Religion & Liberty Online

A concise natural law reading list

One of the occupational hazards of being a librarian is that people are always asking you for book recommendations. The truth is that recommending books is more difficult than it seems. Recommendations are as much about the reader as the books themselves. Even the best book on a given subject is useless to the wrong reader.

The first and best filter for recommendations is reader interest. Even the most voracious and committed readers struggle to finish great works which simply bore them. The second best filter is the reader’s existing stock of knowledge. For someone new to Christianity even keen interest and ravenous curiosity would not make 2 Chronicles and Pro Rege a better place to start than the Gospel of John and Mere Christianity. With this in mind here are three recommendations for books on natural law.

For those keenly interested but new to the subject of natural law there is no better introduction than J. Budziszewski’s Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. It is clear, concise, religiously sensitive, and historical. The fourteenth and fifteenth chapters serve as sort of a general bibliography of ancient and modern thinkers. Because modern understandings of both nature, law, and reason are so different than those in the natural law tradition I think it best to start with an introductory work like this rather than dive right in to primary sources.

For those looking to expand their conception of natural law and dig into questions of the relationship between natural law and natural rights Brian Tierney’s Liberty and Law: The Idea of Permissive Natural Law, 1100-1800 is excellent. It’s a deep and broad historical dive into questions of law and liberty drawing on many figures in the natural law tradition.

Readers interested in how natural law reasoning applies to contemporary hot button issues, questions of legal theory, and faith would be well served by Robert P. George’s Clash of Orthodoxies: Law Religion and Morality in Crisis. Itis by turns breezy and technical but always contemporary and relevant.

Happy reading!


Image Credit: Hall central du musée d’histoire naturelle de Londres. CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Dan Hugger

Dan Hugger is Librarian and Research Associate at the Acton Institute.