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A Mind

...HUM
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Why there are oligarchs







Natural Law

Really?

I take the idea of natural law to mean that there are laws of nature (which I use as a synonym here for reality) that apply to human morality and our judgements of each other's behavior. Since it's a law of nature like gravity, it applies to all people equally.
It's an idea that is appealing.
It grounds human law in reality rather than one person coercing another. It is claimed that natural law can be discovered by reason like the laws of nature can. And it is intuitively satisfying because it fits with the way we feel about human laws. Often we encounter human laws that just seem to be plain wrong. Without a concept of natural law that kind of judgement is very hard to justify.

For something that is a law of nature, the application of the idea of natural law can be contradictory in places. Some people claim that being forced to wear a face mask if they don't want to violates their 'freedom' and that freedom is seen as an inviolable natural right. Other people take the opposite view. That they have a right to be in public without risking a fatal disease that is mitigated by face masks

Some people feel that they have a right to defend themselves. I don't argue against that. Other people feel that they have a right not to be attacked. I don't argue against that. Sometimes people feel they have a right to attack. I can see cases where that works.

This is very odd if you think of these things in terms of laws of nature. It's like gravity being an attractive force here and a repulsive force there. And I think there are maybe situations where gravity IS a repulsive force but the very strangeness of that idea and the difficulty of demonstrating it makes my point: It's easy to show that people have contradictory ideas about what natural law tells us. The problem here is a bit of a category switch. Laws of nature tell us what is happening.
Natural law tells us what ought to happen with the understanding that that ought often doesn't happen.

The idea of natural law is very ancient; it seems intuitively true because it accords with our intuitions so well. And one of the distinctions it enables is that natural law stands apart from divine law. Natural law is discoverable. Divine law must be revealed. (Aside: let's note that the people of a religious society internalize their locally revealed divine laws so much that the divine laws seem like natural ones.)

When we perceive our world we recognize things and situations and commonalities. For instance, Unsupported solid objects always fall. Whenever you have that situation, the object falls. That's a commonality. We can express that as a law: unsupported objects fall. When we look at human behavior we see lots of commonalities. Some are quite universal and even transcend our species. Lovers like to smile at each other for instance. Now we might take that as a law of nature in the sense that gravity is. And it can be diagnostic - if lovers don't smile at each other something is wrong. But I don't think we could express that as an 'ought'. There are a lot of commonalities in our behavior that are like that. In general people act defensively if threatened. Can we turn that into a natural law? Perhaps as in, you have a right to defend yourself against threats. There are many scenarios possible here: You might be unable to defend yourself against the threat The party threatening you might be responding to a threat you make to them You may defend and a stalemate ensues. You may defend and prevail which means the other party lost.

Point is that the fact that people act defensively if threatened doesn't work as a natural law that provides an ought as an output.

I recognize very strongly that we, as people, live in a world of oughts. And there are very many commonalities that are quite universal in a society or even among people. How do we account for that ? There are two factors; genetics and culture. Genetics accounts for lovers smiling at each other. And culture accounts for how here in Vancouver it's natural for cars to drive on the righthand side of the highway. Just how a commonality emerges in a society is a huge and complex issue - the answer involves memetics but not the idea that memes are to culture as genes are to phenotypes even though both genes and memes evolve using the same algorithm. But as has been observed, an is is not an ought. Nature doesn't tell us what to do. We need to figure it out for ourselves.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.