audience pictures an apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. We are used to hearing of ‘natural laws’ or ‘laws of nature’ in regard to physics rather than ethics. Yet it should come as no surprise to hear that human beings are subject to both physical laws as well as ethical ones. It is in the nature of human beings that our bodies are subject to the force of gravity; and we call this a physical law of nature. It is likewise in the nature of human beings that to choose to subject oneself to the force of gravity from a great height is not good for one’s continued survival, let alone one’s further flourishing. We call this an ethical law of human nature.
At this point, some are liable to object: how can it be an ethical law of nature, if we are free to break it? We aren’t free to break the law of gravity, after all.
But this objection misunderstands what the law is about. The ethical law does not say “You cannot throw yourself off a building”, rather it says “suicide is incompatible with human flourishing” and leaves you to work out for yourself the implications with regard to falling from a great height.
The title of this post is from a quote: “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.” James Prescott Joule.