This post began as a response to a discussion on an orthodox Jewish web site, Hashkafah. I had suggested that the similarity between legal systems around the world implies that there is an underlying natural law.
One objection to the idea of natural law is that laws regulating human behavior are not really the same thing as physical laws. After all, we derive physical laws from observing the physical world and can not legislate physical laws to tell the planets how to move. I would point out however, the physical law itself comes in many different kinds and we do use a variation of these laws to regulate how we manipulate the natural world. Engineers, for example, determine how to build bridges by using laws derived from Newtonian physics. Similarly, the laws of evolution, for example, while explaining the origins of diversity in living beings, can be used to formulate civil laws as to how we should behave if we wish to preserve our species.
This argument requires understanding that laws can be very different from each other because the realities underlying different sorts of law are themsleves very different. For example, the laws we call quantum mechanics are based on statistics because at the level of fundamental particles there are no certainties only probabilities for such things as to where a particle is or how fast it is moving. Engineers building electronic devices have to use laws that make the desired result very probable, but never certain. In contrast, at a level of mechanical function, engineers can rely on the absolute prediction of
While Skinner, along with Marx and other utopians, may hae been overly arrogant, it seems to me that succssful efforts may have already been made. Anthropologists have been studying human societies now for a number of centuries. Wouldn't it be reasonable to argue that the similarity of laws governing human behavior around reflects a collective effort of engineers to optimize human behavior. Does the similarity of these laws imply that there is some kind of underlying reality to human behavior and that we can use that reality or derive better laws about how we should behave?