Similarities Between Natural Law and Legal Positivism

Is it conceivable that there are notable similarities between natural law and legal positivism, two legal theories often seen as completely contradictory? This question prompts an in-depth exploration of the similarities between natural law and legal positivism. Though these theories are typically set in opposition, a closer analysis reveals a number of unexpected parallels.


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Exploring the Similarities Between Natural Law and Legal Positivism

One of the key similarities between natural law and legal positivism is their shared acknowledgment of the intersection between law and morality. Both schools of thought, despite their inherent differences, recognize that legal frameworks are not entirely separate from moral principles. This recognition forms a fundamental aspect of both natural law and legal positivism, highlighting the intricate relationship between legal rules and moral values. Furthermore, these theories agree on the importance of legal validation, be it through alignment with a natural moral order as in natural law, or through establishment by a legitimate legal authority as in legal positivism. Additionally, both theories understand the role of laws in maintaining social cohesion and order, though their interpretations of the origins of this order vary.

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Similarities in Philosophical Origins

The philosophical roots of both natural law and legal positivism extend back to ancient philosophy, underscoring another area of similarity between these two theories. Natural law is grounded in the classical ideas of Plato and Aristotle, who posited an inherent, nature-based moral order. Legal positivism, on the other hand, traces its origins to empirical thinkers like Hobbes and Locke, who argued for a distinct separation between law and morality. Despite these foundational differences, the historical development of both theories reflects a long-standing dialogue between them, further illustrating the similarities between natural law and legal positivism.

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Shared Moral Foundation

At their core, both natural law and legal positivism acknowledge the significance of morality within the legal sphere, a substantial similarity between the two. This common ground is seen in how both theories address the relationship between legal norms and moral standards.

  • Natural Law Perspective: In natural law, the existence of an inherent moral order in the universe is central. This school of thought holds that laws aligned with this natural moral order are just, whereas those that deviate are unjust. This perspective can be explored further here.
  • Legal Positivism Perspective: Legal positivism, while primarily advocating for the separation of law and morality, does recognize that legal systems can embody moral elements. This viewpoint, as argued by theorists like H.L.A. Hart, suggests that legal positivism, despite its focus on law as a creation of human authority, still accommodates fundamental moral principles within its framework. More on this can be found here.
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10 Similarities between Natural Law and Legal Positivism (Summerised)

Here are 10 similarities between Natural Law and Legal Positivism:

  1. Foundation in Philosophical Thought: Both theories have roots in ancient philosophical thought, with natural law tracing back to thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, and legal positivism to Hobbes and Locke.
  2. Acknowledgment of Morality: Both theories, albeit in different ways, recognize the role of morality in the legal system. Natural law integrates morality as a fundamental part of law, while legal positivism acknowledges that legal systems can incorporate moral principles.
  3. Focus on Law’s Function: Each theory emphasizes the function of law in society, whether it’s to reflect a moral order (natural law) or to establish order and authority (legal positivism).
  4. Legal Validation: Both theories agree on the necessity for legal rules to be validated, albeit through different means – natural moral order in natural law and societal or authoritative recognition in legal positivism.
  5. Importance of Social Order: Natural law and legal positivism both understand the importance of law in maintaining social cohesion and order.
  6. Influence on Legal Systems: Both have significantly influenced modern legal systems and theories, shaping contemporary legal thought and practice.
  7. Adaptation Over Time: Each theory has evolved over time, adapting to changes in social, moral, and political contexts while retaining their core principles.
  8. Concern for Justice: Both natural law and legal positivism are concerned with the concept of justice, though they define and approach it differently.
  9. Legal Norms and Standards: Both theories contribute to the establishment and interpretation of legal norms and standards within various legal systems.
  10. Educational Foundation: They form a foundational part of legal education, offering contrasting perspectives that are essential for a comprehensive understanding of law and jurisprudence.
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These similarities highlight how, despite their distinct philosophical underpinnings, natural law and legal positivism share common ground in their approach to understanding and shaping the legal landscape.


In summarizing, while natural law and legal positivism are distinct in their approaches to jurisprudence, their similarities cannot be overlooked. These similarities between natural law and legal positivism, especially in terms of their treatment of morality, legal validation, and the role of laws in societal cohesion, provide a more comprehensive understanding of the intricate dynamics between law, morality, and society. Recognizing these overlapping areas offers a deeper insight into how these two prominent legal theories contribute to our broader comprehension of the legal structures that govern our lives.

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