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Comparing Positive and Natural Law

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Comparing Positive and Natural Law

“Do what you believe is right.” This is a phrase common to us all, brought to our attention by parents, reinforced by teachers, and preached by leaders. But how does one define what is right? Is it what we believe in our hearts, or is it what we know is acceptable? This is a predominant dilemma that can be traced throughout society, and is the main focal point of Sophocles’ play Antigone. Written in 441 B.C., Antigone is one of the earliest records of the conflict between Natural law and Positive law. Sophocles deftly exposes these two philosophical standpoints and their respective moral and political aspects by way of the two main characters, Antgone and Kreon. Antigone is a champion of Natural law, while Kreon practices the Positivist approach. Both characters deem their behavior superior towards the other, and both assume religious justification for their actions. Sophocles ultimately proves that with so much support for each philosophical standpoint, a solution to the dilemma is hardly in sight.

Natural law can be considered the ‘morally correct’ approach to authority and justice. It is the idea that one should make decisions based upon what they deem morally appropriate within themselves. Antigone’s support of this approach is apparent in her refusal of Kreon’s order when she buries Polyneices anyway. She loves Polyneices and believes in her heart that there is no other alternative. She is aware that by burying him she would be breaking the law and risking her own life for it. “I will bury him myself. If I die for doing that, good: I will stay with him, my brother; and my crime will be devotion” (87-90). To her this is the only morally acceptable solution. Her support of Natural law resolves her to perform what she believes in her heart to be right, casting aside any social and political upholding that prove to be opposition.

Positive law can be considered the ‘politically correct’ approach to authority and justice. It encompasses the idea of a society and community with laws, and that those laws are necessary for everyone’s well-being. Kreon evokes a Positivist attitude by shunning any morally appropriate notions brought on by his kinship with Polyneices, and pursuing a stance that he sees as politically necessary for the good of the society. This is the underlying reason for his decision to forbid t...

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... is a sign that the debate will live on for all of eternity.

The Positive law and the Natural law philosophies have been traced throughout history, and as this play suggests, hardly a conclusion has been made. It is much like a Socialist-Capitalist debate in many respects. Even though America is viewed as a Capitalist society and evokes Natural law morale, there are still people who preach the ways of Communism and Positivism. It is just the opposite in other countries such as China, where Communism and Positive law are rulers and people there fight for Natural rights. The debate will always be there, with people conflicting over actions done for themselves, and those done for the good of society. Antigone was the first public display of the two dissenting philosophies. That is why it holds so much more importance then just a good piece of writing. Antigone should be viewed as one of the first politically powerful works created. It defines the notion of acting for individualism against pressures to conform. To view it as something ancient would be a costly mistake, it sets the stage for radical thinking and rebellion, issues that will play a role in the future of our society.
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