After reading this and Leviathan, I have an itching desire to clarify the subject that all these big thinkers are needlessly complicating—that of “natural law”. Now, I can’t speak for what those philosophers are trying to do with the term, but for me, the definition of this concept is one so simple that it can and should be considered obvious. So here we go.
In order to define natural law, it is necessary to understand that it is made up of two parts—the “natural” and the “law”. Putting the natural aside for now, the definition of law is apparently controversial in philosophy. Some think of it as limitations and/or regulations, some as things you can’t do no matter what, and some as things you can choose to do or not do. In this context, I will use a slightly modified version of the second; my definition of law, then, is an absolute rule that cannot in any circumstances be disobeyed or broken in any way, shape, or form, and one which is not affected in any way, shape, or form, by magnitude. We cannot disobey the law of gravity, and neither can planets. We cannot disobey the laws of motion, and neither can giant robots.
Personally, I do not think that law is a hard thing to define. Where the problem comes, however, is when people look at laws created by society and laws enforced by the world and think of them as the same thing—they are not. Law, when used by itself, is nothing more than a word and has no meaning whatsoever; it is only when another word comes in front of it that it becomes significant. This relates (ironically, I suppose) to the natural law of relativity (gravity and motion are also natural laws) which requires a reference point for anything that has the word “absolute” in its definition. Thus, a societal law—one created and enforced solely by society—is one which is absolute and cannot be broken for anyone who is a member of that society. Should a member of that society break it (killing, stealing, etc.), they will no longer be a part of that society and become a criminal. This applies regardless of whether the lawbreaker is convicted or not. If he is convicted, he is a publicly recognized criminal; if he is not convicted, he is a criminal masquerading as a citizen. Thus, someone who breaks a society’s law is ousted from that society regardless of what anyone might think or pretend; note, however, that as societies are generally indecisive, a law reform might change the status of a criminal into that of a citizen or vice versa.
With societal law now clarified, let’s get to the not indecisive natural law. Just as no member of a society can break a societal law and still be a part of that society, no member of nature can break a natural law and still be a part of nature. So, what defines a member of nature? Putting aside that “state of nature” business that Hobbes and Rousseau love to go on about so much, I put it to you that so long as we are living in this universe, we are members of nature. What defines living in this universe? I can answer metaphysically, but that would be nauseating both to read and write, so I will answer physically—so long as you are utilizing your five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) to interact with your environment, you are living in this universe, and no amount of skyscrapers or social gatherings or video games can change that. Thus, should one break a natural law, they will be ousted from nature; but considering what defines a member of nature, is it physically possible for us to not be one? No. Although it is possible for someone to be alive and not a member of society, it is impossible for someone to be alive and not a member of nature (death is a metaphysical subject, so I’ll leave it alone). Therefore, a natural law is one that more or less adopts the basic definition of law itself—an absolute rule that cannot in any circumstances be disobeyed or broken in any way, shape, or form, and one which is not affected in any way, shape, or form, by magnitude. I won’t elaborate on the actual natural laws here, but I will state them so that you can think about how obvious they are. The two core natural laws are the law of causality and the law of relativity. The three human laws are the law of causality, the law of relativity, and the law of normality, which is a sociopolitical version of the law of gravity. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s supposed to be.
When I hear about the never ending quest of philosophers to discover the great laws of the world, I do not think that they are actually looking for laws—I think that they are looking for insights. Laws are the basic concepts from which everything stems; building blocks which are existent in every part of their contextual relatives. Hobbes and Rousseau didn’t look for these obvious building blocks, however; they searched for patterns in the structures created by these blocks. They desired to uncover secrets in these structures which are absolute and would lead them to the goal that all philosophers aim for, and there’s nothing wrong with that—I just believe that it shouldn’t be advertised as a search for natural laws when science has already found most of them.
Oh, and I enjoyed reading A Discourse on Inequality.