The main reason for writing the book The Necessity of Nature was a discovery I made in an out-of-this-world research sojourn in Australia. I had applied somehow carelessly for a Laureate Fellowship with Professor Anne Orford’s Laureate Program at the University of Melbourne. However, the whole thing turned out to be one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, in terms of discovering completely new environments and people and due to the real possibilities of doing serious and focused research. Since my time at the University of Cambridge a couple of years before, I had been studying intensely Locke’s work. And there was one torrid day in December, in Melbourne, re-reading John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, when suddenly it hit me how Locke constantly and consistently returned to the notion of the necessities of human nature in each of his writings. Why did I not notice that before? How is it that no one I had read in the secondary literature mentioned that either? I understood there and then that I did not know yet how Locke or other key English philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes understood ‘nature’, nor the foundational role it played in their ideas on public law. The move from my initial study of only legalistic texts to those emerging from the initiators of the Scientific Revolution was almost instinctual. After I ascertained that Robert Boyle had been a mentor of sorts for John Locke during his entire life, I immersed myself in the work of those (mostly) men proposing the New Science in England during the 17th century. The beauty of human genius that I came upon, while not devoid of ambiguities, opened to me new vistas of the classic English natural lawyers, in particular Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle, and John Locke.
But the book is not an elaboration on the idea that all the good times in science and law are past and gone. Initially, my research project was prompted by the aim of offering a more accurate understanding of natural law, especially to myself! The result exceeded my expectations tremendously. I discovered the impact of natural law on the development of modern Europe economically, scientifically, and politically. Arguably this research might facilitate addressing key current issues in the era of the Anthropocene, which importantly, focuses and derive from previous transformations of the concept of nature. This book is an attempt to spell out such transformations and to do so capturing the mixed vocation of the main natural lawyers, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, being at once natural scientists, economists, medical doctors, theologians, natural lawyers, and philosophers.
The natural sciences and economics that we have inherited from that period constituted a world structure based on natural law that has influenced and shaped our understanding of moral natural law anew. Far from disappearing, natural law has become embedded in the very foundations of all enlightened societies. The thesis advanced in the book reframes our understanding of Hobbes and Locke’s political theory as a reaction to radical scepticism, Neoplatonism, and the commercial spirit of England in the seventeenth century, but without ever really escaping the reach of these new ideas and worldviews. It also introduces Robert Boyle’s important philosophical and economic work on nature. The book’s approach relates to their naturalism and cares for the public good, their medical studies, the ambiguous deconstruction of the sacred notion of nature during the Scientific Revolution, and the increasingly anxious twenty-first-century debate among scientists and lawyers about how to protect nature and curb greed globally.
Traditionally, in books of international law, which is my area of specialization, the work of the classic English philosophers of law is dealt with, indeed, only as ‘philosophy of law’. However, international law is today a phenomenon extending much further than ‘treaties’ or ‘diplomatic endevours’. International law is now an all-encompassing phenomenon of global matters and questions – perhaps reflected in the omnipresent ‘sustainability’ concept. The impact on natural law and natural rights of notions such as ‘nature’, ‘philosophy of nature’, and ‘science’ is analysed in the book hoping to narrow the gap between the way of legal reasoning and of scientific thinking. Someone like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke e.g., consciously or unconsciously, tried to bridge that gap.
One of the values of this book is that it guides lawyers interested in promoting a sustainable transformation of international law and in the philosophy and history of international law through the deep philosophical and theological questions at stake. The book deals with notions such as money, human nature, physical nature, secularism, or epistemology which underlie natural lawyers’ decisions when devising their philosophy of law about, e.g. property or the power of the sovereign. Further, the importance of Islamic sources and their ways of contributing to the development of Christian natural law is uncovered for the first time in this book.
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