Thoughts on Natural Law, Natural Rights. (Part 1)

I have been skimming through a lot of works on natural law recently. Trying to survey the mine field of this study, assimilating a position for myself within the tradition. I have found no such inclinations. The theory is complex, and can’t be worked out easily. To be fair, I have not read all the works on it, and I’m sure no one has, but from the work I have surveyed I am finding the lack of distinctions between epistemology and the ontology of natural law and rights. Hopefully I can begin to build a case for natural law and rights, not based on autonomous human reasoning, but based on the Reformed Epistemological tradition of Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Craig and Alston. I’ll briefly sketch out my position later.

Murray Rothbard is one of my intellectual heroes. He is a giant in the field of economics, and much of what I hold to today is derived from his work on the subject of libertarian political and economic theory. Reading through Rothbard’s introduction to natural law (here), I notice he mischaracterizes the Augustinian tradition of “faith over reason”, and claims it is a fideistic tradition.

“The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door. To the first group, it must be said that they are reflecting an extreme Augustinian position which held that faith rather than reason was the only legitimate tool for investigating man’s nature and man’s proper ends. In short, in this fideist tradition, theology had completely displaced philosophy.” (1)

Rothbard here is making a claim, with only citing one source. This source is Karl Barth, who is a very misunderstood theologian. Much can be said on Barth and his positions towards philosophy, care is needed. In his book Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma, Kevin Diller does a remarkable job surveying Barth’s position towards philosophy, and clears up some misunderstanding about it. Diller writes:

“Barth’s denunciation is leveled against philosophy’s presumed competency, based on an ungrounded ontological assumption, to regulate and establish from below truth about God independent of revelation. It was this presumed competency that inveigled the theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to accept the demands of Enlightenment foundationalism without notice of the cost.” (2)

This can roughly sketch the Augustinian philosophical tradition. Not one of wholly separating philosophy from theology, but rejecting Enlightenment foundations of knowledge and ontological assumptions towards philosophy and theology. Philosophy being done in the light of our Christian faith. We are charting into deeper territories here, especially towards epistemology. In my next post, I will summarize the Reformed Epistemology position, and roughly sketch out a model of natural law in light of that position.

(1) Introduction to Natural Law, Murray Rothbard (

(2) Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide A Unified Response, Chapter 3, Kevin Diller, IVP Academic (October 24, 2014)