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Say no to unjust laws
In any given society, there are a number of basic goods that all members of society would agree on. These are well understood by everyone and every members of that society would expect that these goods be available for their own well being. A good example of this is the right to life. All members of society would agree that they intend to continue living. Here, therefore, there is self interest for self preservation. Given that there are common goods that all member of society would agree on, then it follows that the primary aims/goals of our laws should be to ensure the complete human life based on these goals.
Laws should be just
While there may be disagreements in society over what people agree on, e.g. what religion to follow or which God is true etc, there are a number of ideas/notions that the greatest majority, if not all, mature and reasonable people would agree on; the basic or common goods. In his work on the theory of natural law, Finnis identifies these common, fundamental goods as life (desire for self preservation) knowledge (desire to know the truth rather that false knowledge or belief) play (performance for its own sake) aesthetic experience (to experience beauty from ones perspective) friendship (pleasure derived from close bonds with others) and reasonableness which is the capacity for an individual to use his mental abilities/reason. These are fundamental goods that all mature and reasonable human beings desire and would want to have at all times. As such, they are important to all and can be looked at as some of the most basic human rights that no same/reasonable individual would want to give up since they allow for a complete, full life.
Las and justice
Complete human life
The reason as to why the primary aim/goal of our laws should be to ensure a complete human life is that in doing so, it would be protecting these goods that all people desire. As such, it can act as the basis of justice and morality. While many have argued that morality and law should be separate, this aspect of law would serve as the ideal basis for morality in society given that it would be based on goods that all in society agree on. That is to say that in the event that anyone, including leaders act against the common good, then they would simply be on the wrong (doing what is wrong) and thus the law would not allow for such actions given that they are wrong by going against the common good of an individual.
Laws and morality
One of the biggest issues of separating laws from morality is that it can result in injustices. This can then result in citizens or some of the citizens in a society disobeying such laws, which may in turn result in chaos and conflicts between the rulers and the people. One of the best ways to look at this is by considering the civil rights movement that was led by Martin Luther King Jr. According to King, who was borrowing from the works of Augustine and Aquinas, unjust laws are bad because they tend to degrade human life (African Americans during his time). For this reason, King chose to disobey such laws because they denied African Americans the basic rights for a complete life by segregating them and not allowing them the same rights that were awarded to the white Americans. Here, it is worth noting that this was not only a belief held by most African Americans, but also by some white Americans who supported the civil rights movement from what they perceived to be the unfair treatment of African Americans based on their race.
Here, the reason as to why these laws were being disobeyed is because they were unjust and denied some people basic goods. These views (held by King and other activists) were not necessarily based on religion, but rather on natural law or the capacity of human beings to reason. While the constitution held that all men are equal and equally created (which can be argued from natural law that all human beings are equal) these laws that allowed for segregation, which in turn allowed for further discrimination were aimed at oppressing one race, which goes against what was stated in the constitution of the country. As a result of disobeying these laws, conflicts and chaos resulted between the people (African Americans) and authorities resulting in injuries and even deaths. Here, then, it becomes possible to see the impact of unjust and thus immoral laws that fail to promote the complete life of all.
Laws and morality
Law and morality continued
Here, it becomes possible to see the important relationship between law, justice and morality and a complete human life and thus why the goal of the law should be to ensure a complete human life. Given that all mature and reasonable human beings understand the common goods they desire to retain for their well being, they also realize that it is essential to have laws that will protect these goods. At the same time, many, if not all, would agree that it would be wrong to go against these goods and that the law should not allow for this. This then brings in the concept of justice and morality (right and wrong). This shows a strong relationship between all these valuables in a democratic and just society.
By failing to promote and ensure the complete human life, by protecting and supporting the common goods, then the law would be of very little or of no use to the people given that it is against their self interest. This type of law would therefore only exist in a country with authoritarian/totalitarian government where the common or basic good of the people are not the priority. However, even in such a country, the people are highly likely to revolt and stand up against the tyrannical government for injustices that occur through laws and acts that are against their basic human rights. Throughout history, this has been shown to be the case with coups and revolutions taking place against injustices that deny people a complete human life.
In any given society, the laws and rules should be based on public consensus. That is to say that if all people are of the view that child molestation is a crime, then the law should criminalize the act/behavior since the society in general has rejected and condemned such behavior and acts. From this line of thought, then it can be agreed that the law should promote and protect the basic common goods of all members of society given that all reasonable and mature people in society would agree that there are common goods for all that should be protected given that they are acceptable for all (common goods by Finnis). Here, then, the law should have one goal which is to protect these goods that contribute to a complete human life.
One of the biggest benefits that makes this the most ideal approach is that in society, the citizens understand that they have a duty to obey the law not only for the benefits of others, but also for their self interest. As already mentioned, the rules/laws would have been set through reason, where people understand their basic rights and support laws that protect them. Here, then, the same people would understand that they have a moral duty to obey these laws in order to achieve a complete human life (both themselves and others) here, natural law would dictate that people only do what is right in the same they would wish that others do the same. Here, there is a common understanding of what is expected and the law, rather than any other doctrine, serves the important role of a moral compass that all members of the said society can accept.