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Understanding Natural Law

Understanding Natural Law


Hello and good day!

I just began rereading the most fascinating book.

This will be my fifth or sixth time reading it, but it's been over a decade since I've taken it down from my bookshelf and I'd forgotten how extraordinarily good it is.

The author is Murray Rothbard, and the name of the book is An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought.

It is a two-volume set that starts with the Greeks and goes all the way through to modern economic theory.

If you are not an economics nerd like me, it might not be your cup of tea.

However, in the very first chapter of the book, there is a passage that I found so interesting and profound that I felt it would be a disservice not to share it.

The next several sentences are not my insights.

I am summarizing what I understood from the book.

According to the author, the Greeks were the first civilization to scientifically attempt to understand and catalogue cause and effect relationships in the physical world. In particular, Aristotle was the inventor of what has come to be known as natural law.

The basis of the law is that everything in existence has its own defining characteristics or specific nature.

You can group together things that share characteristics and give them a name.

Cats are recognizable as cats even though every cat is different.  However, all have enough in common with each other for them to be considered the same species.

Cats are a subset of a group called mammals and mammals are a subset of a group called animals and animals are a subset of a group called living beings.

Now here is where this train of thought really caught my attention.

Aristotle made a distinction between living and nonliving things.

To be clear, I've never read Aristotle and I am relying on what this book said about him. When studying living beings, the most important thing to study is what makes a living being thrive, prosper, and live optimally.

In the study of plants, the investigator is trying to understand the conditions for the optimum well-being of the plant.

Same with cats.

And same with people.

As it pertains to people, a natural law perspective means that there are certain fundamental considerations, inherent in our very nature, that will allow us to live in the best possible way.

Natural law investigations can apply to lifestyles, relationships, and government policy.

This all rings true, doesn't it?

Pretty cool that Aristotle lived 2,400 years ago and his insight is still applicable all these years later.

Alright, now I am going to add my own commentary and what follows is my original material.


From a fair amount of reading on the topic of human wellbeing, it seems fairl uncontroversial to me that our happiness is determined by three primary factors.

The most influential is relationships.

Good, loving, deep relationships go a long way towards creating human happiness.

The second most influential is health.

Hard to be happy when you are sick or in pain.

Third on the list is meaningful work, which includes hobbies you are passionate about, and spiritual pursuits.

Be as spiritual as you want or have the world's best and most high paying career, if you are alone and sick a lot of the time, you'll be pretty miserable.

These are all natural law drivers for individual human beings.

They are the qualities inherent in our very nature that will give each of us the best chance to thrive and prosper.

Next, we can turn to natural law inquiries about communities and societies.

And here the question is trickier.

I think that you are forced to approach this on utilitarian grounds.

I know this from being a business owner with dozens of employees.

When you have a group of people whom you would like to take care of, you have to ask what is the move that will have the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people.

In many cases, this means sacrificing individual desires for the good of the group as a whole.

Policy questions must be looked at from this point of view.

I don't see how it can be otherwise.

Given that health, relationships, and meaningful work are the most important drivers of human happiness, questions of policy should attempt to facilitate the increase of these factors for the greatest number of people possible.

This is the rational, natural law approach to policy making.

You want to organize societies such that they conform to human nature so that the greatest number of people can have a fair shot at a good life.

I'm truly not certain about how best to go about organizing this type of society or community.

I don't know exactly what the best type of government structures and civil engineering would be.

In the little town where my wife is from, deep in the Andes mountains, the entire city is small and walkable.

Everybody knows each other and sees each other all the time because nobody drives anywhere.

Friends and family members stop and chat in the street.

This fosters relationships and folks seem very happy living in that little town.

That is just one of many things you'd have to think through to really set up the right kind of structure.

Even if I don't know the exact right way to set up a natural law society, I do know of at least two things that absolutely must be avoided.

The first is authoritarianism.

This is communism, fascism, and dictatorships.

They don't work.

There is plenty of empirical evidence for that.

The second thing guaranteed to blow up natural law flourishing is violence and feuding.

Violence ruins relationships, health, and meaningful work.

The opposite of authoritarianism and violence are freedom and peace and as such I'd be inclined to think that the best set up tends in those directions.

Anyhow, I am running out of steam for now.

This wasn't story telling or chocolate and now my brain is getting tired from trying to think deep thoughts.

I appreciate you giving me a moment of your time to bend your ear, or more accurately, your eyes.

Although, bending your eyes doesn't really make any sense.

See what happens when you wear your brain out trying to think too hard?

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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