The Aristotelian Basis of English Law, 1450-1800

42 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2006

See all articles by Stephen A. Siegel

Stephen A. Siegel

DePaul University - College of Law


Throughout the ages, lawyers have conceived of law as a product of reason but have had different notions of what reasons means. Prior to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, reason was primarily conceived according to the norms of Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotelian epistemology, premised as it was on a distinction between matter and form, held that knowledge of moral and practical matters could not be exact. With the rise of modern scientific means of investigating nature, philosophers such as Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke cast Aristotle's teaching aside. Among their many revolutionary doctrines was the notion that certainty was as obtainable in moral and practical affairs as it was in theoretical matters.

Law, as a moral science, was fundamentally affected by this revolution in Western epistemology. This articles traces the impact of the new scientific approach to knowing on common law jurisprudence through a study of the writings John Fortesque, Edward Coke, Matthew Hale, and William Blackstone, among others.

Keywords: Aristotle, epistemology, legal thought, jurisprudence, natural law, custom, Fortescue, St. German, Coke, Hale, Blackstone, Hobbes, Locke, Fearne, religion and law, practical knowledge

Suggested Citation

Siegel, Stephen A., The Aristotelian Basis of English Law, 1450-1800. New York University Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 18, April 1981, Available at SSRN:

Stephen A. Siegel (Contact Author)

DePaul University - College of Law ( email )

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