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The Conflict Between Manmade Law And Natural Law Philosophy Essay

When Agamemnon is forced to return Chryseis back to her father, he gives an ultimatum declaring that he would only do so if he gets Briseis in exchange. This infuriates the mighty Achilles beyond control (hence the above quote) who then goes on to confront Agamemnon. This where the whole issue of manmade law vs. natural law comes into play, because in book I, Agamemnon is described as ‘a powerful man who lords it over all the Argives, one the Achaeans must obey’ A mighty king’, Achilles on the other hand, is expressed as the ‘matchless runner’. This shows us that even though by the law of nature, Achilles should be the one who is in control, but by the right of birth, Agamemnon is the one in complete power. When trying to explain the difference in manmade law vs. natural law, the distinction is very straightforward. There are certain rules in society that we have to abide by in order for harmonious living. These are basic norms and values that are drilled into us from childhood through various forms of socialization such as school, family etc. These include various regulations such as respect, love and to value those who are near and dear to us. In school we have various sanctions imposed on us if we break any of the set norms such as cheating or skiving class for no apparent reason. For more serious offences such as murder, fraud or theft, various agents of social control can rein in these ‘unnatural’ desires by putting us into remand homes or jail. Furthermore, within a country we are given certain human rights which we can exercise on a daily basis such as freedom of speech, right to equal protection under the law etc. When new rules and regulations are set up within a society, we say that these rules are manmade, as these do not comes naturally to us.

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Natural law is that “unwritten law” that is more or less the same for everyone everywhere. To be more exact, natural law is the concept of a body of moral principles that is common to all humankind and, as generally posited, is recognizable by human reason alone. Natural law is therefore distinguished from-and provides a standard for- manmade law, the formal legal enactments of a particular society. Since laws are made for a reason; natural law is used to dictate human reason. In fact, it is law discovered by human reason. Our normal and natural grasp of the natural law is affected by reason, that is, by the thinking mind, and in this service reason is sometimes called “conscience.” We, in all our human acts, inevitably see them in their relation to the natural law, and we mentally pronounce upon their agreement or disagreement with the natural law. Such a pronouncement may be called a “judgment of conscience.” The “norm” of morality is the natural law as applied by conscience. Lastly, we can say that the natural law is the disposition of things as known by our human reason and to which we must conform ourselves if we are to realize our proper end or “good” as human beings. So in a more concise form, we can say that natural law is that by human beings can rationally guide themselves to their good.

The origins of natural law theory lie in Ancient Greece. Many Greek philosophers discussed and codified the concept of natural law, and it played an important role in Greek government. Later philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke built on the work of the Greeks in natural law theory treatises of their own. Many of these philosophers used natural law as a framework for criticizing and reforming manmade laws, arguing that manmade laws which are unjust under the principles of natural law are legally wanting. Some theorists argue that humans may give up certain rights to live in society, for the better human good. However, the basic tenets of equality and a desire to do good still remain. Some people also integrate religious beliefs into natural law theory, while others refer more generally to basic moral laws which may or may not be guided by religious faith. To actually understand the basis of the natural law theory, we have to go back in time, as Aristotle was the pioneer in coming up with this theory. In ancient Greece, the emphasis on the difference between ‘nature’ (physis, ?’???) and ‘law’, ‘custom’, or ‘convention’ (nomos, ?’???) was made obvious from the start. It basically meant that even though the law of the land may vary from place to place, but ‘by nature’ they should be the same everywhere. Against the conventionalism that the distinction between nature and custom could create, Socrates and his philosophic heirs, Plato and Aristotle, put forward the existence of natural justice or natural right.

