Aquinas' Natural Law

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  • Created by: Jesah0
  • Created on: 02-03-16 16:48

Natural Law

  • Living in accordance to reason means being moral.
  • reason determines the ultimate purpose and destiny of human life  is fellowship with God
  • whether or not acts lead towards God depends upon whether the action fits the purpose for which humans were made.

ultimate purpose is to aim for perfection or be one with God.

Eternal Law= principles by which God made and controls. only God fully knows these principles.

Divine Law= reflects the eternal law. only believers of God knows these. this is written in the Bible.

Natural Law= reflection of Eternal law which is accessible to all as it is built into the structure of human nature. it allows us to see how we ought to behave in a purely natural world.

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Primary and secondary Precepts

  • are concerned with purpose, so are teleological.
  • are unchanging=anything else is based upon them=absolute
  • the approach is deontological

Preservation of life

Ordering society for the benefit of its members

Worshipping the creator


Reproduction of species

Secondary precepts

  • rules which Aquinas derived from the primary precepts which are at the centre of his Natural law theory.
  • are deontological=concerned with what our duty is.
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exterior and interior acts

interior act= intention of an action

exterior act= action itself

Both exterior and interior act are important to Aquinas

ultimate aim open to all is God.

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principle of double effect

  • is the distinction between the intended effect (good) and the merely foreseen effect (not good).
  • acceptable as long as the person was committing the action for the good and not the bad effect.
  • as long as the motive is good, they would be morally right.
  • primary intention is neither good nor morally neutral, but in a just war we could argue that it is an acceptable target.
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real and apparent goods

  • human nature is essentially good, as natural law is within everyone.
  • humans were oriented towards the achievement of perfection and can never knowingly pursue evil.
  • actions that are not in pursuit of perfection=pursuit of an apparent good
  • to choose an apparent good is an error as it is not really good for us.
  • to correctly distinguish between apparent and real goods is to use reason rightly and to choose the right thing to do.
  • an apparent good prevents humans from drawing close to what God intended.
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Natural law in action

  • sex is for procreation
  • family unit is the ideal social environment to bring children up
  • marriage is the place for procreation and sex-- artificial contraception and IVF are not allowed
  • any sexual practices that prohibit conception (homosexual sex, masturbation, etc.) are not allowed
  • marriage= a life-long unitive fellowship of one man together with one woman.--God's grace is conveyed to the couple
  • ****, incest and adultery are unnatural as they break primary precept- order in society

Doctrine of Double Effect

  • permissible if contraception (condoms) are used to prevent HIV and AIDS even if it prevents the birth of a child
  • also some women take the pill for medical reasons reather than using it for contraception.

Pope Francis

  • suggests women exposed to Zika virus could use artificial contraception to avoid pregnancy
  • "avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil" unlike abortion.
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Challenges to this approach and casuistry

  • the practice in the Catholic Church for priests (mainly) to celibate would break the precept to procreate. However, Aquinas meant that every individual has the responsibility to preserve life but it is a species requirement to procreate not an individual one.
  • Aquinas assumes that monogamy is the best way of preserving our species. However, some cultures are polyandrous(woman have more than 1 husband at a time) or promote polygamy.


  • process of applying natural law principles to specific situations.
  • done logically as some principles have logical conclusions. E.g. if it is wrong to kill then bombing cities  in WW2 killing was wrong
  • if self-defence is accepted then it is justifiable to use an air attack on Afghanistan as the aim is not to kill innocent people.--doctrine of double effect applied.
  • has a reputation of being legalistic and individualistic
  • legalistic weakness-- every sex act should be open to the possibility of new life-- **** (can lead to a new life) would be a lesser offence than male masturbation (cannot lead to new life)
  • the theory needs to be applied using common-sense
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