Natural Law

Harvard Law Review 31:1 (2007).


Oliver Wendell Holmes, the legal philosopher and judge whom Richard Posner has, with admiration, dubbed “the American Nietzsche,” established in the minds of many people a certain image of what natural law theories are theories of, and a certain set of reasons for supposing that such theories are misguided and even ridiculous. While I have my own reasons for admiring some of Holmes’s work—despite, rather than because of, the Nietzscheanism that endears him to Judge Posner—I think that everything Holmes thought and taught about natural law is wrong. I have elsewhere set forth a detailed critique of Holmes’s thought, which I will not repeat here. Rather, this Article offers a constructive account of what natural law theories are in fact theories of, explains why the idea of natural law and natural rights is far more plausible than people influenced by Holmes have supposed, and shows how natural law theories are similar to and different from leading competing accounts of practical reasoning and of moral judgments that provide the justificatory basis of positive law as well as standards for its critical evaluation.

Harvard Law Review [pdf]