Natural Law Revision

Overview of Natural Law with strengths and weaknesses of the theories.

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Natural Law
Overview
Natural Law is an ancient way of thinking about Ethics. It has 3 main sources:
1. The Bible (e.g. St. Paul)
2. The Romans (e.g. Cicero)
3. Greeks (e.g. the Stoics and Aristotle)
Natural Law is an absolutist approach to ethics. It is Universal (applies everywhere),
immutable (it does not change) and it focuses on the action and motive and so is
deontological.
Aquinas developed Natural Law, and through him it became an accepted part of Christian
thinking. He combined the thinking of Aristotle with the Bible. For Aquinas there was a
hierarchy of law:
Eternal Law ­ the law of the Universe
Divine Law ­ the laws given in the scriptures
Natural Law ­ our inbuilt disposition to know what is right
Human Law ­ the moral codes that we have created
Aquinas argued that good should be done and evil avoided. From this he derived the five
primary precepts:
1. Selfpreservation and the preservation of the innocent
2. Continuation of the species through reproduction
3. Educate children
4. Live together in ordered communities
5. Worship God
Secondary precepts can be deduced from the primary precepts:
e.g. selfpreservation and the preservation of the innocent `do not abort'
Natural Law says we can use reason to work out what is right. We have a natural instinct to
do what makes us flourish. For Aristotle `eudaimonia' was the goal of the ethical life:
happiness + virtue = the good life.
Goodness = a good interior act (a good motive) and a good exterior act (a good action). We
can be deceived by apparent good. E.g. euthanasia (good motive ­ to put someone out of
suffering. Bad action ­ taking someone's life).
Aquinas does not see Ethics as a precise science, moral questions require experience and
emotional balance. We have to use what Aristotle called `phronesis' of practical wisdom
(common sense). Natural Law thinking remains influential in the RC Church.
Strengths
Provides a Universal code that applies to everyone which cannot be misunderstood
and never changes
It does not allow people to justify killing in any way

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Gives everyone a `common' set of rules
Not elitist ­ not rules made by the rich to protect the rich. These are principles that
everyone can use.
Promotes equality and respect
If everyone followed it the world would be better and people would be happier
Weaknesses
People might suffer as rules such as banning abortion could lead to serious suffering
for mother or potential child
It has a strong religious element ­ e.g.…read more

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