Natural Moral Law Revision Notes

All my notes on this topic from last year. Nice and easy, just remember to put the word "Aquinas" in every sentence and you'll be fine!

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Natural Moral Law
The Basics
Absolutist
Deontological
Prescribes fixed moral rules and duties
Traces back to ancient ideas from Greece ­ "the natural is that which
everywhere is equally valid" ­Aristotle (i.e. universal truth)
"True law is right reason in agreement with nature" ­Cicero
Best known as a Christian system of ethics ­ St. Paul argues that some
morals are known from nature (Romans 1)
"There will be... one eternal and unchangeable law [which] will be valid for all
nations and all times" ­Cicero
Aquinas
In Summa Theologica, he says that natural law resides within the purpose of
nature, created by God
Humans' destiny is to achieve unity with God, and NML helps them to
achieve this
A very basic law is evident in nature and known through reason: "good is to
be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. All other precepts of the law
of nature are based on this"
Reason and revelation
o God's law is perceived in two ways. Firstly, through revelation (the
Bible) the word of God is given
o In harmony with this is reason ­ what can be discerned through the
proper use of human reason
o NML is a rational system of ethics, but is supposed to find agreement
with what is revealed in scripture
o For Aquinas, a moral error is equivalent to an error in reason ­ if one
is being truly rational, one will always discern what is right
o Immoral lives are irrational and contradict the teachings of the Bible:
"to disparage the dictate of reason is equivalent to condemning the
command of God"
Real and apparent goods
o He assumes that human nature is essentially good
o But why, then, do people still do bad things?
o Aquinas solves this problem by drawing a distinction between real
and apparent goods: what is actually good and what only seems good
o A moral error involves choosing an apparent good, mistakenly
supposing that it is really good
o If I eat ten hamburgers, I may think it's good because I'll enjoy it ­
however, it is not a real good, because rational reflection will show hat
it will make me fat and depressed

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The same would be true for stealing cars, adultery etc.…read more

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Some Protestants oppose NML on the grounds that it
undermines the belief that Salvation comes from God's grace,
not from keeping moral laws
o No agreed moral laws
A relativist objection
The world is full of different moralities, not clear and common
ethics
o No such thing as essential human nature
So argues the philosopher Kai Neilson
Science gives no justification for the view that humans have the
same natural inclinations
o Legalistic morality
The unbending absolutism of NML means that it is not
understanding…read more

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