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The Limits of Ethics in International RelationsNatural Law, Natural Rights, and Human Rights in Transition$
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David Boucher

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199203529

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199203529.001.0001

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Classical Natural Law and the Law of Nations: The Greeks and the Romans

Classical Natural Law and the Law of Nations: The Greeks and the Romans

(p.19) 1 Classical Natural Law and the Law of Nations: The Greeks and the Romans
The Limits of Ethics in International Relations


Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the Greek and Roman perspectives of natural law and the law of nations. It explores the tension or conflict between the obligations demanded by political communities and the obligations that people have as human beings in the context of the natural law thinking of the Romans and Greeks. It suggests that a universal morality based on normative or prescriptive natural law is not inconsistent with living in a polis. Plato and Aristotle, for example, believe that the highest civil association is the polis yet they both subscribe to the idea of universal morality. The Stoics also saw no contradiction in loving one's patria while at the same time positing a common humanity.

Keywords:   natural law, law of nations, Greeks, Romans, universal morality, Stoics, Aristotle, Plato

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