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Natural law is a philosophy that certain rights or values are inherent by virtue of human nature and can be universally understood through human reason. Historically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze both social and personal human nature to deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The law of nature, as it is determined by nature, is universal.

Thomas Aquinas, a leading proponent of natural law.

Natural law (lat. ius naturale, lex naturalis) is a philosophy that certain rights or values are inherent by virtue of human nature and can be universally understood through human reason. Historically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze both social and personal human nature to deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The law of nature, as it is determined by nature, is universal.

In Western culture, the conception of natural law first appears in Ancient Greek philosophy. Although natural law is often conflated with common law, the two are distinct. Common law is not based on inherent rights, but is the legal tradition whereby certain rights or values are legally recognized by virtue of already having judicial recognition or articulation. Natural law is often contrasted with the human-made laws (positive law) of a given political community, society, or state. In legal theory, the interpretation of a human-made law requires some reference to natural law. On this understanding of natural law, natural law can be invoked to criticize judicial decisions about what the law says, but not to criticize the best interpretation of the law itself. Some jurists and scholars use natural law synonymously with natural justice or natural right (Latin ius naturale), while others distinguish between natural law and natural right.

Natural law theories have exercised a profound influence on the development of English common law. Declarationism, a legal philosophy, argues that the founding of the United States is based on natural law. Because of the intersection between natural law and natural rights, natural law has been cited as a component in the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, as well as in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. (See "Laws of Nature" First Paragraph Declaration of Independence) Within the American Declaration of Independence, building on natural law, philosophies such as Consent of the Governed replaced the older doctrine of the Divine right of kings. These philosophies like social contract theory came of age during the age of enlightenment through individuals such as John Locke, but these ideas can be found in Roman law, Greek philosophy and ancient Buddhist texts.

Natural law theories have featured greatly in the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas, Alberico Gentili, Francisco Suárez, Richard Hooker, Thomas Hobbes, Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, Matthew Hale, John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emmerich de Vattel, Cesare Beccaria and Francesco Mario Pagano.

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