Natural Law in Jurisprudence and Politics

Jonathan Crowe

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[Extract] The central text of contemporary natural law theory remains John Finnis's Natural Law and Natural Rights.1 In that respect, it is a field in need of reinvigoration. The comparison with legal positivism, natural law theory's modern counterpoint, is instructive. Although the paradigmatic positivist text is still H. L. A. Hart's The Concept of Law,2 Hart's theory has largely been superseded in current debates within positivism, most notably by the (arguably more philosophically sophisticated) writings of his erstwhile student, Joseph Raz. The current vibrancy of the positivist tradition owes much to this changing of the guard.

Mark Murphy's recent book, Natural Law in Jurisprudence and Politics, provides perhaps the best hope yet for a similar development within natural law theory. Murphy's writing is clear, elegant and precise; in fewer than 200 pages, he covers the central questions confronting the natural law view, including the definition of law, the nature of the common good, the basis of political authority and the legitimacy of legal punishment. On each of these points Murphy clearly frames and contextualizes his position, systematically considers leading alternatives and carefully explains his positive argument. He is honest and clear-headed about shortcomings in and challenges to his theory, acknowledging openly where there is further work to be done.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-794
Number of pages21
JournalOxford Journal of Legal Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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