Natural Law

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" Everything is created to a particular design for a particular purpose and if that is achieved then that action is God"

Background Information

  • Began among the Stoics who believed that God was everywhere and in everyone. Humans have a divine spark which helps them live according to the will of God. Humans have a choice whether to obey or not, but need to use their reason to decide whether to do so or not.
  • Aristotle then agreed that no only everything has a purpose, but its supreme good is found when this purpose is fulfilled. The supreme good for humans is eudaimonia.
  • These ideas were then developed by Thomas Aquinas
  • To this day Natural Law is used by the Catholic Church as a basis for its ethical teaching

Basic Ideas

  • Everything has a purpose
  • If a decision/action is fulfilling this purpose then it is the right thing to do
  • We decide what is natural by looking at what life should be like
  • Does not give you a fixed law

Aquinas argued...

  • Everything is created by God
  • Each person has a particular purpose
  • There is an 'ideal' human nature to which we could all potentially achieve
  • 'Sin' in not reaching this ideal
  • An act can be good in itself with bad intentions
  • By using our reason to reflect human nature, we can discover our telos (purpose) and then work out how to achieve it

Natural Law of Thomas Aquinas

1. Humans have an essential nature given by God in order to flourish
2. Even without knowledge of God, reason can discover the laws leading to human flourishing
3. Natural Laws are universal and unchangeable, and should be used to judge the laws of particular societies

Purpose of humans

Aquinas agreed with Aristotle, in that humans aim for some goal or purpose, but did not see this as eudaimonia. For Aquinas, "humans are made in the image of God" so the supreme good must be the development of this image, thus, leading to perfection; however Aquinas did not believe this supreme good could be reached in this lifetime, instead he saw happiness as beginning in this life and continuing into the next.
In Summa Theologie, Aquinas attempts to work out what perfection is, by examing the reflections of Natural Law as revealed by:

  • Eternal Law - God made and controls the universe and only God knows it completely. We only know them as reflections in that we only partially understand the laws that govern the universe
  • Divine Laws - The bible, which Aquinas believed 'reflects' the Eternal Law of God. However only those who believe in God can see it, and only if God chooses to reveal it.
  • Natural Law - Moral Laws of which God has been built into human nature; it's also a reflection of the Eternal Law of God. It can be seen by everyone - we just need to use reason to understand human nature.

Natural Inclinations

Aquinas thought God had instilled into all humans natural inclinations to…


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