Natural Law

The Ethical Theory of Natural Law- but not applied.

HideShow resource information

Natural Law

"True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting".

ABSOLUTIST and DEONTOLOGICAL and NORMATIVE (assumes things are right or wrong regardless of consequences)

Aristotle outlined his version in Nichomachean Ethics: "The natural is that which everywhere is equally valid". By establishing what the telos of something was, A thought it was possible to discern how one should act in relation to it. One should act in such a way to help fulfil this cause-? eudaimonia to be achieved by following the Golden Mean which reason reveals through observation in nature.

In St. Paul's letter to Romans, upholds natural Law and shows that God is discernible through nature.

Aquinas: wished to show compatability of Christian Theology with classical philosophy. God showed himself through NATURE (ethical naturalism) and SCRIPTURE. Thought that discerning something's nature purpose was the key to knowing how to act in relation to it. REASON is the tool God gave us to discern our natural purposes. Showed that Christian belief could be shown to be not just a matter of blind faith but reasonable and logical, fit for intelligent people.

1 of 10


a) worship God b) Preserve self and innocent c) learn d) reproduce e) live harmoniously in society.

Morally right actions are those which conform to God's will. Fulfilling 'potentiality' or purpose is the essence of goodness. e.g. a sharp knife is a good knife.

ETERNAL (mind of God) , DIVINE (revelation) , NATURAL (our observation) , HUMAN LAW (those laws our society makes up)

He believed: God created Uni and mankind, God put signs of his purpose in nature, and into man, if we can find out what God's purpose is then we will know the right way to act, we can find out what God's purpose is by observing nature and using our reason.

Came up with 7 deadly sins and cardinal virtues which he believed could be discerned from the Natural Law in the Uni. "The moral life is the life according to reason". contra

"Now everything that is produced through the will of an agent is directed to an end by that agent"-> Aquinas Summa contra Gentiles

2 of 10

You don't need to be religious to be able to follow Natural Law theory of Ethics as it is not from the word of God. It exists through our reason and they are part of your conscience. You don't need a God to find out what the Golden Mean is.

Ultimate purpose and destiny for human life is=do good and avoid evil. People should not live enslaved by non-natural desires.

God is the "author of this law". Sin consists of falling short of God's expectation

Believed humans could never knowingly pursue evil: "no evil can be desirable". Humans actions that are not in the pursuit of perfection can be explained as the search for APPARENT good. To distinguish between real and apparent good, you must reason rightly.

Both INTENTION and ACT are important. To act in a good way for the wrong reason is to perform a good exterior act but a bad interior act. Physical pleasures aren't final end as animals can experience them. Acts are INTRINSICALLY good or bad because when humans act in accordance with their ultimate purpose, God is glorified.

3 of 10

How do we find out what our purpose is? -> look in Bible teachings; look at ways human body is made. APPLY REASON TO EXPERIENCE. We use our reason to also discern what the secondary precepts are.

DOCTRINE OF DOUBLE EFFECT: it is always wrong to do a bad act intentionally to bring about a good consequence BUT it is sometimes right to do a good act despite knowing that it will bring about a bad consequence. The bad consequences must only be unintended side effects; they may be forseen, but not intended e.g. if a pregnant woman has cancer, it would not be morally wrong for her to have a hysterectomy even though this would result in the death of the foetus.

"In matters of action it is most shameful to act against things as determined by nature".

believes it will work everywhere as all societies are made up of humans who all share a common nature.

Unlike Ockham, he did not believe morality was based on commands from God- e.g. Ockham believes if God commanded adultery was right it would be right although Aq thought that if this was the case, his commands would be irrational and arbitrary.

4 of 10


1. Absolutist approach-see notes. Guidelines for living by. Objective, actions can be taken.

2. Christian-combining faith with reason. Desire to follow will of God and combined with appreciation of human's ability to reason not just respect for God but also uses and respects human rationality too.

3. appeals to many people's instinctive conviction that right/wrong depend on more than just personal opinion and social convention. proved by different societies- come to same conclusion about existence of natural law of morality supports its part of our nature to recognise this law through reason and intuition- self-evident. Instincts from childhood through natural law. Children have strong sense of justice and have intuitive belief that same rules should apply to all.

5 of 10


1. Modern thinkers like JEAN PAUL SATRE, ALBERT CAMUS, BERTRAND RUSSELL, DAWKINS claim that uni is "absurd"- has no reason and came about by chance- not any divine reason-rejects whole initial premise of NL.

