Law of Nature, Natural Law

A law states a uniformity of succession of events. If this succession of events is conceived of as determined by prescription, such as the will of God, of earthly rulers, or of the community through its constituted authorities, the uniformity of the succession of events is a law in a legal sense. If the succession follows from aesthetic or ethical standards entertained by individuals or communities the succession or order is aesthetic or moral. If the uniform succession is one of natural events not under the control of an ordering will nor subject to social standards, it is called a natural law. The extent to which these different conceptions of law can be kept distinct from each other depends evidently upon one's view or philosophy of the world. A pietist may see in every succession of physical events the direct will of God. The Aristotelian will see in such successions the logical steps in the expression of the natures of things. The Stoic saw in the world a nature which was rational though impersonal, and of which our minds were but parts. For the Stoic, being rational was living according to the laws of nature. In the medieval period such a nature, which was responsible for the events that succeed each other, was widely recognized as a force or organized group of forces working out the will of God. The conception is still widely held, often unconsciously. We still tend to speak of a nature that works in accordance with law, whether

(255) we imply that this nature is an essence of things, or the expression of an ordering mind. Natural law in the sense of exact sciences, is a mere registration of a uniformity of a succession of events that has existed in the past and for the continuance of which uniformity there is a high degree of probability. The justification for the assertion of such a probability is variously supported and is widely questioned, but that the probability exists for all men there is no doubt. Such a probability does not carry with it any implication of a force or of a nature of things, or of a mind or reason or will bringing about the ordered succession. The law merely states the order that has been and probably will recur.


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