Natural Moral Law - Investigations, Medical Ethics

Here are some notes on Natural Moral Law for the Investigations exam for medical ethics. In the exam you will have to be able to apply this knowledge to the topic you have chosen for example euthanasia, abortion etc. To gain high marks in this exam, it will help if you put some of this information in. Examiners will not give you high marks if you simply write what you learned about in GCSE.

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Introducing Natural Moral Law
Some BASIC presuppositions of NML:
Everything has a purpose and mankind was made by God with a specific design or objective in mind (although it doesn't
require belief in God).
Its purpose can be known through reason. As a result fulfilling the purpose of our design is the only `good' for humans.
The theory of Natural Law was put forward by Aristotle but championed by Aquinas (1225-74). It is a deductive theory
­ it starts with basic principles and from these the right course of action in a particular situation can be deduced.
It is deontological, looking at the intent behind and action and the nature of the act itself, not its outcome.
Some questions to consider:
· Is there a Natural Moral Law within all people?
· What makes a thing wrong, the nature of the act or the consequences of the action?
· Are human beings essentially good or bad?
· Do all humans have a common purpose? What is it?
Everything in the world is designed and created by God. Humans have special freedom, to choose to follow the natural moral
law. Those humans who make this choice are following God's purpose for them.
The moral code is existent within the universe, and it is given by God. The moral code is unchanging, universal and relevant to
all circumstances. Four cardinal virtues can be associated with it - prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance: the four
qualities of a good moral life. In contrast, he highlighted the seven vices (seven deadly sins) which would lead people astray:
Pride, anger, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony and sloth.
Natural law offers a clearly defined rule that can be applied universally, that is `an action is right or wrong in itself, without
reference to the consequences'. Any situation can be broken down into the various actions involved and tries to establish the
moral rightness of each one. Actions are good so long as they run in accordance with God's purpose for man- to live, learn,
worship God and order society. An action which takes someone closer to God is right, and action which takes him further
away is wrong.

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Task 1
1. What are the primary precepts? How could we easily remember them?
2. What is the most important of these primary precepts?
3. What is a secondary precept?
4. What does absolutist mean?
5. Aquinas rejects teleology and embraces deontological ethics. Explain what is meant by these terms and how they
apply to Aquinas.
Doctrine of Double Effect
If it is in principle wrong to kill innocent human beings, it follows that bombing civilian targets (such as Dresden in WW2) is
wrong.…read more

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Some additional things to think about...
Efficient and final causes
This is Aristotle's distinction between what gets things done (efficient cause) and the end product (final Cause). With humans it
is the accomplishment of the end product the equates to `good'. An example is sexuality ­ an efficient cause of sex enjoyment:
because humans enjoy sex, the species have survived through procreation. However, the final cause of sex (the thing God
designed it for) is procreation. Therefore sex is only good if procreation is possible.…read more

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Task 3
With reference to all aspects of natural moral law, assess how the theory applies to your chosen area of Medical Ethics.…read more


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