English: This article traces the shifts in meaning of the metaphor of “natural law” in modern thought from its pre-modern meaning as a divine standard for human behaviour accessible to reason. Descartes expanded this meaning to include the regularity of mechanical bodies by posing an absolute law system for all possible worlds as a priori, rational, and axiomatic. Newton relativised this from the perspective of the multi-facetted governance of God. The older conception of natural law sustained itself in economics and politicology, serving as a defence of individual freedom and non-intervention (Petty, Locke), but (dialectically) implying a determinism. It remained linked to Cartesian meaning via attempts by Petty, Hobbes and Locke to construct a natural science of social life.