Natural Law Theory

Notes taken from Ethics and Religion by Joe Jenkins

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Natural Law (FOR Religious Studies)
Natural Law
St Thomas Aquinas (and St Augustine of Hippo) created the Natural Law Theory,
which states that:
Human nature was created by God and each person has a particular
There is a link between happiness and virtuous behaviour.
Reason can guide people in developing virtue.
Morality is not based on commands from God but on reason ­ `the moral
life is the life according to reason' (Summa Theologica).
There is an `ideal' human nature which we all can be potentially achieve.
`Sin' is falling short of this ideal (the good), literally meaning `missing the
mark' (as in archery). People often miss the mark because they confuse
apparent good with the ideal ( e.g. drinking alcohol may make me feel
more sociable ­ apparent good ­ but the ideal would be feeling
selfconfident and sociable without having to chemically alter my body).
Although an act may be good in itself (e.g. giving to charity), it may come
from a bad intention (giving to charity so you can boast about it).
Natural Law Today
Philosophical thinking has provoked philosophers to question a
prescriptivist approach to ethics. The Scottish philosopher David Hume
(177176) argued that what is the case and what ought to be the case are
logically different ideas e.g., sex does produce babies but this does not
necessarily mean that people ought to have sex only for this purpose.
Modern science has presented a world view which makes little or no
reference to purposes or values. All life has its particular characteristics
not because it is the way it ought to be but because of the way it is,
dictated by factors like natural selection, evolution and the laws of cause
of cause and effect. `Natural laws' are the laws of biology, chemistry and
physics morality and values have nothing to do with natural order.
Moral judgements arise from human reason which we are able to
understand because God has made us rational beings. However,
because the Natural Law theory sees the ultimate recourse to moral
decisions and actions as reason, this means that the religious believer
has no special access to moral truth. The believer and the nonbeliever are
in exactly the same position. God made everyone rational, not just


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