The Relation between Natural Sciences and Law: Why the Thesis of an Innate ‘Universal Moral Grammar’ and its Relevance for Law as Argued by John Mikhail Fails
XXVII World Congress of the International Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy” in Washington D.C., USA, from 27 July to 1 August 2015.
13 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 20, 2015
The thesis of an innate Universal Moral Grammar (‘UMG’) relies upon an analogy to the thesis of a universal grammar of the human faculty of language in linguistics. Drawing upon this faculty, John Mikhail, among others, argues that we humans have an inborn moral grammar. In this paper this fascinating thesis is juxtaposed with critical perspectives and criticism from the various fields on which it is based. While there might be room for further research within the relevant fields in the natural sciences, the insecurities thus revealed forbid the use of UMG for law, something Mikhail actually suggested doing. Thus, the core argument of this paper is that the relevance of UMG for law as claimed by Mikhail, for instance, to advise judges when identifying customary international (criminal) law or general principles of law, has to be rejected. To strengthen this argument I briefly elaborate on the is/ought debate and then engage in a thought experiment on Richard Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’ in order to address the relationship between natural sciences and law in more general terms as well.
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