Kelsen and the Necessity of God in the Natural-Law Doctrine

John Mcgarry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In this chapter, I examine Kelsen’s contention that the natural law doctrine necessarily depends on the existence of God or other supreme creator. I argue that this contention is based on a number of interrelated claims: that the natural law doctrine attempts to provide a definitive standard of justice; that such a definitive account may only be posited by a superhuman creator; that natural law seeks to derive principles of justice from the nature of reality; and that natural law norms may only be derived from a general norm posited by God, moreover, if natural lawyers deny the claim that the principles of natural law may only be derived from God, they must necessarily be attempting to derive an ought from an is. Throughout the chapter, I challenge Kelsen’s claims by considering natural law theories which do not conform to them. I consequently argue that Kelsen’s conception of natural law is a caricature which does not correspond to, or accurately reflect, the rich and varied tradition of natural law thought.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKelsenian Legal Science and the Nature of Law
EditorsPeter Langford, Ian Bryan, John Mcgarry
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-51816-9
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2017


  • Kelsen
  • Natural Law
  • Law and Philosophy


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