Natural Law 'Externalism' v. Law as 'Moral Aspiration'

23 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2011 Last revised: 31 May 2014

Date Written: April 7, 2011


In a recent paper discussing the novel contributions of Hegel to the philosophy of natural law, the moral and political philosopher Thom Brooks draws an "externalist/internalist" distinction for natural law theory. It is argued that Hegel gives us perhaps the first account of "natural law internalism," in contrast to the natural law tradition generally, which is best described as "externalist," meaning our metaphysical and moral assessment of the law invoke normative criteria and standards extrinsic to the law. In this essay I argue that this characterization or picture of the nature of law and its relation to our normative standards is misleading if not entirely mistaken. Rather, there are robust genetic family ties between our normative standards of law and justice or the Good such that it would be more accurate to speak of these criteria as intrinsic to the law qua law, as implicating the very marrow of the purposes and meaning we accord to law.

Keywords: natural law, law, Plato, Kant, Hegel, natural law internalism, natural law externalism, utopian constructions, moral principles

Suggested Citation

O'Donnell, Patrick S., Natural Law 'Externalism' v. Law as 'Moral Aspiration' (April 7, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Patrick S. O'Donnell (Contact Author)

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