Women's Rights - Natural Law and Women's Rights

Natural Law and Women's Rights

17th century natural law philosophers in Britain and America, such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke, developed the theory of natural rights in reference to ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and the Christian theologise Aquinas. Like the ancient philosophers, 17th century natural law philosophers defended slavery and an inferior status of women in law. Relying on ancient Greek philosophers, natural law philosophers argued that natural rights where not derived from god, but were "universal, self-evident, and intuitive", a law that could be found in nature. They believed that natural rights were self-evident to "civilised man" who lives "in the highest form of society". Natural rights derived from human nature, a concept first established by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium in Concerning Human Nature. Zenon argued that each rational and civilized male Greek citizen had a "divine spark" or "soul" within him that existed independent of the body. Zeno founded the Stoic philosophy and the idea of a human nature was adopted by other Greek philosophers, and later natural law philosophers and western humanists. Aristotle developed the widely adopted idea of rationality, arguing that man was a "rational animal" and as such a natural power of reason. Concepts of human nature in ancient Greece depended on gender, ethnic, and other qualifications and 17th century natural law philosophers came to regard women along with children, slaves and non-whites, as neither "rational" nor "civilised". Natural law philosophers claimed the inferior status of women was "common sense" and a matter of "nature". They believed that women could not be treated as equal due to their "inner nature". The views of 17th century natural law philosophers were opposed in the 18th and 19th century by Evangelical natural theology philosophers such as William Wilberforce and Charles Spurgeon, who argued for the abolition of slavery and advocated for women to have rights equal to that of men. Modern natural law theorist, and advocates of natural rights, claim that all people have a human nature, regardless of gender, ethnicity or other qualifications, therefore all people have natural rights.

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