Natural Law

Natural Law is the oldest school of jurisprudence that can still claim adherents in the modern era. Other schools there may have been (and almost certainly were), but they are lost to the dim ages of the past.

Traditionally, the school of natural law is believed to have started around the fifth century BC, drawing its support from the writings of prominent philosophers of the Greek and Roman Eras. This date is by no means universally held; the great Catholic philosopher and monk St. Thomas Aquinas asserts that the school can be traced back as far as 1500 BC, with the transcription of the Ten Commandment law given at Mt. Sinai and the institution of the Mosaic rituals.

Adherents of the Natural Law school assert that there are certain indestructible laws which exist in both a physical sense (laws of motion, gravity, etc) and in a spiritual sense. Such laws are frequently held to be of the divine or higher moral order. Human law, then, is merely an extension of the natural order, since societal constraints are fashioned by the outworking of these natural precepts in the lives of individuals. It is obvious that the reverse must be true, should one accept the prime thesis. Thus, natural law adherents contest that any human law which abrogates these natural precepts in inherently unenforceable and ultimately self-destructive.

Natural Law philosophy was used extensively in the the framing of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps it is clearer in no other place that in the immortal words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." More recently, the concept of natural law has provided impetus for Prohibition and has also been the grounds for the conviction of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg.

Definitions and Works of Natural Law Adherents

Definition of Natural Law

Natural Law: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Aristotle Biographical Information
  Selected Works
Aquinas, St. Thomas Biographical Information
  Essay on law and justice in the Summa Theologiae
  The Summa Theologiae (translated)
Chrysippus of Soli Biographical Information
  The Stoics and the Stoic Philosophy


Biographical Information


De Republica (Books 1 and 6)


De Legibus (Excerpts from books 2 and 3)

Grotius, Hugo

Biographical Information


The Law of War and Peace


Biographical Information


Contemporary scholar's essay on Heraclitus' writings

Hobbes, Thomas

Biographical Information


The Elements of Law

Kant, Immanuel

Biographical Information


Introduction to the Metaphysics of Morals


Metaphysical Elements of Ethics

Locke, John

Biographical Information


Essay Concerning Human Understanding


Biographical Information


The Republic


Essay on Plato's Republic


Review of the Stoic Philosophy

Even in modern times, the doctrines of Natural Law gain defenders among the learned. Below are two links to essays on Natural Law by modern jurists.

A Definition and Discussion of the Principles of Natural Law

The Case For and Against Natural Law

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This page last updated 29 April 2002 by John Stradling

Copyright John Stradling 2002. All rights reserved.