Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Law of Nature Definition:

The uncertain and elastic concept of regulation of conduct based on morality, conscience or God.

Also natural law.

Law based strictly on morality or nature and based on enforcement by God, usually in the form of stated punishment or reward after-death.

In a bygone era where religion had greater influence in society, declarations of 'the law of nature' held great sway. Blackstone defined it as the "unrevealed law of God" and that it "it is superior in obligation to any other...."

In one case (Calvin), the judge even suggested that "the law of nature is part of the laws of England" adding:

"The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction. And this is lex oeterna, the moral law, call also the law of nature. And by this law, written with the finger of God in the heart of man, were the people of God a long time governed, before the law was written by Moses,  who was the first reporter or writer of law in the world."

In Aubert v Maze, Justice Rooke wrote:

" Every moral man is as much bound to obey the civil law of the land as the law of nature."

natural law?The laws of nature are rarely invoked in contemporary legal societies because of the obvious limitations as succinctly set out by Odgers in 1920:

"Where is (the law of nature) to be found? How is it to be identified? Is it the same in Timbuctoo or Tehran as it is in London or New York? Or does is vary with the latitude of each place or with the degree of civilization there in vogue? Was it the same in the time if Samson or Theseus as it was in the days of Ulpian or John Bright? If not, then where are the these variations recorded?

"As a matter of fact, there is not now and never was any such thing as a law of nature in any sense in which a ... lawyer of today understands the word law. It is just a convenient and very elastic term which is sometimes used as identical with the law of God or conscience ... while at other times it seems to denote little more than savage customs or animal instincts."

Or this from Justice Willes in Millar:

"Great men ruminating back to the origin of things, lose sight of the present state of the world, and end their enquiries at that point where they should begin our improvements."


  • Aubert v Maze 1 Bos. & Pull. 375 (1801)
  • Calvin's Case 7 Rep. 4b (1608)
  • Millar v Taylor 4 Burr. 2339 (1768)
  • Odgers, W. B., The Common Law of England (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1920), page 3.

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!