Natural Law

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  • Created by: Joshua
  • Created on: 06-06-10 14:28

Natural Law

Everything has a purpose

Natural Law says that everything has a purpose, and that mankind was made by God with a specific design or objective in mind.

It says that this purpose can be known through reason. As a result, fulfilling the purpose of our design is the only ‘good’ for humans to achieve Eudamonia- 'happiness'

The theory of Natural Law was put forward by Aristotle but developed by Aquinas (1225-74).

It is a deductive theory – it starts with basic principles, and from these the right course of action in a particular situation can be deduced. It is deontological, looking at the intent behind an action and the nature of the act itself, not its outcomes.

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The Primary Precepts

The purpose of humans - the Primary Precepts

In four words, 'Do good, avoid evil'. In more detail, Aquinas talked of Primary Precepts.

Telos- purpose. What is our purpose - what are we designed for? What follows is an acrostic, which I have arranged so it makes a word

  • Worship God
  • Ordered society
  • Reproduction
  • Learning
  • Defend the innocent
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Secondary Precepts

These are the rules - absolute deontological principles - that are derived from the Primary Precepts. For example, the teleological principle "Protect and preserve the innocent" leads to rules such as "Do not abort," "Do not commit euthanasia" etc. These rules cannot be broken, regardless of the consequences. They are absolute laws.

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‘Efficient’ and ‘Final’ Causes

Aristotle’s distinction between what gets things done (efficient cause) and the end product (final cause).

The end product equates to the 'good'.

An example is sexuality – an efficient cause of sex is enjoyment: because humans enjoy sex, the species has survived through procreation. However, the final cause of sex (the thing God designed it for) is procreation. Therefore sex is only good if procreation is possible.

Another example – is the knife the purpose of a knife is to cut, but that its supreme good is found when it fulfils that purpose (e.g. the knife cuts sharply).

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Real and Apparent Goods

Aquinas argued that the self should be maintained. As a result, Natural Law supports certain virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) that allow the self to fulfil its purpose. Similarly there are many vices (the seven deadly sins) that must be avoided as they prevent the individual from being what God intended them to be.

Following a ‘real’ good will result in the preservation or improvement of self, getting nearer to the ‘ideal human nature’ that God had planned. There are many apparent goods that may be pleasurable (e.g. drugs) but ultimately lead us to fall short of our potential. Reason is used to determine the ‘real’ goods.

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