Natural Law

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Aristotle's Influence on Natural Law

Aquinas studied Aristotle’s work at the University of Naples at the age of 14 and he was greatly influenced by what he read. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that the ability to reason was a key element of human existence. Aquinas also used many of Aristotle’s terms in his Natural Law theory. He supported Aristotle’s idea of being efficient and final causes. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that everything in the world had a purpose. 

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Aquinas Natural Law

Everything in the world, including humans, was designed for a good purpose. Through reason, humans can discover a natural moral code or natural law to follow in order to achieve their purpose which isfellowship with God. 

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Definition of Natural Law

Natural Law is an ethical theory based on the concept of a final cause or purpose which determines everything’s proper or natural use.

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Aristotle and Aquinas believed that the highest good, the fellowship with God, for which we must aim, could be discovered through using human reason. The human nature given to human beings by God enables them to use their reason and experience to understand what is right. Moral life is a life lived according to reason. Reason leads a person to arrive at the right course of action when faced with a moral dilemma.

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Aquinas adopted Aristotle’s thinking that everything in the natural world has a purpose. Aquinas agreed that in fulfilling its final cause something can be called good. Aquinas believed that the order and purpose he observed in the world reflected Gods will. Aquinas said that an object achieves its final cause (purpose) and is good when it does what God intended it to do. Like everything else in creation, humans achieve their final cause (purpose) when they do what God intended them to do. The purpose of humans, being made in the image of God, is fellowship of God. 

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Absolutist and Deontological Theory

Absolutism- The view that there are universal moral norms which apply in all situations and at all times to all people; the view that certain actions are always good or evil, regardless of the context or situation in which the act is performed.

Deontological- A type of ethical theory which states that actions are right or wrong in themselves regardless of the consequences. This approach proposes that there are certain rules or principles that inform or guide people as to which actions are right or wrong.

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Four levels of Law

Eternal Law is the belief that God made an controls the universe and which only God knows completely. Humans often notice reflections of the law through science/ natural world.

Divine law is the law of god revealed to people through the bible and the teachings of Jesus and the church. It reflects the eternal law of god and this reflection can only be seen by those who believed in God.

Natural law is the moral law of God. Everyone has a natural sense that good is to be done and evil avoided. Everyone, whether theist or atheist, can use reason to determine the right action.

Human law is everyday rules which govern our lives from the legal system.

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Primary Precepts

Aquinas believed in order for humans to survive and fulfil their purpose, they had to live in a civilised society. This means that there must be a rule to follow where good is to be done and evil is to be avoided. Aquinas set 5 primary precepts (laws/rules) that he thought a society should follow:

Protect and preserve the innocent


Ordered society



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Secondary Precepts

Secondary precpts are rulings about things we should or shouldn't do because they uphold, or fail the primary precepts.

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