2. Not self-evident what purpose is-how do we determine this? what is difference between 'natural' and socially acceptable e.g. in past was un-natural for females to be doctors and natural for slaves to work for superior race. Condemns homosexuality which is seen to be genetically determined. If we cannot define 'natural' it's difficult to appeal to nature to make moral decisions.

3. concept of actuality being better than potentiality is difficult to apply to practical ethics as eventually we become many things- all of which aren't potentially 'good' e.g. old age and death.

4. some rules are unacceptable to common sense e.g. we have incisors and canines for eating meat but is it therefore morally unacceptable to choose to be a veggie? or infertile people having sex?

5. humanity has a purpose? should we all adopt same behaviour if there is one universal purpose for whole of humanity? suggests all adults should get married and have children

6 of 10

but then condemns Mother Theresa and Aquinas never had children either. Aq. recognised this and said that if humanity achieved its purpose for producing the next generation as a whole then certain people could choose their way of life. So, ok to adopt homosexual lifestyle if there are enough heterosexuals therefore suitable to choose an "unnatural" way of living if majority follows natural law-> paves way for injustice where some consider themselves exempt.

6. Bible doesn't support that there is one single purpose for everyone e.g. book of Jeremiah-> God tells Jeremiah he is to be a prophet and has been selected for role before birth. In Luke's Gospel, Mary has been chosen by God to be Jesus' mother. Gives idea that God has different ideas for everyone and can set aside groups of people for different tasks. How can people discern their particular purpose of God if they can't get into the mind of God? Aquinas argued careful education of conscience and emotional maturity was necessary for people to realise what's right which introduces an element of subjectivity where people use their own judgement rather than being one answer which is "naturally obvious".

7. several different purposes for humanity to fulfil? NL says that human's only purpose is not just to reproduce because would then be same as any animal/plant. but also other precepts. but surely if we have many purposes, some would have to be sacrificed?

7 of 10

8. Aq=too optimistic in his view of human nature and reason? obvious not everyone is inclined towards goodness and not everyone has power to reason. When he believed in apparent good and that people were not capable of directly doing evil he is being far too optimistic about human nature? Someone like Hitler?

9. Darwinian evolutionary theory presented problems. He said living things were motivated by desire to survive and evolutionary change occurs through natural selection. Suggests humanity exists through chance rather than God's will and also implies humans naturally seek own survival and are self-interested. Contrasts Aq's view that people are naturally inclined towards good.

10. Aq's critics among church claimed he didn't pay much attention to tainted and imperfect humanity due to Adam and Eve's sin. Critics argue that sin has made us imperfect and impossible for people to understand fully God and his teachings and we can't depend on our own moral judgement to the extent of Aq's claim. KARL BARTH held this view arguing people should recognise and accept the revelation of God which is only real truth rather than depending on fallible human reason.

8 of 10

11. G.E. MOORE in "Naturalistic Fallacy"'s main point was taken from philosopher DAVID HUME said it wasn't logically possible to look at facts and arrive at judgements; an 'ought' cannot be derived from an 'is'. Has serious implications for natural law which indicates that idea of observation gives us an idea on how we ought to behave. Ar and Aq claimed that our experience of human nature makes behaviour and ways we ought to behave self-evident, but according to Moore, this is not self-evident. Not legitamate to take the fact of human nature and derive from it the values that determine human conduct.

9 of 10

How Natural is Natural Law?

  • "essence precedes existence"-> God has a plan for everything before it has even come about.- imbues everything that is NATURAL with telos. For humans this is imago dei, relationship with God etc.
  • combines reason and faith- we can deduce NATURAL laws from NATURE (ethical naturalism) and the Bible.
  • also type of law for Aq. NATURAL law fits within hierarchy of 4 laws...explain.
  • our fundamental or NATURAL inclination is to do good and avoid evil. This is expressed in primary precepts (explain) which represent what is NATURAL for humans to do.
  • secondary precepts uphold what is NATURAL...for example?
  • Goodness is fulfilling our final purpose (which can be deduced in NATURE)- to go against this is to sin. Real goods are those which help us fulfil this and are therefore keeping with our NATURAL inclinations. Apparent goods may seem to be good but don't help us in our telos.
  • ultimate real goods-cardinal virtues....which are?/ seven deadly sins.
  • action is only good if motivated by good aim-> interior and exterior goods.
10 of 10



your notes are really helpful buy you kept saying he or came up with so i got confused on who you were reffering to.:P

Similar Philosophy resources:

See all Philosophy resources »See all resources »