Going back to explaining natural law and manmade law in the Iliad, we can clearly see the disproportion in the ranks within the army. Achilles, who is the son of the goddess Thetis, is made the leader of the Achaean’s whereas Agamemnon is the commander-in-chief and is a mere mortal. Furthermore, we note that Achilles is self-less and noble, while Agamemnon is self-centered and egotistical. Proof of this is evident when Achilles is made to give up his prize (Briseis) because Agamemnon demands it in return for sending back Chryseis. Achilles is enraged by the request and argues that the plunder has already been distributed and a good man does not take back what he has given. Agamemnon and Achilles argue, each man insulting the other. Agamemnon threatens to take a prize if one is not given to him, and Achilles reminds him that all of the Achaeans are fighting against foes who have only wronged Menelaus. For the sake of the two royal brothers, the Argives bloody their hands against men who have done them no wrong. Achilles also complains that though he bears the heaviest burden in battle, it is the king who is always greedy for prizes. Achilles refuses to fight anymore as he will go home to Phthia. Because of this dishonor, anger seizes Achilles and he strides toward Agamemnon to kill him. Hera sends the goddess Athena to stop him. Only Achilles can see Athena, who tells him not to kill the king. She promises that Achilles will be justly compensated for this great dishonor and Achilles obeys her. This is itself is a trait to be noted, even though Achilles is seething with rage and a passion to destroy Agamemnon there and then, he restraints himself just because he is instructed by a goddess and shown that even though he may be stronger and more virtuous of the two, Agamemnon is still the king and thus he must be obeyed unconditionally.

Manmade law is made for the betterment of mankind. Man knows this law, makes this law, and therefore has the ability to break this law, or amend it, or delete it. In the Iliad, we can see that Agamemnon not only twists and turns the law to his advantage but even tries to ‘test’ his army, just so he can be confident that his army still pays him the kind of respect demanded by a king, unquestionable and undeniable. This is seen when Thetis, pleads with Zeus to intervene and bring the battle between the two mighty warriors to an end. Zeus then comes to Agamemnon in his dream, but Agamemnon manipulates it to his advantage. We also observe the obvious difference between Achilles and Agamemnon, when Nestor, oldest of the Achaean kings, rises and tells the two men that they must listen to him, because he is old and has lived and fought with warriors greater than any now living. He asks Agamemnon not to take Briseis, Achilles’ fairly won prize, and he tells Achilles that he must respect Agamemnon’s position as commander-in-chief. His words are lost on the two men. Achilles returns to his ships with his companion Patroclus. The Achaeans send the ships to make the sacrifice, with Odysseus in charge of the expedition. Meanwhile, Agamemnon sends men to fetch Briseis, who is given up without a fight Achilles does not resist because the girl was a gift distributed by Agamemnon and the great warrior feels it is not his place to refuse the king. This clearly shows that if Achilles wanted, he could have struck down Agamemnon without any effort and still has his army, but he choose to obey the law of the land and conform to the rule of obeying one’s king. Agamemnon on the other hand, misused and abused his power and took what was not his and behaved in a way not fitting for a ruler.

As per positivists like Rousseau (1754), there is no law unless we create it, which is true in the sense that there are no social consequences of our actions unless society has agreed to implement such consequences. The concept of “natural law” suggests that there are forces acting upon man that are beyond change. Although there are obvious examples of “scientific” natural law, such as the law of gravity, there are more subtle examples such as the law that stealing from your neighbor will cause hardship on you and others. According to D’entreves (1954) ‘Natural Law is binding beyond the will of any material being, man included’. What this is trying to imply is that natural law exists even without the existence of man, and indeed as history shows us, natural law did exist well before man, and even life in general. Manmade laws are culturally and psychologically defined, in no way can they be confused with natural law. The line between ‘natural’ and ‘manmade’ law must be drawn between those laws which were consciously created and those which exist somewhat by default’. Yves R. Simon says that ‘natural law cannot be broken. Moral sentiments seem to be natural law because our morality leads us to think egocentrically about it’. Manmade law is also known as ‘positive law’ in many contexts, the reason this is so is because they are typically “imposed” on the citizens of a particular area. There are many arguments that point towards the fact that positive law is always religious in nature, for example ‘The Ten Commandments of Christianity’; Christians might consider the Ten Commandments valid not only because they are rooted in moral principles, but also because they may have been etched in stone by God. This view is supported by the fact that positivists believe that in order for a law to be obeyed, it must be endorsed by an individual in authority. Ethics are sometimes woven into positive law, but behaving in an unethical way is not necessarily considered a violation of the law. For example, it may be considered unethical for a corporation to minimize profits for its own gain; however, if this behavior is performed under the applicable positive law, it may not be illegal.

