Everything has a purpose
Ethics is the struggle to determine what is right or wrong, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Some ethical theories are hedonistic – they say that pleasure (and the absence of pain) are the only ultimately ‘good’ ends towards which to aim. Some Christian ethicists argue that following God’s will – as revealed through prayer, scriptures and prophecy – is the ultimate good.
Natural Law says that everything has a purpose, and that mankind was made by God with a specific design or objective in mind (although it doesn’t require belief in God). 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.
The theory of Natural Law was put forward by Aristotle but championed 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.
The purpose of humans - the Primary Precepts
In four words, 'Do good, avoid evil'. In more detail, Aquinas talked of Primary Precepts. Whilst you probably think of Natural Law as a deontological position (deon- duty; deontological ethical positions have absolute rules that it is our duty to follow), this part is teleological. 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. Some of my students favour PROWL, as 'protect and preserve the innocent' should, they argue, come first. I prefer WORLD...
- Worship God
- Ordered society
- Defend the innocent
These are the rules - absolute deonotological 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.
‘Efficient’ and ‘Final’ Causes
This is Aristotle’s distinction between what gets things done (efficient cause) and the end product (final cause). With humans, it is the accomplishment of the end product that equates to ‘good’. An example is sexuality – an efficient…