The Concepts of Natural Law versus Human Law as Depicted in Giovanni Boccaccio’s

The Concepts of Natural Law versus Human Law as Depicted in Giovanni Boccaccio’s

The Decameron

Human beings have always hated and disliked rules and regulations. In a lot of ways, these established systems are always seen by people as stern and strict limitations which hold them back from doing certain things they enjoy and love doing. Since time immemorial, the world has been bound by these rules. Everything that people do will always be guided and guarded by rules that identify and categorize which things are acceptable and what are not, and what are moral and what things are morally degrading. Over the years, these rules are what people considered as their guiding lights in living moral and straight lives. However, in this ever guarded world, there are different sets of rules and laws that people follow and live with. One is the set of natural laws that has been there ever since human kind existed, and the human laws which are obviously the set of laws that human have set and established by themselves. Ideally, everything will fall in their proper places when people would do things in following both of these sets of rules. But as it turns out, people now are questioning what set of laws really appear to be more important than the other and which one really carries more relevance and significance in their lives. This dilemma was artistically depicted in Giovanni Boccaccio’s renowned work, The Decameron. This literary work was a collection of stories which portrays the everyday problems, adventures and struggles of people reflecting their ability to weigh morality and crookedness in each of their adventures and trials. This work of Boccaccio was also able to reflect man’s struggle in determining what is better to follow and live by- natural laws or human laws?

The Argument of the Natural Laws vs. Human Laws: Which set of laws really matters more?

Human beings appear to be living in accordance to virtues and moral standards. These virtues and moral standards which people generally live by are those that are as old as the human race. These are commonly regarded as the natural laws. No one can live without these natural laws. Any action happens by virtue or against virtue, and people can easily determine what can be considered naturally wrong or right by the first sight of it. Thus this shows how natural laws have been part of human nature and how it cannot be easily taken for granted. However, as humans became more intellectual by the ages, the formation of human laws - which are created to add to peace and order of living – appeared to be necessary. However, although it was set to contribute to peace and order of living, a lot of people rather regarded it as limitations and restrictions to their free will. And this argument has been portrayed in Boccaccio’s The Decameron, as his characters went on with their adventures struggling to find out whether which set of laws to follow.

[…] And although a custom contrary to this practice has made us forget this natural law, yet it is not discarded or broken by Nature and good habits; and a person who lives virtuously shows himself openly to be noble, and he who calls him other than noble is the one at fault, not the noble man.    (Boccaccio, 2002)

As natural laws come part of the natural processes of human nature it as well come as natural as human life itself. On the other hands, human laws appear to be structured laws that are made to make human more ideal and standardized. Compared to natural laws which do not hold concrete punishments once they are not followed, human laws also appear to be stricter and sterner as it impose harsh punishments and reinforcers. Boccaccio’s The Decameron is just one manifestation of the natural tendency of natural laws and human laws to contradict as people have the natural tendency to hate things that restrict and limit them from doing the things they enjoy and love doing. Human life may indeed be seen to have been made more complicated by the invention of human laws. But as it appears, natural laws and human laws support and strengthen each other, it is just that humans tend to react negatively to human laws as they understand that they are the ones who made it and that they can just alter or modify it anytime unlike the natural laws. Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron is just a reflection and proof that humans indeed have the natural tendency to reason out in the context of their free wills when it comes to questioning the validity and significance of laws and rules.


Boccaccio, G. (2002). The Decameron. New York: Signet Classics. (pg. 300)