William of Ockham -In Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature (2000)

21 Mar

OCKHAM, WILLIAM OF (c. 1285-1349). (2000). In Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature.

Ockham distinguishes three kinds of natural law: absolute., unchanging natural law in conformity with infallible natural reason; natural law as it obtained prior to the Fall; and natural law ex suppositione, that is, a law which arises in response to a violation of natural law or as a recognition of or concession to a contingent state of affairs. Natural laws of the first kind appear to be unchangeable except through an intervention by God himself. There is an order to which human reason conforms this order seems immune to change without an essential change in human nature. That is, even prior to the Fall, fornication and lying were wrong. As matters now stand after the Fall, private property seems to conform to natural law. But Ockham’s view is that natural law prior to the Fall dictated common ownership of property. Even though it was the Fall that led to private property, Ockham acknowledges the apparent conformity of private property with natural law by distinguishing what natural permits from what natural law dictates. Natural law permits private property; it does not dictate it. It is this permissive sense of natural law that Ockham designates as natural law of the second type. By contrast natural laws of the third type include concessions to fallen human nature, such as the right to self defense, and positive laws because they address contingent circumstances or local needs. The right to self defense is a law of the third kind because it conforms to natural reason as a response to an unjust use of violence.

William of Ockham

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