Is the “New Natural Law Theory” Actually a Natural Law Theory?

  • Francisco José ContrerasEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 22)


The most peculiar and controversial aspect of John Finnis’ and Germain Grisez’s account of natural law theory is their tacit acceptance of David Hume’s and George Edward Moore’s thesis about the impossibility of deriving “ought” from “is” (“naturalistic fallacy”) and, therefore, their understanding of natural law principles as principia per se nota (self-evident and indemonstrable). According to Finnis, such principles “are not inferred from facts”, nor are they inferred “from metaphysical propositions about human nature, or about the nature of good and evil, or about the function of a human being”.

This approach was subjected to a harsh criticism by Henry Veatch in the 1980s. Veatch claimed that all advocates of natural law should admit the possibility of inferring norms from facts, “ought” from “is”. Veatch interpreted Finnis’ failure to admit this as the result of: (1) his “Oxbridge superstitions” (that is, his fear of being anathemized by an academic environment where “naturalistic fallacy” was regarded as an appalling philosophical sin); (2) a too static conception of “nature”, which would purportedly not take into account man’s specificity as a “creature of potentialities” and a “being who is not all that he might be or could be”.

This paper weighs the arguments of both sides (Finnis and Grisez responded to Veatch’s criticism) and will infer conclusions that are of interest for current discussions on natural law.


Human Nature Practical Reason Theoretical Reason Moral Truth Moral Experience 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Filosofía del DerechoUniversidad de SevillaSevilleSpain

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