Theories of natural law hold that there is a single law, or body of laws, based on nature, that all human societies should obey. This tradition, embraced by philosophers and legal theorists for more than 2,500 years, has been highly adaptable and multifarious.

The idea of natural law originated with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (circa 500 B.C.), who declared, “All the laws of human beings are nourished by the one divine [law].” This universal principle was independent of human opinion or agreement, but rather was regarded as the justification for human laws. The corollary—that human ordinances are invalid if they conflict with the higher law—was asserted by the heroine of Antigone, where Sophocles has the heroine defy an edict on the grounds that “mortal man cannot ...

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