Forum for the study of natural law

Photo of great thinkings from the fascia outside the University of Birmingham's Aston Webb building

The Forum’s mission is to select and study texts within the tradition(s) of natural law thinking, and to share and debate questions of importance relating to natural law philosophy.

Our activities include the production of working papers, and the publication of translations of some classic natural law texts. The Forum meets on average twice in each term. For further information, please contact Sean Coyle ( 

Working papers and abstracts

Sean Coyle, 'Can Natural Laws be Derived from Sociability?’ New Blackfriars (early view, 2019)
The article questions whether it is possible to derive natural laws from human sociability. It examines the work of Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, and concludes that there are certain natural laws that can be derived from the social character of human beings. Some of these hold across all societies and at all times (semper et ad semper) whereas others hold only in general but are subject to exceptions (semper sed non ad semper). The article concludes by confronting an anti‐social and immoralist challenge to the idea of natural laws of sociability.

Sean Coyle, ‘Natural Law in Aquinas and Suarez’  8 Jurisprudence (2017) 319-341.
This article considers the relationship between the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez. It has been said that Suarez made significant departures from the natural law theory of Aquinas, by putting greater emphasis on divine command as the source of natural law precepts, and by replacing Aquinas’s focus on good and bad with a focus on right and wrong. Hence, Suarez appears to replace Aquinas’s eudaemonist account of ethics with one based in deontology. The article argues that the differences separating Aquinas and Suarez are minimal, and that Suarez can be seen as upholding the central tenets of Aquinas’s doctrine of natural law. This has ramifications for our understanding not only of Suarez, but also of Aquinas himself.

Sean Coyle, ‘Natural Law and Goodness in Thomistic Ethics’ 30 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (2017) 77-96.
The purpose of the essay is to recover a correct conception of natural law and goodness in the ethics of Saint Thomas Aquinas. It suggests that the dominant interpretation of Thomism known by legal philosophers — that of John Finnis — is importantly at variance with Aquinas’s true account. Against the dominant interpretation, a true account of natural law must (i) differentiate between natural law and ethics in the full sense (moral theology), and (ii) interpret references to human good as references to virtuous goodness rather than non-moral goodness. The main body of the essay explores the place of these concepts in Aquinas’s account of ethics.

Sean Coyle, ‘Natural Law in Aquinas and Grotius — An Ethics for Our Times?’ 97 New Blackfriars (2016) 591-609.
The essay explores the significance of natural law for the world of today, and calls for recognition of a universal ethics for modern times. It focuses in particular upon the natural law philosophies of Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius: thinkers often considered as belonging to two separate traditions of thought, Protestant and Catholic. The essay exposes this classification as erroneous. Grotius carries on the tradition of Aquinas in all important respects, a tradition that focuses on the universal values of peace and justice as an essential foundation of society, and of the values that emerge from them in turn.

Sean Coyle, ‘Fallen Justice’ 93 New Blackfriars (2012) 687-709.
This article examines the concept of justice, and its realisation within communities via organs of the state. In particular it contrasts an Augustinian view, which laments the absence of true justice from human affairs, with a Thomist account, in which true justice is present but in an imperfect and incomplete form.