Natural Law



levels of law


5 primary precepts

real and apparent goods

interior and exterior acts

aristotle-final and efficient cause

double effect



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  • Created by: Livi
  • Created on: 26-05-09 14:53

Natural Law

  • Theory that everything is created for a purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is the good to which everything aims.
  • Absolutist theory- moral laws are the same for everyone.
  • Naturally knowable moral law.
  • Designed as a way humans can guide themselves in their lives to do good.
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History of Natural Law

  • Ancient Greek and Roman world roots
  • Greek philosopher Aristotle said... "While laws can vary from one place to another, natural justice is independent and applies to everyone."
  • Roman Philosopher Cicero said "True law is right reason in agreement with nature, it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting."
  • Big daddy of Natural Law = AQUINAS
  • G.Reid said... "Everything is created to a particular design and for a particular purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is the good to which everything aims."
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The Four Levels of Law

each level is dependent on the one above


Eternal law- God's law through which his will is revealed

Divine law- laws given to the people by God through the bible and church

Natural Law- our inborn sense of right and wrong- through our conscience

Human Law- made by humans to make our societies better


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Aquinas and Natural Law

  • 1225-74, Roman Catholic
  • believed humans are immortal, life after death
  • said.. human nature is imperfect but is still a reasonable guide to what human nature should be - cos it was created by God
  • humanity was created by God for a specific purpose
  • we should work out what our purpose is
  • if we achieve our purpose, we are good
  • "You work out your purpose by looking at the bible and the teachings of the church and the way the human body was made."
  • We work out our purpose by using our God-given reason.
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The Five Primary Precepts

These are our main purposes from God, according to Aquinas.

It is debatable whether they are absolute.

W orship God

O rdered society (live in an..)

R eproduction

L earn

D efend/protect the innocent

The Secondary Precepts are rules like the ten commandments from the bible (decalogue) and come from the primary precepts. eg. don't abort, because you need to protect the innocent.

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Real and Apparent Goods

  • If you do a bad act, you do it because you think it's good, but you're only seeking an apparent good not a real good.
  • Hitler didn't seek evil, he seeked what he thought was good- an apparent good
  • Aquinas does no acknowledge that people have evil intentions
  • To pursue an apparent good rather than a real good is to fall short of your true potential
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Interior and Exterior acts

  • Both important, interior and exterior acts should be good.
  • Giving to charity for fame would be a good exterior but bad interior act-wrong.
  • Or your interior act might be good- helping a starving person but your exterior act-stealing bread to give them, might be wrong.
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Aristotle: Efficient and Final Cause

Efficient cause- what gets things done

Final cause- purpose of the thing

Why do people have sex?

Efficient cause- pleasure

Final Cause- procreation

Has influenced the Roman Catholic Church's idea of the purpose of sex and contraception, determines whether action is right/wrong....

  • sex between same sexwrong, because
  • sex with contraception --------------> no final cause-
  • over-age people-infertileprocreation
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Double Effect

It is wrong to do bad acts


However you can do a good act that may have a 'double effect' of resulting in that bad act

-removing the uterus of a woman with cancer, resulting in an abortion

The good act has to have a good intent

-to save the woman's life

Must be a good exterior act

-removing the cancer

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Advantages of Natural Law

  • gives common rules to structure communities
  • gives guidance on how to live
  • can be applied universally-absolutist
  • you can judge other societies- absolutist
  • simple universal guide judging the moral value of human actions
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Disadvantages of Natural Law

  • Aquinas forgot that not everyone is a Christian
  • It assumes that we all have the same human nature-moral interpretation differs as each person has a different need
  • bible doesn't support the idea on one common purpose
  • sometimes 5 primary precepts clash e.g learning and worship
  • if applied literally some rules are unrealistic
  • plenty of evidence to suggest that not everyone is inclined to do good all the time- Hitler- real and apparant goods
  • What is natural? Vardy suggested that homosexuality is increasing naturally to reduce pro-creation and solve the problem of overpopulation
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