Natural law (Naturalism, jus
naturale) is an excellent example of a simple-sounding concept
whose definition has become obscured by the many meanings attributed
Though it obviously relates to the law
as seen in nature, of course, definitions of nature have varied
since the term "natural law" was introduced by Aristotle
(384-322 BCE) in his Nicomachaen Ethics. As its subsequent discussion
by the Stoics and the Romans, by the Byzantine Justinian Code,
by religious scholars throughout the Middle Ages, by Enlightenment
thinkers as well as contemporary legal scholars shows, Natural
law is a Western concept that has formed an important pole (against
Positivism) in debates about the origins of law.
Natural law, then, can perhaps most simply
be defined as what it is not, that is positive law, or law given
by a government to its people.
Natural Law in the Ancient world
The Sophists argued that no one could violate
the laws of nature, which showed (in humans as in animals) that
the weak should be dominated by the strong. Natural law was that
"might made right."
In his Republic, Plato (429-348 BCE) argued that natural inclinations
and capacities should order the ideal society. Men made of "gold"
should lead as philosopher-kings, while those of meaner metals
should work as craftsmen or farmers. Children should be classified
early and raised by the class fitting of their potential. In this
"natural" ordering of society, "a man should do
his work in the station of life to which he was called by his
Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, distinguished
between natural law and conventional law, the former being an
enduring universal truth, the later a temporary rule. This distinction
is preserved today in the opposition of natural law to positivism.
The Greek Stoics viewed Natural law in
a similar light, as a ruling principle based on universal reason.
They believed that this inherent rationality in the universe was
created by God, whose law applied universally and equally.
Cicero (106-43 BCE), an influential Roman
jurist, was heavily influenced by the Stoics in his understanding
of natural law, which he described by writing that "True
law is right reason in agreement with nature." It is universal
("There will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens
or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable
law will be valid for all nations and all times"), divinely-inspired,
and divinely-enforced. Law is not necessarily just, but justice
is inherent in nature.
Roman jurists gave Natural
law a number of different meanings, many of which are present
in the Justinian Code. Among them are the following:
- normal and reasonable behavior in society
- the law that arises universally in behavior
among nations, jus gentium
- the law in nature among animals (natural
coupling of male and female for procreation)
It is worth noting that the Stoic idea of equal application of
Natural law lead many to view slavery as "unnatural."
The Justinian Code makes the seemingly anachronistic comment that
"Slavery is an institution of the jus gentium by which, contrary
to nature, one man is made the property of another."**
Different ideas about "Natural law" existed in the ancient
world. What were they?
1. Natural law is what is seen in nature,
among animals. (Sophists)
2. Natural law is what is natural, ie, what is universal and enduring
through time. (Aristotle)
3. Natural law is based on reason, perhaps given by God. (Stoics,
4. Natural law is what is in society, either in one country or
5. Natural law is what is in nature/animals.
Find the different ways that Natural law is applied in the Justinian