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natural law
what it is. what it isn't. why it still matters.

A Conversation with Santiago Legarre
February 9, 2024

Natural law - the proposition that there exist a set of inherent, objective, and universal principles that govern human behavior, discoverable through reason and derived from the nature of human beings and the world - is a philosophical tradition with roots in pre-Christian Antiquity. In legal practice, natural law theory holds that certain moral values and ethical norms are fixed in nature, and not dependent on human-made laws or cultural conventions. Laws should help human beings attain their natural end: the human good of happiness. For natural law advocates, there must be a connection between law and morality for individuals and society to flourish. 

Until recently, natural law served for millennia as a durable foundation of legal theory and practice, with variations introduced first by Christian scholars and later by secular thinkers who shared basic philosophical presuppositions. More recently, the premises of natural law have been eroded in favor of "positivist" jurisprudence, whereby laws depend only on social consensus, independent of nature, morality or virtue. Laws are simply man-made rules intended to organize the proper functioning of society.  They are valid insofar as they are enacted or recognized by a legally constituted authority or political institution. They are malleable based on practical needs and contexts. While natural law is universally applicable, positive law applies only to persons who are citizens of the government that creates the law.   

Professor Legarre will trace the development of natural law tradition beginning with "classical" natural law of Aristotelian and Stoic philosophers, through the "religious" natural law of Catholic Christian philosophers and jurists and their modern secular counterparts, and finally, we will consider the erosion of natural law theory in the face of the legal positivism prevalent in contemporary jurisprudence. Professor Legarre will also offer arguments in favor of a recovery of natural law principles. 

Santiago Legarre on Natural Law
Santiago Legarre

Santiago Legarre is an Argentine public intellectual, law professor and natural law scholar.

He received his law degree in 1992 in Argentina, and then clerked for the Argentine Supreme Court. He also holds a PhD in political science from Universidad de Buenos Aires, and earned a Master of Studies in Legal Research from Oxford University, under the tutelage of the natural law scholar, John Finnis.  While at Oxford he wrote a dissertation entitled "The Historical Background of the Police Power", published in 2007 by the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law.

He began his academic career in 1995, teaching law at Universidad Austral, and since 2007 at the Universidad Catolica de Argentina. He is an independent researcher at CONICET, the Argentine National Council for Research. He has written regularly for La Nación, a leading Argentine media outlet

Legarre's academic interests include constitutional law and jurisprudence. His work has been published by major legal journals including the American Journal of JurisprudenceHarvard Journal of Law and Public PolicyJurisprudence: an International Journal of Legal and Political ThoughtLouisiana Law ReviewTulane Law ReviewLoyola Law ReviewJournal of Civil Law StudiesNotre Dame Journal of International and Comparative LawChinese Journal of International Law, and Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology Journal of Law and Society. He also teaches a workshop on creative writing for law students.

He has lectured widely at US and international law schools on topics related to natural law, constitutional studies and comparative constitutional law.

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