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v2.1 Reference

Traditions of Natural Law in Medieval Philosophy

Edited by Dominic Farrell
Reflection on natural law reaches a highpoint during the Middle Ages. Not only do Christian thinkers work out the first systematic accounts of natural law and articulate the framework for subsequent reflection, the Jewish and Islamic traditions also develop their own canonical statements on the moral authority of reason vis-à-vis divine law. In the view of some, they thereby articulate their own theories of natural law.

These various traditions of medieval reflection on natural law, and their interrelation, merit further study, particularly since they touch upon many current philosophical concerns. They grapple with the problem of ethical and religious pluralism. They consider whether universally valid standards of action and social life are accessible to those who rely on reason rather than divine law. In so doing, they develop sophisticated accounts of many central issues in metaethics, action theory, jurisprudence, and the philosophy of religion. However, do they reach a consensus about natural law, or do they end up defending incommensurable ethical frameworks? Do they confirm the value of arguments based on natural law or do they cast doubt on it?

This collection brings together contributions from various expert scholars to explore these issues and the pluralism that exists within medieval reflection on natural law. It is the first one to study the relation between the natural law theories of these various traditions of medieval philosophy: Jewish, Islamic, Byzantine, and Latin.

Each of the first four essays surveys the 'natural law theory' of one of the religious traditions of medieval philosophy—Jewish, Islamic, Byzantine, and Latin—and its relation to the others. The next four essays explore some of the alternative accounts of natural law that arise within the Latin tradition. They range over St. Bonaventure, Peter of Tarentaise, Matthew of Aquasparta, John Duns Scotus, and Marsilius of Padua.

About the Author

Dominic Farrell is associate professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.


"Collects eight first-rate essays treating conceptions of natural law in Jewish, Muslim, Byzantine, and Western Christian thinkers. The contributors are all highly qualified scholars in their respective fields. Each contributor writes with commendable clarity and offers their own well-researched and well-reasoned perspective on the thinkers discussed, vis-à-vis alternative or previous interpretations. It may well be that the positions taken here do not settle all debated questions in this area. But these solidly argued essays will decidedly enliven all subsequent considerations of the figures they address."—Marcia Colish, author of Faith, Fiction, and Force in Medieval Baptismal Debates (CUA Press)

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March 31, 2023
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