Natural law

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She broke the Natural law. The bill comes due.
—Baron Mordo
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

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The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Natural law is the concept that incontrovertible laws of nature exist and should inform any of the laws written by governments and societies. These are claimed to include not only the observable laws of physics and mathematics, but also laws that govern human flourishing. It is an example of equivocation based on different meanings of the word "law".

It can be seen that, in reality, any attempt to deduce actual human law from, say, the law of gravity is actually bound to fail. Physical laws are descriptive and invariable - they describe what will inevitably happen in a particular physical environment.

Human laws, on the other hand, are designed to regulate a particular society; they are variable and can be broken. They are invented by the society which uses them.

Nevertheless, natural law is closely associated with concepts of objective morality: the belief that some actions will always remain moral or immoral, regardless of the attitudes of individuals, societies, or governments to these actions.


The general philosophy of natural law is an ancient one, expressed in various forms by Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers. It has also been incorporated into theistic religions such as Christianity, although whether the rules promoted by these faiths can be considered as natural law rather than divine law is vague and sometimes seemingly identical. Popular among conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians, appeals to natural law may conceal reference to divine authority (may only, as a long line of dedicated Christian thinkers from Hugo Grotius to present day Jesuits discussing the concept have claimed that it is beyond even God's power to modify; "Measureless as is the power of God, there can nevertheless be said to be some things to which that power does not extend. Just as even God cannot cause that two and two should not make four, so even He cannot cause that that which is intrinsically evil should not be evil.") as the basis for law in secular societies.[1] However, some atheists also believe in natural law. Murray Rothbard noted this conundrum in his own work; the religious revelationist tends to look on the concept as embodying a hostility toward religion, while the skeptic may look on it and harbor a deep suspicion that religion is being slipped by under the guise of reason. In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard expounded a belief that the concept of natural law is in itself neither supportive of nor hostile to religion.

Depending on how it is formulated, natural law may also contradict the popular sovereignty upon which many democratic governments are founded: the idea that "The People" collectively are the sovereigns that confer legitimacy on government, and therefore are the ultimate authors of its laws.

Natural justice is a system derived from Roman law that attempts to ensure court proceedings are fair. Important points are the following: Natural justice calls for impartial and disinterested judges and juries and insists that defendants must be aware of and understand the charges against them, and should be afforded the opportunity to prepare and present a proper defense against all charges.[2][3]

The modern concept of human rights was founded on similar principles: an assertion that certain rights are "inalienable" to all human beings. In contrast to natural law, the concept of moral relativism suggests that morality is defined by the attitudes of societies and individuals, and varies according to context. There is certainly some overlap, such as those who support the existence of human rights but believe that other aspects of morality are relative.

A hot topic of debate among libertarians is whether natural laws exist which define an inalienable set of human rights. Murray Rothbard was a notable defender of the concept of natural law. An opposing view, utilitarianism, holds that natural law as such does not exist and human rights are social constructs which serve an agreed-upon human purpose. Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham famously called natural rights "nonsense upon stilts."[4] Egoists, who believe that the basis of all morality is rational self-interest, have mixed views of natural law theory.

There was also a Natural Law Party, a multinational political concern essentially created to further the ambitions of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and promote yogic flying as a solution to the world's problems or some such. It has been to all intents and purposes inactive for several years; the United States section more or less closed up shop in 2004 but maintains a web presence. Their concept of "natural law" also meant something very different from that described above.

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