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Natural law is the moral theory of jurisprudence and often states that laws should be on the basis of ethics and morals. This law also states that law should focus on what is ‘correct’.

In addition, natural law was found by humans on their disposition of reasoning and choosing between good and bad. Hence, it is said that this law plays a significant role in establishing moral and ethical standards.

Natural Law – It’s Meaning & Definition

There is no unanimity about the definition and exact meaning of natural law and the term “natural law theory” has been interpreted differently at different times depending on the needs of the developing legal thought. But the greatest attribute of the natural law theory is its adaptability to meet new challenges of the transient society.

Natural Law & Positive Law

There is another way of looking at natural law. It is viewing at it form positivistic or empiricist angle abstract metaphysical ideals and notions which is described generally as natural law.

According to FULLER “by legal positivism I mean that direction of legal thought which insists on drawing a sharp distinction between law that 'is' and that 'ought' to be, natural law on the other hand is the view which denies the possibility of a rigid separation of the 'is ’ and the 'ought ’ and which tolerates a confusion of them in legal discussion. There are of course, many 'systems ’ of natural law. Men have drawn their criteria of justice and of right law from many sources from the nature of things, from the nature of man, form the nature of God But what unites the various schools of natural law and justifies brining them under a common rubric, is the fact in all of them a  certain coalescence of the 'is’ and 'ought ’ will be found.

Natural law is a philosophy of law that focuses on the laws of nature.

Moreover, this school of jurisprudence represents the belief that there are laws common to all societies. This is irrespective of whether they are written down or can officially enact.

Natural law can be broadly divided into four classes:

  1. Ancient theories
  2. Medieval theories
  3. Dark Ages
  4. Renaissance theories

Modern theories

Ancient Theories


The Greeks are said to have laid the foundations of the natural law school. The Greek thinkers developed the idea of natural law and laid down its essential features.

Heraclitus observed a certain rhythm in events and termed it as ‘destiny, order and reason of the world. Heraclitus was the first Greek philosopher who pointed at the three main characteristic features of law of nature, namely

  1. Destiny,
  2.  Order and
  3.  Reason

Socrates view on Natural Law (470 399 BC)

The name of Socrates occupies a prominent place among the Stoic philosophers of the ancient time. It is because of the "human insight” that a man has the capacity to distinguish between good and bad and he is able to appreciate the moral values. Thus, according to Socrates, “virtue is knowledge "and “whatever is not virtuous is sin”. To him, justice may be of two kinds, namely,

  1. Natural justice, and
  2. Legal justice.



Aristotle’s view on Natural Law (384-322 B.C.)

Stoice  had widened the meaning and scope of natural law, which no longer remained a mere knowledge of universal and ultimate laws but extended to man’s insight which enables him to appreciate the absolute eternal moral rules. Aristotle came out with a more logical interpretation of the natural law theory. According to him, a man is a part of nature in two ways.


Plato (427-347 BC)

Socrates’ disciple, Plato carried further the natural law philosophy through his concept of ideal state which he termed as “republic”. Plato extended that only intelligent and worthy person should be the king.



The Romans did not confine natural law to theoretical considerations. Instead, they explored its utility by applying its concepts practically. Romans used principles of natural law to transform their rigid legal system into a cosmopolitan one.

Stoics view on Natural Law

Stoics was inspired by Aristotle’s theory and based on Aristotle’s theory developed his own theory of natural law but made some key changes and made it more ethical. According to him, the world is governed by reason

Dark Ages

Nature to be overcome

During dark ages the early Christian Fathers expressed views on the “law of nature” from a theological base. Important of them is ST.AUGUSTINE. According to him, the union with divine is the end of law.

Medieval Theories

The period from12th century to mid-fourteenth century is reckoned as the “medieval age " in the European history. This period was dominated by the ecclesiastical doctrines which the Christian Fathers propagated for establishing the superiority of Church over eh state. They used natural law theory to propagate Christianity and to establish a new legal order and political ideology based on morals and theology. The Christian saints especially Ambrose, St; Augustine  and Gregrory propagated a view that divine law was superior to all other laws.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Catholic philosophers and theologians moved away from the orthodox interpretation of natural law and gave a more logical and systematic theory of natural law. He is considered to be the representative of the natural law theory of his age.

Renaissance Theories

General awakening among the masses coupled with new discoveries of science during the 14th and 15th centuries shattered the foundation of established values.  This period saw major changes in all aspects of knowledge, this period was marked by the emergence of new ideas, new branches of knowledge and discoveries of science shattered the foundation of established values.



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