Natural Law

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  • Created by: Saleena
  • Created on: 30-12-12 20:12


The Christian Philosopher, Thomas Aquinas developed the arguement for Natural Law from the Philosophy of Aristotle.

Those who support an Absolutist Approach to Ethics need to explain where we can get knowledge of morality from. Thomas Aquinas believed that humans have an innate understanding of Right and Wrong.

Theory of Causes

Efficient Cause - Aristotle used this to explain how something happens, the Agent which brings something about. 

Final Cause - Aristotle used this to mean the Purpose of something.

Aquinas found that the Efficient Cause of the Universe is God, and that the Final Cause of the Universe is God's Will.

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Aristotle believed that our Purpose in Life was to seek total Happiness through general all-round well-being. Everything we do in life is aimed at finding this Happiness which enables us to Thrive.


God has given us the Power to Reason, which raises us above all other Animals and Enables us to achieve our Ultimate Goal. Going against Reason is equivalent to condemning the command of God, according to Aquinas.

Aquinas believed that by employing their Power of Reason in a situation, as human is in touch with Natural Law.

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Eternal Law

Eternal Law is the mind of God which Humans cannot know. Contained within it are the Laws which govern the Creation of the Universe and Control the Life Cycle of everything in Existence.

Although humans cannot fully know the Eternal Law, they can occasionally glimpses reflections of it. For example, through Scientific Knowledge of aspects of the Natural Law.

Divine Law

Divine Law is the Law of God revealed to people through the Bible, which Christians call the "Word of God". Jesus Christ, as the son of God, also bought Divine Law with him and the teachings of the Church transmit Divine Law to people.

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Natural Law

Everyone has a Natural Sense "That Good is to be done and Evil avoided", which some call Human Nature. It is what directs our Conscience and if applied with Reason to a situation will lead to the right outcome.

Human Law

These are everyday rules that Govern our lives, from the Legal system at one end, right down to Informative Notices saying "Don't walk on the Grass".

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Purpose & Perfection

Aquinas said an object achieves its Final Cause of Purpose when it does what God intended it to do.

For Humans, "Made in the Image of God", means seeking union with God. That is Perfection but it can only be reached in the Afterlife.

Ultimate Purpose 

Aquinas believe that God created everybody, Christians and Non-Believers, their Ultimate Purpose still remains the same; "Fellowship with God".

God made it Possible for all Human Beings to achieve their Final Purpose in Life by their Power of Reasoning alone.

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Basic Moral Law

Aquinas believed there is a Basic Moral Law which divinely inspired that underpins all Laws and is there to guide what we do and why we do it. It is that -

"Good is to be Done and Pursued and Evil is to be Avoided"


Following a Real Good will result in the Preservation or Improvement of Self, getting nearer to the Ideal Human Nature that God had planned. There many Apparent Goods that may be Pleasurable (E.g. Alcohol and Drugs) but ultimately lead us to fall short of our true Potential. Reason is used to Determine that Real Goods.

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Primary Precepts

In order for people to be able to concentrate on Natural Law, Aquinas understood they had to live in a Civilised Society where they were free to Survive and Flourish.

Aquinas established the 5 Primary Precepts as being -

  • Preservation of Life
  • Reproduction
  • Educating the Young
  • Living in a Society
  • Worshipping God

Secondary Precepts

Each of the Primary Precepts can be developed into Secondary Precepts, which are the Practical Human Rules that Govern our Daily Behaviour. Whilst the Primary Precepts are set in stone these Secondary Precepts vary from the Law of the Land to accepted Codes of Behaviour within our own Family.

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Primary Precepts & Secondary Precepts

Preservation of Life -

  • Do not Commit Suicide

Reproduction -

  • Permit IVF and Surrogacy

Educating the Young -

  • Education is Free

Living in a Society -

  • Build more Homes

Worshipping God -

  • Hold Religious School Assemblies
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  • Because it can be seen as being Absolutist, Natural Law provides a Firm Moral Foundation to rules with Clear Guidance at all times.
  • Natural Law is Flexible Enough to accommodate Different Cultures because the Secondary Precepts in Accordance with their Time and Practise.
  • It is a Justifiable way of asserting that Morality is Absolute. It is therefore possible for one group of people to be able to Judge another.
  • It allows Faith to be combined with Reason and appreciates the Human Ability to Reason, whilst it can still be adopted from a Christian 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 there is an Absolute right and wrong - Children are quick to recognise when something is not Just or an Absence of Equality.
  • It offers a Universal Moral Code because most people believe in Preserving Life, Building a Good Society and Educating the Young.
  • Because this Code is based on Reason, it is open to Everyone, Religious or Not.
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  • Some Scholars have claimed that Natural Law is not totally Absolutist, However Grotius argues that Natural Law holds even if there were no God because it can be Reasoned along the Grain of Nature.
  • Natural Law can be difficult to relate complex decisions to Basic Principles.
    Some Philosophers have questioned this, pointing out that consqeuences matter in terms of Human Flourishing. Indeed Modern Philoshopers like Peshcke and Gordley believe this theory is Teleological and Aquinas himself seems to have agreed. When stating it was right to repay a debt, he acknowledged it would be Irrational if that Money was going to be used ot Wage War on you.
  • Natural Law relies heavily on Reason. This imples that Human Beings are capable of Reasoning acccurately on Complex Matters.
  • There are some cases in which we are not sure what the Natural thing to do is. For Example, Is it wrong to attempt to Pro-long the Life of a Dying Man.
  • What happens when there is Conflict between Divine Law and the Reason? For Example, Jesus said turn the other cheek bu the Natural Law commands that you should attempt to Preserve your Life.
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