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Western Legal Tradition

The main representatives of the Western legal tradition have both similarities that allow one to assign them to the same line of thinkers and differences that correspond to general transformations of the Western legal thought through its historical development. In this way, it is possible to understand the most significant changes in the Western thought through the comparison of the most important ideas created in different epochs. The Christian Western civilization starts with the appearance of Patristics replaced by Scholasticism while the latter ended with the advent of the Modern epoch with its liberal approach. It is possible to define Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Hobbes as the thinkers who represent general tendencies of their epochs in the best way because of a significant influence of their thoughts on the Western society. The comparison of these most illustrative philosophers, each of whom was a founder of an own philosophical school may help understand general dynamics of conceptual changes in the Western legal tradition. These changes look like a liberalization of the understanding of the state and the law that was demonstrated by the main thinkers. In turn, the move from Patristics to Scholasticism and Liberalism shows the same tendency. It is possible to interpret the general tendency of the Western legal thought as the sequential shift of the attention from the abstract and spiritual values to a more concrete interpretation of the legal and political issues in accordance with human purposes instead of religious norms.

Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Hobbes on the Human Nature

An explanation of the human nature in the Western philosophy has changed from direct interpretations of the Holy Scripture through the prism of the faith and religious dogmatic approach to the rational understanding of the issue. Thus, Augustine, as a Patristic thinker, claimed that the main feature of humans was their sinful nature presupposed by the original sin, with which everyone was born (Augustine). It is important that Augustine interpreted the Holy Scripture through the prism of Platonism that explained the most abstract ideas as the highest being in the corruptible material world (Augustine). In the same way, Augustine claimed that the source of a sin is the human body. In contrast, the human soul can become pure from the sin. The main point of Augustine’s understanding of the human nature is this dualism of the body and soul.

In contrast, Thomas Aquinas was a follower of Aristotle’s philosophy that avoided Platonic dualism through the concept of the human soul as a form of the human body; accordingly, God was considered a form of the Universe. Thomas Aquinas interpreted the human nature in the context of Aristotle’s teaching on the soul. He asserted that there were three types of souls: vegetable, animal, and rational ones. According to this point of view, the rational (human) soul includes two other types. It is important that “the soul in a certain way requires the body for its operation” (“The Summa Theologica”). Thus, Thomas Aquinas believed that people might overcome their sinful nature with leading the right way of life as his model of relations between the soul and body combined these elements into the unity instead of Augustine’s contraposition of the two.

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Thomas Hobbes considered that all people had an inevitable sensual nature that made them egocentric and uncompassionate. Hobbes writes about the so-called “state of nature” that has existed long before the appearance of the state and law. In the state of nature, people act in accordance with the right of nature that is “the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life” (Hobbes). The state of nature is a result of the human nature’s free realization. Hobbes does not call human nature morally evil but underlines that people come into a mutual struggle when they act in line with their nature that does not take into account the interests of others. In this way, the sensual nature of people is not evil but may lead to negative results when not organized by the reason (Hobbes). The reason that helps people live together in the society due to restraining sensuality is another side of the human nature in Hobbes’ philosophy.

Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Hobbes on the Human Reason

The thoughts concerning the human reason create specific interpretations of both the secular law and the state as the means and institutions created and used by the reason. Thus, Augustine considered that the faith had prevalence over the reason because the faith was a direct way to the understanding of God. The human reason is important only as an auxiliary side of human abilities that help the faith interpret the reality correctly. In contrast, Thomas Aquinas claimed that the reason was equal to the faith in the importance of the two for the correct understanding of the laws created by God (the so-called Eternal Law that becomes clear for the human reason in a form of the Natural Law) (“The Summa Theologica”). Thomas Hobbes, as a representative of the Modern thought, claimed that people had the reason to govern their sensual nature. According to Hobbes, the human reason finds the law of nature, “by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved” (Hobbes).

Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Hobbes on the Human Ends

Theories concerning the human ends are grounded on the understanding of the human nature and human reason; they directly concern political and legal interpretations of reality. In his “The City of God,” Augustine claims that there are two possible states of a human being: the City of God with its law (the Church with the Holy Scripture) and the Earthly City (the secular state with its law). In his criticism of pagan beliefs in fate, he underlines, “We assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it” (Augustine). For Augustine, there is no contradiction in this point because God is superior to such a degree that his foreknowing does not presuppose any form of fate. Some people, thus, have to comprehend God’s teachings (written in the Holy Scripture) in order to become citizens of the City of God. In this way, the secular city belongs to the material world that is not evil but “corruptible” (Augustine). The secular law should obey the religious teaching while the body should obey the human soul. Thus, Augustine offers a form of theocracy that should help people save their incorruptible souls after the death.

Thomas Aquinas considered that the mission of a secular state was to interpret the Natural Law in terms of social reality. This law has a rational essence, as well as humans do, that is why, in the context of Aquinas’ theory, human beings are able to understand the Natural Law. In this way, there is no determinism, and humans’ end is the flourishing of people during their lives. The secular power is created by God and exists to help the human society realize God’s plans with taking into account that “eternal happiness is the ultimate and supernatural end” for a human being (“The Summa Theologica”). The philosopher also claims, “Just as the founding of a city or kingdom may suitably be learned from the way in which the world was created, so too the way to govern may be learned from the divine government of the world” (“On Kingship”). At the same time, Aquinas sees the connection of the Church and a King as collaboration but not identity. Thus, St. Thomas suggests some form of a Christian monarchy that can lead humans to a common happiness.

For Hobbes, the main aim of a human being is to overcome the state of nature and to establish the state ruled by the Sovereign. The reason for it is the idea that the Sovereign with humans’ rights limited by his authority is the only institution that is able to organize the society as the human reason governs the human sensuality (Hobbes). The main point here is that the Sovereign of Hobbes is a person who rules the state because free people delegate him a part of their rights and freedoms for the common good (Hobbes). In the same way, Hobbes appeals not to the God’s but to Nature’s Law; in this way, his position is more secular and liberal than that of the two previously mentioned thinkers.

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The differences between Augustine’s, Thomas Aquinas’, and Thomas Hobbes’ understanding of the human nature directly presuppose their differences in interpretations of the state and law. Thus, Augustine, with his Platonic dualism, could not accept any law except that of the divine nature (the law of the Christian Church). In turn, Thomas Aquinas considered that both the bodily and spiritual natures of humans were equally important. In this way, he considered that humans might live in accordance with the God’s plan even in secular conditions but under the influence of the Church. At last, Hobbes claims that all people are egoists; in this way, they have to limit their sensual nature by their rational part. Consequently, he claimed that only the Sovereign, who represented the state and the laws, could be an effective institution to organize humans. In this way, the Western legal thought has transformed from the advocacy of religious absolutism to the interpretation of the Government through a liberalized and secularized prism.