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  • Created by: Cathryn
  • Created on: 29-04-16 01:03


•Put forward natural law in the 13th century. 

•Driven by Aristotlean philosophy in the book ‘Nicomachean Ethics’.

•Absolutist theory – proposes precepts to as rules to live by to act morally in order to strive towards Eudemonia (end purpose).

•A priori reasoning – right and wrong can be determined before experience.

•Basis of moral realism – good refers to an objective reality fixed by God. 

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•Purpose of a thing or act – stems from Aquinas’ four cases.

•Causes: material (what made out of), formal (what it is), efficient (what moved it) and final (purpose of it).

•Final cause of humans is to achieve Eudemonia – a state of happiness and well-being reached by fulfilling essence, through serving God. 

•Not natural to humans due to free will, but is to animals and nature e.g. tree produces oxygen. 

•Humans choose what is good for our nature and whether to act in accordance guided by precepts towards essence. 

•Therefore based on the idea of purpose of humans to serve God. 

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•Universe is governed by divine reason – God sets out plan. 

•Human law < Natural law < Divine law < Eternal law.

•Divine law revealed to humans through scriptures – allows us to understand God’s reasoning its unchanging nature (absolutist). 

•Human can also reason to reach same conclusion as faith – God given faith and reason to choose to do good. 

•All humans aim to do good, immoral acts are just the wrong means to do so. 

•Our choices are determines by God in eternal law or through god-given reason. 

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•Morality exists as an objective reality, separate to individual values. 

•Humanity should ‘do good and avoid evil’ – basic premise of NL.

•Aquinas defines real good vs apparent good. 

•Apparent good – acts that may be pleasurable but lead to falling short of potential e.g. taking drugs. 

•Real goods – result in self preservation or improvement, advance towards fulfilling purpose. 

•Humans should reason to real goods, as the objective reality. 

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•Five principles revealed to us by God. 

•Synderesis – practical reasoning allows us to determine the precepts. 

•Self preservation, reproduction, education, live in society and worship God. 

•Lead to secondary principles – can reason to using conscience (understanding of what is right and wrong).

•Allows precepts to be applied in real live e.g. do not murder from self preservation, abortion is wrong (avoids personhood debate). 

•Prudence- allows us to make decisions of what to act according to what is moral. 

•Provides basis for right / wrong actions in accordance to secondary precepts, but not exhaustive list. 

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•Interior – intention behind act.

•Exterior – The act itself.

•Both are important – must have the intention of good and do a good act. 

•E.g. Butchers – better to offer low prices as good thing to do rather than for profit. 

•DDE – allows bad actions as result of good intention. 

•NL – unintended effect must be proportionate to the good of intended act.

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Theory can be criticised due to links between religion and morality, which natural law is based upon. 

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•Plato questions whether things are good because God commanded them or because they are good in themselves. 

•Commanded by God: Problem with free will. God could command anything to be good, even if conflicting with human ideas of right and wrong e.g. r***. 

•Good in themselves: Limits God’s power, not omnipotent. 


•Primary precepts are self evident (prima facie) duties, understood using apriori reasoning. 

•Can reason to same conclusion as faith – same precepts as God. 

•Can use conscience and prudence to reason to secondary precepts, which are the actual actions carried out. 

•Humans have largest influence in carrying out theory and choice whether to or not. 

•God’s commands don’t weaken the theory – negates Plato’s claim. 

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•Religion brainwashes people – making it harmful. 

•Children are indoctrinated to believing strict morals, don’t allow them to reason themselves. 

•Provides harmful outlook for people to have – some teachings in Bible are negative and act as obstacle to rational judgement. 


•Acts can be determined as immoral from primary precepts are considered so by non-religious people e.g. murder. 

•Influence of religion not a problem – if God was removed, people would reach same conclusions. 

•Not bound on indoctrination by morality of religion. 

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•God is not necessary to determine morality. 

•Moral choices are motivated by evolution – have determined our purpose in society. 


•This aids natural law in showing how the theory functions without religion. 

•Precepts work towards process of evolution. 

•Do not undermine natural law as it is successful in providing basis for moral actions without influence of religion. 

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•Rational thinking based on the purpose of a human, for the good of the people. 

What is the purpose of a person? Could have conflicting definitions. 

Those that cannot reason to secondary precepts must therefore use rules set out by authorities like the Catholic Church, effectively just dictated. 

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•Humans can use reason to same conclusion as God using synderesis and prudence. 

Christian values are essential: positivism states that information derived from sensory experience through reason and logic form all authoritative knowledge. 

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•Gives moral principles that are independent of our individual thoughts and desires. 

Ayer’s Boo-Hurrah theory- there is no objective standard of goodness as morals are just our preferences. 

Ends up relying on God’s rules (Euthyphro Dilemma): what about issues like contraception?

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•States that the unintended act must be proportionate to the intended good act, meaning DDE is allowed.

Foot: DDE is often counter-intuitive as there is difference between a positive and negative duty e.g. doctor and serum. 

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