Chapter 2.1-Theology

  • Created by: Tahalia
  • Created on: 03-02-20 09:56


  • Natual law is based around the thinking of St Thomas aquinas.
  • It's a system of ethics based around the fact that there is such thing as human nature and that we should live in accordance with human nature, aiming to fulfill our purpose.
  • It is denological, meaning that its a system based around duties and rules.
  • Aquinas thought that human nature is fundamentally good and that all rational people seek goodness, found in the vision of God.
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The Telos (ultimate end)

  • Using Aristotlean ideas and thoughts, Aquinas made his own ideas.
  • Aristotle: Something was good if it fulfilled its purpose.  People aim to achieve eudamonia (happiness)
  • Aquinas: moral acts come from free rational beings and we have to be free in order to make our own decisions, making them using reason, given to us by God.
  • Aquinas also added that God should be the ultimate end or purpose of human life.  Being in the presence of God is the human "telos", meaning that being in the presence of God is the ultimate reason for existing.
  • Aquinas believed  that people need help from God in order to direct their motives and their actions, making sure that the right thing is done and it's done for the right reasons. 
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The 4 tiers of law

Aquinas believed that morality is about following law, in which he came up with the 4 tiers of law.

1.) Eternal law.
     The unchanging reason of God, the highest form of law that's absolute for all people and at all    times.

2.) Divine Law- the commandments given by God, usually found in the Bible.  This teaches how to live.

3) Natural law- people can percieve eternal law as using reason to reflect on the world and how they should behave and think, so God uses natural law to make etrenal law accessible to people, making natural law universible.

4.) Human law- the laws people come up with, responding to the higher tiers of law, in response to the need of their society and the way that it is organised.  Because it is the highest tier of law, it can easily be broken if higher froms of law are broken.

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The Precepts

  • The key precepts is the SYNDERESIS RULE: Do good and avoid evil.
  • Aquinas thought that all species want to survive therefore we are inclined to do good.
  • Aquinas believed that God gives us reason so that we can work out fo ourselves what to do to fulfill our purpose/telos.
  • He promoted the 5 key rules to promote human flourishing.


SECONDARY PRECEPTS come from primary precepts, illustrating the practical application of the primary precepts, making them more flexible.

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Real and apparent goods.


Those that are in accordance with the primary precepts and God's wishes for humanity.


Are things that tempt us because they seem enjoyable but which do not further the aim of promoting human flourishing.

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Natural or Cardinal virtues

Aquinas identified four "natural" or "cardinal" virtues that he believed were discovered by reason:

  • Prudence (the quality of being prudent; cautiousness.)
  • Temperance (abstinence from alcoholic drink.)
  • Fortitude (courage in pain or adversity.)
  • justice (the quality of being fair and reasonable.)

Other virtues are also mentionned in the Bible such as:

  • faith
  • hope
  • love
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The doctrine of double effect

Aquinas believed that intention is important, for example someone tried to attack you and in an act of self defence you killed the attacker.

If the intention was to do something good, (defend yourself) then the action cannot be bad even if there was an unintentional bad result as one of the effects.

It can be seen to be used in the cases of euthanasia, so if the intention of giving powerful doses of a drug to relieve pain, then that action is good even if an unintentional effect of the drug is to shorten life.

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Strengths of natural law as a system of ethics

  • People see natural law as offering clarity and consistency in its answers to ethical problems.
  • It combines religious ideas with reason, allowing people to exercise some autonomy in decisions about right and wrong
  • It's easy to work out what is right and wrong, making it a helpful set of ethics 
  • The universal law is appealing to many, looking at the abosolute world and applies to allcultures and times.
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Possible weaknesses of natural law as a system of

  • Not everyone has a belief in God, and Aquinas' version of naturallaw presupposes a belief in God.
  • The world has changed a lot since Aquinas' time i.e using artifiial methods for the use of contraception causes contraversy forexample people might think that it goes against the precept of reproduction leading to the unwanted pregancy of the spread of STD's or STI's.
  • It can be seen to be quite unsympathetic in some circumstances
  • Our understanding of naturallaw has changed since the time of auinas.  For example homosexuality in the past was seen as unnatural but in the western world it is seen as quite natural.
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