Natural Law and Natural Rights

About this Collection

The natural law and natural rights tradition emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries and argues that the world is governed by natural laws which are discoverable by human reason. A key aspect of this intellectual tradition is the notion that natural rights are not created by governments. Governments are instead created to secure these rights.

Key People

Titles & Essays


An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

By: Sarah Skwire

We've certainly highlighted more extravagantly produced books from our rare book collection. I'm a sucker for marbled endpapers, gold stamping, raised detailing, and glorious illustrations. It would be easy to pass by this volume,…
Essays on Church, State, and Politics

Christian Thomasius (author)

The essays selected here for translation derive largely from Thomasius’s work on Staatskirchenrecht, or the political jurisprudence of church law. These works, originating as disputations, theses, and pamphlets, were direct…

Institutes of Divine Jurisprudence. With Selections from Foundations of the Law of Nature and Nations

Christian Thomasius (author)

First published in 1688, Thomasius’s Institutes attempted to draw a clear distinction between natural and revealed law and to emphasize that human reason was able to know the precepts of natural law without the aid of Scripture. His…

A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations

Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (author)

The natural law theory of Johann Gottlieb Heineccius was one of the most influential to emerge from the early German Enlightenment. Heineccius continued and, in important respects, modified the ideas of his predecessors, Samuel…

The Miscellaneous Works

Sir James Mackintosh (author)

This collections contains his philosophical writings on Locke, natural law, Thomas More, and Machiavelli; his historical writings on the Glorious Revolution, his defence of the French Revolution Vindiciae Gallicae; and several of his…

The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted

Thomas Hodgskin (author)

In this series of letters to Lord Braugham, Hodgskin distinguishes between the natural right of property (based upon Lockean principles of natural law) and the artificial right of property (which is decreed by parliament). He…

The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy

Heinrich Rommen (author)

Originally published in German in 1936, The Natural Law is the first work to clarify the differences between traditional natural law as represented in the writings of Cicero, Aquinas, and Hooker and the revolutionary doctrines of…

Natural Law; or the Science of Justice (1882)

Lysander Spooner (author)

Even this is entitled “The First” it is the only part Spooner published. It was meant to be the opening section of a much larger treatise on natural law. It is interesting because Spooner outlines the basic principles of the thinking…

Political Theories of the Middle Ages (1881, 1900)

Otto von Gierke (author)

A translation by F.W. Maitland of part of vol. 3 of Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht (1881) entitled “Die publicistischen Lehren des Mittelalters.” It is a short history of the evolution of modern political thought which emerged…

Treatise on the Laws

Marcus Tullius Cicero (author)

The Treatise on the laws is Cicero’s imitation of Plato’s dialogue The Laws where he develops a Stoic theory of natural law as right reason. This book became very influential during the middle ages.

Selections from Three Works

Francisco Suárez (author)

The bulk of the selections in this volume are from A Treatise on Laws and God the Lawgiver (1612). In the Treatise Suárez presented a systematic account of human moral activity in all its dimensions, synthesizing the entire…

A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy (LF bi-lingual ed.) (1747)

Francis Hutcheson (author)

This Liberty Fund publication of Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria is a parallel edition of the English and Latin versions of a book designed by Hutcheson for use in the classroom.

Social Statics (1851)

Herbert Spencer (author)

Spencer’s first major work of political philosophy in which he attempts to lay the basis for a limited state on a rigorous development of a doctrine of natural rights. He begins with a defense of his “first principle” ’that every…

A Treatise of the Laws of Nature

Richard Cumberland (author)

A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, first appeared in 1672 as a theoretical response to a range of issues that came together during the late 1660s. It argued that science might offer an effective means of demonstrating the contents and…

Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence

Samuel von Pufendorf (author)

This was Pufendorf’s first work, published in 1660. Its appearance inaugurated the modern natural-law movement in the German-speaking world. The work also established Pufendorf as a key figure and laid the foundations for his major…

The Two Treatises of Civil Government (Hollis ed.)

Thomas Hollis (editor)

Locke’s most famous work of political philosophy began as a reply to Filmer’s defense of the idea of the divine right of kings and ended up becoming a defense of natural rights, especially property rights, and of government limited…

The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. II (1779-1792)

Thomas Paine (author)

Vol. 2 of a 4 vol. collection of the works of Thomas Paine. Vol. 2 (1779-1792) contains the Letter to Abbey Raynal, Dissertations on Government, The Rights of Man (1 and 2) and various articles.



Natural Rights

James Wilson asks if man exists for the sake of government, or is government instituted for the sake of man? (1791)

James Wilson

Natural Rights

Jeremy Bentham on rights as a creation of the state alone (1831)

Jeremy Bentham

Natural Rights

Shaftesbury and Learning Goodness

Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury

Property Rights

Wollaston on crimes against person or property as contradictions of fundamental truths (1722)

William Wollaston

Notes About This Collection

Liberty Fund is publishing an extensive collection of works about natural law in its Natural Law and Enlightenment Series including works by Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, and Francis Hutcheson.

See also the following schools of thought which supported the natural law and natural rights tradition:

And the 19th Century Utilitarians which did not.

For further reading on this topic see the works listed below: