Talk to Me Like I’m Stupid : Natural Law Edition
I’d like to ask a favor of my fellow Leaguers, especially the ones that know more about philosophy than I do, (i.e.: everybody). I’d like to apologize to TNC for stealing his titular phrase “Talk To Me Like I’m Stupid,” but that would assume he reads my posts — which I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.
One of the prisms that arguments are run through here when talking about public policy is the concept of Natural Law. As best I can tell, Natural Law is the theory that certain morals and rights (both for oneself and over others) exist “naturally,” which I take to mean that they are absolute, self-evident and exist independent of people and society. Sometimes (but not always) it seems to be used as a substitute for “because God says so,” though I may be reading this wrong. Natural Law’s relevance and use in these discussions baffle me, so I’m asking if the Hive Mind can give me a primer. It would help if you could dumb this primer down; remember, you’re talking to me.
What, exactly, is Natural Law – and am I correct that it is used in debate primarily as a claim to being on the side of Divine Providence? If not, what is the difference?
When using it as an argument, how is one sure that Natural Law is… well, actually Natural Law? I suspect that two hundred years ago a Georgia land owner would argue that the subjugation and ownership of people from technologically inferior regions was permissible by Natural Law. I’m fairly certain I have seen Natural Law cited by parties on both sides of the water-boarding/torture debate. My agnostic mind suspects that people philosophically “back into” arguments that prove their position is held by Natural Law, not the other way around. I assume that this is because there is a key component of which I am not aware. What is it that I am missing?
Over the past several months, there have been a number or discussions I have had with people where they took a statement that seemed very simple and hard to refute, such as:
If we have freedom of religion, you should not be able pass a law that says I can’t do [insert activity that does not harm others and is deemed permissible by competing religious doctrine] based on the fact that it transgresses your particular dogma. This is especially the case if I belong to a different religious sect than you do.
The refutation for that statement, more often than not, is Natural Law. This has been given a number of times by a number of people, all of whom I would recognize as more well read in these areas than I am. Because of this I am resisting the urge to dismiss the entire Natural Law concept, but I need your help, philosophy majors.
What is it that I am not seeing that everyone else understands so well?
I am hoping this can be an instructive thread, and not one that bickers off point. Thanks to everyone in advance for their assistance.