Natural Law

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What is Natural Law?

Natural Law is an absolutist theory that believes that everything has a purpose  - mankind was made with a specific purpose and aim.

It is our job as humans, to fulfil this purpose in order to do and be 'good' 

Natural Law "has the same power everywhere, just as fire burns here and in Persia" - Aristotle (Absolutist view point) 

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Things must fulfil the purpose of their design 

Once you know what something is for, you know how it should behave and what it's 'final good' (telos) should be 

E.g Humans are designed to reproduce so to be good, you should have children

"Every action seems to aim at some good. Hence good is described as that which everything seemed to aim" 

For Aristotle, the way to be happy is to live a virtuous life to reach EUDAMONIA which is often translated to happiness. 

How to reach Eudamonia? through human reasoning (the ability to think, act and understand) 

"intellectual reasoning os the highest of all human acts"

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Aquinas - Purpose

Aquinas developed the ideas of Aristotle


Natural Law is the moral code which humans are naturally inclined to. This moral code exists within the purpose of nature created by God. 

Natural Law exists to help humans act in such a way to reach their eternal destiny which is with God (Humans end goal or Telos) 

Aquinas believed that it is not possible in this life so the purpose of morality is to enable us to reach for our 'desires' in the next. 

Purpose of human beings is to DO GOOD AND AVOID EVIL which can be seen using our reason as we are all naturally inclined towards good. 

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Aquinas and Law

Natural Law developed in many ways 

ETERNAL LAW - God's plan, principles by which God controls our universe. We only see a reflection as we only have partial knowlegde of the universe. 

DIVINE LAW - The scriptures, Only seen if God chooses to reveal it to believers to teach with certainty and solidify our understanding and reasoning. 

NATURAL LAW - The moral law of God that is built into all of us and can be seen by everybody. (everybody has a conscience) 

This is reflected in CIVIL LAW in order to maintain a civil society and help humans reach their eternal destiny with God. 

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In order to do good and avoid evil, we MUST follow the primary precepts which are ultimate laws that are desried by reasonable people 

Some of these are: 






We can use these precepts as a basis to create rules and help us decide things in certain situations

Eg. following the precept of self- preservation we could argue that suicide is wrong 

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Problems with Secondary Precepts?

- Open to faulty reasoning and depend on own judgment

- Could lead to 'apparent' goods instead of 'real' goods: We could be misguided by sin or emotions and choose the wrong course of action with the intention being good. 

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Strengths and Weaknesses


No moral confusion - act is either right or wrong 

It is right not to base moral judgements on consequences. Sometimes we cant be certain of our consequences so it could be percieved as foolish 

Natural Law can be accessed by everyone and reason can be used to the right conclusion and course of action 

Secondary Precepts are more flexible and does account for different courses of action provided they comply with the PP


Inflexible - what if there are exeptions to the rules 

What is we are not naturally inclined to do good? Some christian beliefs teach us we are sinful? Nature may lead us to sin? Adam and Eve and the fall 

Russell - 'the universe is there and that is all' - wrong to conclude that it has a purpose 

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Is morality dependant on God?



1) God is an omnipotent diety

2) God choose not to act arbituariliy bc it is inconsistent with his nature

3) God created the universe by divine laws that we should follow as he created us also

4) So, we should live our lives in conformity to God's will

E.g God is a general and Christians are the soliders


- We are in possession of God given reason that enables us to access God's plan revealed through creation  

SITUATION ETHICS - must accept God and faith to believe 'agape' is right thing to do. (e.g Jesus)

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