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The 11th Annual Platsis Symposium on the Greek Legacy, September 23, 2012
The Greek Background
of Natural Law
September 23, 2012 · 2:00PM Rackham Building, Amphitheater
Lloyd L. Weinreb, Dane Professor of Law at Harvard Law School
The doctrine of natural law originates in the idea of normative natural order, which emerged clearly in fifth century Athens.It affirmed that nature—what there is—is ordered normatively. This idea is expressed in the great tragedies, most notably those of Sophocles. After the fifth century, it was incorporated into the Stoic doctrine of the Logos. It was picked up by Cicero, whose Latin expression of it in the first century gave rise to what may properly be called a doctrine of natural law, later adapted by Thomas Aquinas to the teachings of the Christian church. Today, natural law is widely regarded as a school of jurisprudence which affirms that true law conforms to moral precepts and that a rule that does not so conform is not law properly so called. The original Greek notion of normative natural order persists not in the doctrine of natural law but in the idea of justice.
Brad Inwood, Professor of Philosophy and Classics at the University of Toronto
Why should one be virtuous? Always a tough question, but even tougher if what we’re really asking is why one should go through all the hard work and training demanded to acquire a virtuous disposition. Ancient moral theorists made it clear that virtue, though natural in some sense, doesn’t come without effort. The reason why people should go to the trouble of learning to be good is often thought to be obvious in a eudaimonistic context. If happiness is the human telos it is the natural fulfillment of our nature. Who wouldn’t want to fulfill their nature? It might be the case that the motivating reason for the pursuit of virtue was thought to be too obvious to need discussion, but nevertheless it is striking how rarely ancient writers provide a substantive, non-question-begging account of the psychological motivation for acquiring virtue (as opposed to the philosophical motivation one might have for promoting a virtue-based moral theory). One later Aristotelian author actually provides an explicit argument on this point, in chapter 3 of the doxographical account of ethics found in Stobaeus’ Anthology (often called ‘doxography C’). Though largely neglected, this theory persuasively connects the reason one has to become virtuous to a standard and plausible ancient account of human nature. In this paper I present the argument, show how it is meant to work, and defend it as the most explicit and plausible strategy for connecting a theory of human nature with the demands of virtue offered by the mainstream ancient philosophical tradition.