Natural law: law, rights and duties

Knud Haakonssen, Michael J. Seidler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


The chapter gives an overview of natural law and natural rights from ancient Greece and Rome to modern discussions. It suggests that when the subject is considered as a topic in intellectual history as distinct from the history of philosophy, it is problematic to consider it as a coherent phenomenon. The implication of taking a purely historical approach to natural law and natural rights is that the subject breaks up into a series of episodes with varying family resemblances. These similarities are generally perceived in light of the argumentative and rhetorical needs of subsequent periods, and this applies also in the case of many modern invocations of the history of natural law and natural rights. However, there is now a substantial and flourishing scholarly literature that seeks to establish more adequate historical readings of the disparate occurrences that are bundled together as natural law and natural rights. Drawing on this literature, the chapter outlines some of the prominent historical episodes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA companion to intellectual history
EditorsRichard Whatmore, Brian Young
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781118508084
ISBN (Print)9781118294802
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2015

Publication series

NameWiley Blackwell companions to world history


  • Natural law
  • Natural rights
  • Stoicism
  • Aquinas
  • Grotius
  • Pufendorf
  • Thomasius
  • Kant


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