Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now

  The Jurisprudence of AI – Towards a natural law approach

   Centre for Accountable, Responsible and Transparent AI

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Charles Larkin, Dr Marina De Vos, Prof Nick Pearce  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

A core aspect of understanding the law is jurisprudence. The rise of AI, automation and machine learning has dramatically changed everyday practices in the legal system and the common law as well as parliamentary legislation. A major challenge facing the law is understanding the role of morality in legal interpretation. The English legal tradition has traditionally tended towards positivists, of the type exemplified by H.L.A. Hart. The English tradition, closely associated with the common law, is that all legal facts are determined by social facts. Non-positivists, exemplified by John Finnis, tend to be associated with natural law, lex natura. This approach, put simply, holds that moral judgement is necessary to determine the law. 

The challenge of AI encourages an inquiry into how to reinterpret natural law for the present age. Much as natural law was recast in the past for a post-scholastic age by Hugo Grotius, Gottfried Leibniz, Samuel von Pufendorf and in the Anglosphere by Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith, there is a need now. The project undertaken by this doctoral scholar will be to recast the natural law system of jurisprudence such that it articulates a via media between pure positivism and non-positivism. This recast is required by substantive moral judgements in the interpretation of the law as obligated by the determination of ultimate ends in the presence of AI.

Non-positivist jurisprudence sits at the heart of economics, being the basis of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), the foundational text of economics. Economics, while positivist in application, has found many avenues towards this via media between positivist and non-positivist determination of ultimate ends as evidenced by major thinkers such as J.M. Keynes and more recently by political economists such as Daron Acemoglu and Thomas Piketty and behaviouralists such as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

This topic is of particular interest to those seeking to articulate the future roles of advocates and judges in the presence of AI. While the replacement of these roles in the legal profession is aspirational and well-articulated by Susskind and Susskind (2015), there are clear limits, most especially in the common law of the Anglosphere, where nuance and subtle persuasion are crucial to the discovery of the exceptional and the judicial articulation of a new remedy, rule or test.

You will be working with Dr Charles Larkin, a political economist with experience in economic policy, financial markets, economic and financial legislation and history of economic thought whose research blends politics, economics, mathematics and jurisprudence. Dr Larkin is Director of Research for the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath and holds adjunct positions at Trinity College Dublin and Johns Hopkins University.

This project is associated with the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Accountable, Responsible and Transparent AI (ART-AI). We value people from different life experiences with a passion for research. The CDT's mission is to graduate diverse specialists with perspectives who can go out in the world and make a difference.

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree in an AHSS subject or a master’s level qualification in any discipline. You will also need to have taken a mathematics course or a quantitative methods course at university or have at least grade B in A level maths or international equivalent.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form and be accompanied by an application essay (3,500 words) on the following topic:

Roman jurists and philosophers argued that the very essence of law rested not upon the arbitrary will of a ruler, but upon what they labelled the lex naturae, the natural condition that exists both in our world and in our being. The laws of morality, like the laws of science, were therefore not derived from humanity but from nature, and stood eternal, universal, and self-evident. Can our old values guide the adoption of new technologies? In particular, can ‘natural law’ order the behaviour of artificial intelligence in our society? Discuss.

Enquiries about the application process should be sent to [Email Address Removed].

Start date: 2 October 2023.

Computer Science (8) Economics (10) Law (22) Philosophy (28) Politics & Government (30)


Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A. Why nations fail: The origins of power, prosperity and poverty. London: Profile, 2012.
Carnap, Rudolf. The Logical Structure of the World. Pseudoproblems in Philosophy. University of California Press, 1967.
Davis, Joshua P. "Artificial wisdom? A potential limit on AI in law (and elsewhere)." Okla. L. Rev. 72 (2019): 51.
Davis, Joshua P. "Law without mind: AI, ethics, and jurisprudence." Cal. WL Rev. 55 (2018): 165.
Finkel, Alan. Can ‘Natural Law’ underpin ‘Artificial Intelligence’? Speech to Joint Conference of Federal Court of Australia and Law Council of Australia. 28 November 2019.
Finnis, John. "Natural law and legal reasoning." Clev. St. L. Rev. 38 (1990): 1.
Finnis, John. Natural law and natural rights. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Grotius, Hugo. De jure belli ac pacis. Paris. 1625.
Hart, Herbert Lionel Adolphus and Leslie Green. The concept of law. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Hutcheson, Francis. A System of Moral Philosophy, in Three Books. London. 1755.
Keown, John and Robert P. George, eds. Reason, morality, and law: The philosophy of John Finnis. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Keynes, John Maynard. The general theory of employment, interest, and money. Springer, [1936] 2018.
Leibniz, Gottfried. Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain. Amsterdam. 1765.
Leung, King-Ho. "The Picture of Artificial Intelligence and the Secularization of Thought." Political Theology 20, no. 6 (2019): 457-471.
Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the 21st Century. Harvard University Press, 2013.
Quine, Willard V. From a logical point of view: Nine logico-philosophical essays. No. 566. Harvard University Press, 1980.
Raz, Joseph. The authority of law: essays on law and morality. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations: An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations. Harriman House Limited, [1776] 2010.
Susskind, Richard E., and Daniel Susskind. The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford University Press, USA, 2015.
Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin, 2009.
von Pufendorf, Samuel. De Officio Hominis et Civis Juxta Legem Naturalem. London. 1673.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York: Macmillan Company, 1929.

Where will I study?

 About the Project