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Besides, another theory that comes through by many sociologists such as Novak stated that man made law has actually stemmed from natural law. The example he gave for this is that of traffic rules, what could be the purpose of looking both ways before crossing a street? The answer was simple he argued, every human being has the ‘natural’ instinct of staying alive and will try to avoid any situation is which their life is in danger. Behaving in any other way, would result in altruistic behavior, i.e. in order to motivate oneself, behaving in a manner that is selfless and detrimental. Going back to analyzing the implications of the conflict between manmade law and natural law in Book I of the Iliad, we can now look into it with a more educated point of view. Achilles behaved in an honorable way because one reason may be that he may want to remain true to his personal code of ethics or second he may be doing so, so that he still commands the same sort of respect from his subordinates as before. We should note however, that even though Achilles’ rage is legendary, one word from Athena calmed him enough to restrain himself. The saying ‘your freedom ends where my nose begins’ can be aptly applied to this particular situation. This is because even though Agamemnon openly slighted Achilles in front of the entire army and showed him who was in charge, Achilles ignored it.

Adler, in his works, once said that ‘natural law means principles of human conduct, not the laws of nature discovered by the physical sciences’. According to him, ‘the natural law as applied to physical things or animals is sacred; stars and atoms never disobey the laws of their nature. But man often violates the moral rules which constitute the law of his specific human nature’. For e.g. Plato calls it “justice” and applies it to the human soul and human conduct. The first precept of natural law is to seek the good and avoid evil. It is often put as follows: “Do good unto others, injure no one, and render to every man his own.” Now, of course, such a general principle is useless for organized society unless we can use it to specify various types of rights and wrongs. That is precisely what man-made, or positive, law tries to do. Thus, the natural law tells us only that stealing is wrong because it inflicts injury, but the positive law of larceny defines the various kinds and degrees of theft and prescribes the punishments. Such particular determinations may differ in various times and places without affecting the principles of natural law. Neither Aquinas nor Aristotle thinks that particular rules of laws should be the same in different times, places, and conditions.

In the Iliad, the implications of pitting man made law versus natural law can be countless. Achilles refused to fight in the war against the Trojans, because his pride was wounded during his personal battle against Agamemnon. He vowed that he would not fight Hector, greatest warrior of the Trojans, and thus avenge his hurt when he see’s Agamemnon fall dismally to the ground. If Agamemnon had not exercised his right as the supreme ruler, this would not have happened and he, with the help of mighty Achilles, would have continued his victorious streak against Troy. In conclusion, it is easy to see that because of the various rules drawn out for us in society, expressing our true sentiments can be tricky. Even Achilles, the matchless runner, had to curb his fury because going with his instinct would bring embarrassment and shame to himself. Finally, in my opinion, the affect of manmade laws in society is far greater than that of natural laws. We see it in everyday life even, we can always look to people in power e.g. politicians and see that its not always the smartest or most virtuous person who is elected to power, more times than not, the people responsible for our life are those who are already moneyed or have enough financial stability to fund their next three generations. Hence the ‘laws’ that are put into effect only benefit them and their allies. The Iliad was used as a guidance manual for generations and people still look to it for moral lessons, this is because even though it took place centuries ago, the fundamental message is still well founded for today’s modern society.

Natural Law Vs. Manmade Law 3

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