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MARITAIN ON RIGHTS AND NATURAL LAW THOMAS A. FAY St. John's University Jamaica, New York T:HE WAY RIGHTS a11e viewed in our time creates urmoil in our society. But this one-sided view of rights ad ]ts origin in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseaiu , in which the" Rights of Man" were divinized and hence made unlimited. In contrast, Maritain based his notion of rights on the natu:rail law, and this phifosophic base can ground a more balanced view of rights, one which can protoot both against those who would assert arbitmry rights without any restraints whatever and against an authoritarian State which would subordinate an individual rights to its requirements. I. Maritain's Notion of the Natural Law For Marita:in, the ultimate groundiing of human rights is in the natural law.1 But just what does he mean by the term "natural law? " It is by no means obvious. Certa:inly from antiquity man has had some gmsp of a narturaJ faw, rthat is, of a law which transcends merely positive law, the law fashioned by men. In !J1an and the State, Maritain cites the case of Antigone, the heroine in Sophocles' pJ.ay of the same name. She breaks a positive faw in giving buriaJl to her brother 'and justifies her act by making an appeal to a law higher than any merely human law. And so she says " Nor did I deem Your ordinance of so much binding force, As that a mortal man could overbear The unchangeable unwritten code of heaven; 1 Les droits de l'homme et la, loi naturclle (New York: Editions de la Maison Frnncaise, Hl42), p. 84. 439 440 THOMAS A. FAY This is not of today and yesterday, But lives forever, having origin Whence no man knows ...2 The Stoic philosophers spol{'e of a natural law; so did tnpian in the ancient Roman period, and St. Augus:tine in the early Middle Ages. The se-y;enteenth and eighteenth century saw the classical Law of Nature philosophers, such as Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, and John Locke. And of course, by no means least on our list, there was Thomas Aquinas. Mal11'tain takes Thomas's to be the most perfect statement of natural law. But even here there are certain ambiguities and problems. For example, with 11egard to the "primary " and " seconda,ry" precepts of natural law, the statements of St. Thomas in early work The Commentary On The Sentences are at variance with the vocabulary and the teaiching of the Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 94. Maritain attempts to clarify these obscurities by introducing what he rtakes to he the key to Thomas's 1 doctrine of natUl"al law-the notion of knowledge through inclination.3 As Maritain sees it, there are two aspects of natural law, one ontological and the other gnoseologicaL4 The ontological .aspect of natural law means that man has a being-structure which is the locus of inrtelligible necessities, that he possesses ends which necessarily correspond to his essential constitution and which are common to all men. This means that there is, by virtue of human nature itself, an order or a disposition which human reason can discover and accol'lding to which the human will should act if lit is to attain the necessary and essential ends of being human. This order or disposition is what he means by nrutural law. From this it follows that 001y being in nature, be it a tree or a dog or whatevier, has its own na.tural law, which is the normality of its funotioning, the proper way in which, by reason 2 Man and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 85. s Ibid., p. 91. 4 !bill., pp. 85-94. MARITAIN ON RIGHTS AND NATURAL LAW 441 of its specific structure and specific ends, it " should " achieve the fullness of its being, The " shou1d " here is not a moral imperative but rather an ontological one, just as we say that a "good" eye" shou1d" be :able to perceive certain objects with clarity at a certain disrtance. But as soon as we enter the realm of free...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 439-448
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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