Siegfried, Tom. "1 Smith’s Hand--Searching for the Code of Nature." A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature
promoted by many of Smith’s disciples—that Smith had revealed “a natural order of things,” an “offshoot of the ancient fiction of a Code of Nature.”
This idea of a “code of natural law” had been around since Roman times, with possible Greek antecedents. The Roman legal system recognized not only Roman civil law (Jus Civile), the specific legal codes of the Romans, but a more general law (Jus Gentium), consisting of laws arising “by natural reason” that are “common to all mankind,” as described by Gaius, a Roman jurist of the second century A.D.
Apparently some Roman legal philosophers regarded Jus Gentium as the offspring of a forgotten “natural law” (Jus Naturale) or “Code of Nature”—an assumed primordial “government-free” legal code shared by all nations and peoples. Human political institutions, in this view, disturb “a beneficial and harmonious natural order of things.” So as near as I can tell, “Code of Nature” is what people commonly refer to today as the law of the jungle.9 (Perhaps the FOX network will develop it as the next new reality-TV series.) “The belief gradually prevailed among the Roman lawyers that the old Jus Gentium was in fact the lost code of Nature,” English legal scholar Henry Maine wrote in an 1861 treatise titled Ancient Law. “Framing … jurisprudence on the principles of the JusGentium was gradually restoring a type from which law had only departed to deteriorate.”10
In any event, as Cliffe Leslie recounted, the “Code of Nature” idea was, in Smith’s day, one of two approaches to grasping “the fundamental laws of human society.” The Code of Nature method sought to reason out the laws of society by deducing the natural order of things from innate features of the human mind. The other approach “induced” societal laws by examining history and features of real life to find out how things actually are, rather than some idealized notion of how human nature should be.
In fact, Smith’s work did express sentiments favorable to the Code of Nature view; his statement that eliminating governmental preferences and restraints allows “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty” to establish itself clearly resonates with the con-