The Natural Rights of Virtue
The intellectual and ethical subject matter of Piers Plowman, as depicted through an expansive array of allegorical figures, makes it a text ideally suited for philosophical inquiry. Indeed, the personifications of the mind emphasize the individual’s responsibility in choosing the best course of action. Focusing upon the poem’s second vision, this chapter examines the King’s judgment of Mede, the representation of financial remuneration, and how his ruling prioritizes natural rights, not statutes, as the means to overcome social inequities. Natural rights are those liberties guaranteed to every person in order to lead a productive and dignified life. Ockham is the first to develop a systematic theory, as it pertains to political rights. Investigating this theory reveals that the allegorical teaming of Reason and Conscience mirrors his notion of right reason. Through right reason, the King can delineate virtue from vice and determine those circumstances where these rights can operate independently of the law or customs of the community. The challenge before the King is to know when to put them into praxis. By joining the company of Reason and Conscience, he displays a heartfelt commitment to privilege moral goodness before legislated mandate.