Natural Law Theory

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God has structured the universe in a certain way. Humans have a duty to conform to this.

Aquinas mainly formed on th ideas of Aristotle because his framework supported God.

Aristotle's idea

Function, Purpose and end. Every materialistic thing has a reason for living (purpose)

  • Like how we have a body and soul. The soul is the rational and unchanging form. The body changes to accomodate this form.
  • Everything works to and end, telos
  • Eudomonia is the final end. If everything works properly then it achieves its final purpose.
  •  This harmony is Aristotle's inbuilt law.

Aristotle's natural law brings out order in a state of flux. It makes a link between the natural order of things and morality. It is teleological because everything works to and end.

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Aquinas' NL- Goodness & Primary Precepts

Is based on the Bible and Aristotle. Paul says God has written this natural law into all of creation. E.g. people who still do not steal despite not knowing of the 10 commandments.

  • The Concept of Goodness 
  • God is changeless so this means he is consistent. God is good, therefore creation must be good. This is because God can not create anything contray to divine nature.
  • The material universe points to an all loving and divine creature from which it emerges.
  • NL is the only way humans can shae God's eternal law
  • Christians are said to be perfect- so we must live by NL

The fundamental Primary Precepts- as set out in Summa Theologica

  • Preservation of life
  • Knowledge
  • Procreation
  • Peaceful living
  • Worshippin God                     
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Reason & The secondary precepts

Human reason should be used to move what is to what ought to be . We have a duty to create laws that reflect moral goods and virtues.

Secondary precepts implement the primary ones. It is not strict in application the main belief is that the precepts guide you.

Aquinas trusts humans with this because humans are rational creatures. We understand the concept of a function, purpose and end. This rational debate will lead us to understand

  • Eternal law- God's wisdom
  • Divine law- Scriptures
  • Natural law- law by reason
  • Human law- By society for the good of us

Aquinas' view are central to salvation and a reward in heaven.

Immorality- we can see what is immoral by Just war theory. If a war leads to destruction alone it is immoral. Doctrine of Double effect, some 'bad' actions like lying are okay because they stop the greatest evil.

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Protestants reject natural law on three grounds

  • The fall of man created a break between man and God. How can a corrupt world reaveal a good God?
  • Human reason isn't so great. We prefer sin over virtue
  • Luther- Just obeying NL will not 'end' your duty. Only God's grace can.

However, some Protestants follow stoic natural law.

New Natural law theory

  • Finnis & Giesiz- Aristotle and Aquinas are too concerned with the start.
  • J Boyle- Human reason should be directed to communal well being.
  • Moral goods are no higher than material goods- they are the same
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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • Values like preserving life, knowledge, safety and a social life are seen as good in most societies
  • It creates a better chance of dialogue and helps societies ethical lives
  • Non hedonistic- Pope B has said this is a good balance for societies hedonistic and materialistic trends
  • The value human life stress is central to teleology
  • Link between body and soul is important in emphasising bodily issues in morality (abortion, IVF, Euthanasia)
  • Weaknesses
  • Can we judge what is natural?
  • Are ethical decisions reached rationally? Humans are not rational, we act out of impulse.
  • Karl Barth- NL not only restricts humans but restricts what God can do as well as humans are corrupt
  • Naturalistic fallacy- what ought from what is. Why should nature act a certain way?
  • Nelson- Natural Law can't apply to all humans
  • Vardy- Total obidence makes us robotic
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