Natural Law


Theory in General

Scholar: St Thomas Aquinas 

Natural Law is routed in the philosophy of Aristotle

Everything has a telos (end purpose/goal)

Aristotle believed our telos was eudamonia (happiness/flourishing)

Aquinas believed our telos was the Beatific Vision (being with God in heaven and eternal life)

  • Absolutist - there are rules which apply in all situations at all times
  • Deontological - some actions are intrinsically right or wrong regardless of consequences

Aquinas believed God revealed himself in 2 ways:

  • Bibical Revelation - through the bible
  • Natural Revelation - by studying the world around us
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Hierarchy of Laws

1) Eternal Law

Laws only known to God which are revealed through,

2) Divine Law

Teachings revealed through Bible e.g. Sabbath Laws, Ten Commandments, and are made known in,

3) Natural Law

The innate human ability to know what is naturally right, from which,

4) Human Law

Putting laws into practise into society e.g. the legal system

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The Precepts

5 Primary Precepts (they identify which acts are 'good')

  • Preservation of Life
  • Order of Society
  • Worshipping God
  • Education
  • Reproduction

The secondary precepts are rules that uphold or fail to uphold the primary precepts

They help people make the right decision

They are not absolutist as they can be broken in extreme cases


  • 'Do not kill'
  • 'Return stolen property to owner'
  • 'Go to church regularly'
  • 'Go to school regularly'
  • 'Do not use contraception'
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Four Cardinal Virtues ('cardo' meaning 'hinge') - revealed in nature - for everyone 

  • Prudence - wisdom - e.g. knowing not to accept offers of alcohol
  • Fortitude - courage - e.g. telling the truth
  • Temperence - refraining from desires/wants - e.g. binge drinking/eating
  • Justice - treating people fairly and equally - e.g. giving criminal the right sentence

Three Theological/Revealed Virtues - gifts from God - only achieved if person has divine grace

  • Faith - belief in God
  • Hope - desire for kingdom of heaven and eternal life
  • Charity - helping those in need, treating others as you wish to be treated
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Interior and Exterior Acts

  • Interior - the motive behind the action
  • Exterior - the action itself

For an act to be truly good, both interior and exterior acts must be good

Principle of Double Effect

If a good act, which has a good effect has secondary bad consequences, it is still right to carry out the act

e.g. hysterectomy 

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Real and Apparent Good

Real Good

Helps people become more into God's likeness

e.g. being a sociable person, without using chemicals, i.e. alcohol/drugs, to do so

Apparent Good

When you think an action is good, but consequences are bad

This is because of the misguided use of reason

e.g. Hitler and the Holocaust

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