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Amistad: Natural Law Vs. Positive Law

993 words - 4 pages

Throughout the movie “Amistad,” directed by Steven Spielberg, conflict between Natural Law and Positive Law appears to be an underlying theme. The story is of a group of African slaves that effected a mutiny on their slave ship. After killing many Spaniards, the African slaves were then captured and put on trial. The story is based on a historical trial which took place in the United States during the years of 1939-1940. This trial ultimately became a very tricky political ‘game’ between the North and South of the United States over the case of slavery, as well as an international issue between the U.S and Spain. The main question being posed throughout the movie is, were the slaves justified in their actions, and should they have been rewarded or punished for their actions? When referring to the two philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Plato, it is evident to see that both believed the slaves actions were in fact justified, however, and both believed they should not have been rewarded.Philosopher Thomas Hobbes, born April 5th 1588, was a strong believer in positive law. The definition of positive law is the theory that law is a body of rules formulated by the state, and that citizens are obligated to obey the law for the good of the state as a whole. (Alexandrowicz et al., 617) Thomas Hobbes believed people were naturally “war-like and evil,” (77) and also believed that all men were created equally; it is because of this equality that conflict would constantly occur because of the human properties of competition, diffidence, and glory. (Stanford University) These three factors are evidently found throughout the primary actions of the slaves in “Amistad.” Initially, Cinque, the main character of the movie, breaks lose from his slave chains and initiates fighting and chaos between the Africans and Spaniards. In Thomas Hobbes mind, he would justify Cinque’s actions as a man in competition with the men around him, which is one of his described war-like qualities. An example of diffidence can be seen when Cinque’s face reveals a sense of shock and anguish after he steps back and looks at what he had done to the Spanish man. And finally, a sense of glory is seen when Cinque slowly raises the sword out of the mans chest, leaving him with his last breath. Although Hobbes would believe that the slave’s actions were in fact justified, he would also believe that they should be punished for what they have done. Again, it all goes back to positive law – Hobbes believed that since people are “war-like and evil,” law should be set in order to rule over evil and maintain law and order in society. Since Cinque and the slaves acted on their war-like, evil qualities, in Thomas Hobbes mind, they should be punished.Opposite to the beliefs of Thomas Hobbes, another philosopher named Plato believed very strongly in the philosophy of Natural law. Natural law is the theory that human laws are derived from...

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