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Natural law as early social thought: The recovery of natural law for sociology

Leahy, A. (2019) Natural law as early social thought: The recovery of natural law for sociology. History of the Human Sciences, 33 (2). pp. 72-90.

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Natural law contains much social thought that predates sociology and related disciplines, and can be seen as part of the prehistory of the human sciences. Key concerns of natural law thinkers include the achievement of social life and society, and the individual’s place therein. However, there is an enduring tendency within sociology to dismiss the ahistoricism and universalism of natural law, and therefore to reject natural law thought in its entirety. This article proposes an approach that rescues the sociological relevance of natural law. It draws on the respective methods of Chris Thornhill and Gary Wickham, who each seek to recover the importance of natural law for sociology. Thornhill treats natural law as a valid sociological object by focusing on its functions within society rather than engaging with its ahistorical concepts. His focus on the external functions of natural law, however, leads to a neglect of the internal conceptualisations of the social world in natural law thought. This in turn leads to a misinterpretation of Hobbes and voluntarist natural law. Wickham, on the other hand, explores in detail Hobbesian conceptions of society and the individual that Wickham argues can be utilised within contemporary sociology. This article revises Thornhill’s methodological framework in order to secure a space for the recovery of natural law as social thought. This approach allows for the recognition of natural law as an important piece of the epistemological background against which contemporary understandings of the human and society emerged.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Arts, Business, Law and Social Sciences
Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd
Copyright: © 2019 by SAGE Publications
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