natural law...

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  • Created by: Chloe.
  • Created on: 16-05-11 13:14

Natural law.

- Natural Law is an absolutist theory (no exceptions), rooted in our human nature and our search for genuine happiness and fulfilment.

- Deontological - rightness/wrongness of an action is not based on motive or outcome but what sort of action it is.

- Can be universally applied.

- Natural law originated from the philosophy of the ancient greeks, especially that of Aristotle, and was developed by Thomas Aquinas.

- It relies on Aquinas' basic understanding that humans innately try to do good and to avoid evil in order to find fulfilment and happiness in life.

- Primary and Secondary precepts.

- The sanctity of life - all life is sacred.

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what is natural moral law?


Everything has a purpose (Aquinas considered that by using our reason to reflect on our human nature, we could discover our specific end or purpose). Having discovered this we could then work out how to achieve it. This understanding of God's plan for us, built into our nature at creation Aquinas called Natural Law!

Natural law is not about doing what comes naturally. It is based upon nature interpreted by human reason.

Natural law is not exactly a law in that it does not give you a fixed law - it is not always straightforward and there is some flexibility in its application.

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Origins of natural law.

The earliest theory of natural law appeared among the stoics, who believed that God is everywhere and in everyone. Humans have within them a divine spark which helps them to find out how to live according to the will of God.

Humans have a choice wheather to obey the laws that govern the universe but they need to use reason to understand and decide wheather to obey these cosmic laws.

Thomas Aquins linked the idea of a cosmic natural law with Aristotles view that people like every other natural object have a specific nature, purpose and function. Aristotle considered that not only does everyone have a purpose but that its supreme good is found when it fulfills that purpose.

The supreme good of humans is eudemonia, meaning happiness but includes the ideas of living well, thriving and flourishing with others in society. Aristotle saw this as the final goal for humans, but this is to be achieved by living a life of reason. Reason is not just the ability to think and understand but also hiw to act: ethics is reason put into practice.

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Aristotelian Philosophy. Final Cause.

Aristotle believed eveything in life has a purpose and an efficient and final cause...

Effieient cause = things/processes by which things are achieved
(the tools used to create a wooden figure)

Final cause = end product. (the wooden figure)

For Aristotle, everything has a telos or end purpose and this determines its 'good.'

Everything has a state of potentiality and an actuality; turning potentiality into actuality is fulfilling a purpose.

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the meaning of 'good'

Natural law is based on Aristotles idea that everything has a purpose, revelaed in its design. The fulfilment of the telos is the supreme 'good' to be sought. Thus a 'good' pen is one which fulfils its purpose. (to write)

Natural law does not argue that morality should be based on reason alone but that human reason (given by God) was a starting point for morality. Thus, morality should be known primarily through reason, and secondarily through human reason.

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Natural Inclinations.


Aquinas thought that God installed in all humans natural inclinations to be have in certain ways which lead us to the highest good, and by using our reason we can discover the precepts (laws) which express Gods Natural law built into us.

The most fundamental inclination according to Aquinas is to act in such a way as to achieve good and avoid evil.

He thought this was because we are designed for one purpose - perfection.

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primary precepts.

Aquinas saw the primary precept of natural law as always true and applying to everyone with out exception, as they are a direct 'reflection' of God's eternal law.

Aquinas tried to work out what the purpose of human life was. He concluded that it was to:






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secondary precepts.

Humans are then to use their reason to establish rules that will fulfil the requirements of the primary precepts. These rules are known as secondary precepts. These are dependant on our own judgements of what actually to do in a given situation and are open to faulty reasoning which may lead to completely wrong choices :(

Secondary precepts require:
Exercise of wisdom.

- Do not murder (fulfils the primary precept of preserving life)
- Do not abort the unborn (also fulfils the primary precept of the preservation of life)

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cardinal virtues.

The cardinal vitrues represent the human qualities that reason suggests are required in order to live a moral life and achieve the final cause...


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Levels of law.

Each level depends on the level above it, whilst eternal law does not depend upon anything because God exists necessarily.

ETERNAL LAW: the order in the mind of God

DIVINE LAW: The law given to people from God though the bible and the teachings of the church

NATURAL LAW: Intuitive sence of right and wrong discovered through the conscience

HUMAN LAW: rules made by human societies in order for them to work successfully

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the doctrine of double effect.

There are times when we have morral dilemmas in which we cannot do good without a bad consequence. To solve this dilemma the doctrine of double effect was devised, roughly saying that it is always wrong to do a bad act intentionally in order to bring about a good consequence, but that it is sometimes all right to do a  good act despite knowing that it will bring bad consequences.

For example.. if a pregnant woman had cancer she could have a hysterectomy, even though this would result in the death of the foetus - but any other pregnancy related life threatening condition whereby deliberately killing the foetus is the only way of saving the woman would not be allowed.

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features of natural law.

Natural law is based up on the religious conviction that God created the world, establishing in it a sense of order and purpose which reflects his will.

If everything is created for a purpose, using human reason we are able to judge how to act in order to conform to that purpose.

The action itself can be natural or unnatural and is judged on that basis.

Since natural law is based primarily on reason rather than revelation it is a principle discoverable by anyone, regardless of religious orientation.

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advantages of natural law.

:) justifiable way of asserting that morality is absolute.

:) allows faith to be combined with reason and appreciates the human ability to reason, whilst it can still be adopted from a chirstian perspective.

:) appeals to our instinctive convictions of right and wrong that depend on more than opinion and society. Our instincts from a child tell us that there is an absolute right and wrong.

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criticisms of natural law.

:( Some cases where we are not sure what the natural thing to do is. For example is it wrong to prolong the life of a dying man?

:( What happens when there is conflict between divine law and dictate of reason. For example Jesus said 'turn the other cheek' but natural law commands that you should attempt to preserve your life.

:( If the presumptions that we are rational beings and that we live in a word created by God who has an ultimate purpose for his creation are challenged then the argument becomes invalid.

:( Seems inconsistent with the story of the fall in Genesis 3 where it tells us that human reason was seperated from God through sin. Thus, reason cannot be how we deduce God's purpose for us.

:( when strictly applied some rules are counter-intuitive. For example It suggests that every human being should marry and have children. Does this mean mother teresa was wrong to devote her life to helping the poor instead? Aquinas responeded to this saying it is okay for some to choose other ways of life.

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