Natural Law

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Origins of Natural Law - Stoics


• God everywhere & in everyone

• Human nature part of natural order

• Humans within them divine spark which helps find out how to live acc to will of God (nature)

• Reason needed to understand laws that govern nature & decide to obey or not

• Natural law = law of right reason

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Origins of Natural Law - Aristotle


  • People, like every other natural obj have specific nature, purpose & function (telos)
  • Supreme good found when purpose fulfilled
  • For humans = eudaimonia à happiness, living well, thriving/flourishing with others in society à virtue
  • Achieved by living life of reason
  • PP: reason is being human
  • Not only ability to think & understand but also how to act à ethics = reason put into practice
  • Disagreed with Plato – goodness not in another world, in this & real
  • Achievable by humans fulfilling purpose (living life of reason)
  • Natural justice not always same as that which is just by law
  • Laws vary from place to place, NJ is independent & applied to e/one regardless of location
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Aquinas' Development - Idea of Purpose&Perfection

  • Natural order to our world that should be followed
  • Ethics view that stresses that certain norms felt to be natural, thus good
  • Order determined by supernatural power
  • Developed by St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Absolute theory of ethics rooted in human nature + search for happiness + fulfilment
  • By using reason to reflect on human nature, we could discover telos/purpose
  • à then work out how to achieve

NL = based on nature interpreted by human reason


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Morality - Aquinas

Moral code existing within purpose of nature, created by God; Morality is:

  • Accessible through natural order
  • Universal
  • Unchanging
  • For all time
  • Relevant for all circumstances
  • Given by God
  • Perceived by all humans (only believers in God acknowledge has implications beyond grave)

Exists to help humans direct actions to reach eternal destiny with God

Thinks humans have purpose/goal, but not eudaimonia; humans = image of God, so supreme good is dev of this image – perfection

 Divinely inspired law covers:

  • a) outward/external view of actions
  • b) internal motivation for doing them
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Reason & Human Purpose

Eternal law of divine reason perceived in 2 ways;

  • a) Revelation à word of God (bible)
  • b) Use of human reason à moral life is a life lived acc to reason; immoral life=lived at odds with reason; reason determines ultimate purpose & destiny of human life=fellowship with God.

 Primary & Secondary precepts:

  •  Primary= fundamental principles of NL
  • Reason à discover precepts which express God’s NL within us
  • Humankind’s 1st precept: Self Preservation
  • Continuation of species through reproduction
  • Education of children
  • Live in society (fellowship)
  • Worship of God
  • Acts that help fulfil main human purposes = good + vice versa
  •  PP= objectively true for everyone à by using reason, discover right action in every situation à absolutist


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Secondary precepts

Secondary Precepts;
rules a/b things we should/shouldn’t do bc uphold/fail to uphold PP
à 2 SS under PP

  •    Self-evident rules needed to uphold PP (do not murder, respect parents)
  •       Rules coming from more complex process of reasoning
  • E/thing must operate in acc with principles, to which humans naturally inclined – but need reason to fulfil
  • God gives humans power of reason to accomplish purposes, regardless of belief, + e/thing created to particular design + for particular purpose; fulfilling purpose is ‘good’ towards which e/one aims


Paul recognised not poss for all to work towards good in all things, although NL instituted by God
Humans fall short of what best for them b/c this is a fallen world + humans violated perfect r/ship w/ God + NO instituted @ creation (Prophet Adam + GoE
à damaged, bad choices = fall short of God’s expectations for us.

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Virtues & Vices

Cardinal virtues:

  • Prudence – careful
  • Temperance - control
  • Fortitude- courage
  • Justice – fairness 
    3 theological virtues:
  • faith
  • hope
  • charity

7 vices:

  • pride
  • avarice - greed
  • lust
  • envy 

Seek virtues, eliminate vices à practice … virtues = habitual

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Real&Apparent + Interior&Exterior

Real & Apparent Goods:
human nature=good, NL within e/one
Oritented towards achievement of perfection + never knowingly pursue evil
Not in pursuit of perfection t/f pursuit of apparent good
à smth that doesn’t fit human ideal.
Falling short of God’s intention, distinguish btwn real/apparent = reason, not easy, temptation.

Interior & Exterior Acts:

Intention + Act = Important

Act in good way for wrong reason = exterior J , interior L
Acts intrinsically good/bad b/c when humans act in accordance with ultimate purpose= God glorified.

Not relativistic



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