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Explain Natural Law

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By cc543
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Part A) Explain, with examples, Aquinas’ theory of Natural Law (25 Marks)
The theory of natural law has been around for over 2000 years. Natural law believes that every person/thing has a purpose. It is an absolutist law; this is because the rules are set for everyone and need to be followed at all times. It is also deontological as natural law defines what is right and gives us moral rules. Aristotle believed humans were born into knowing how to act morally, as it was written within us. Aristotle believed that if people would follow laws it would lead to eudemonia. Aquinas was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s belief that all people served a purpose. Aquinas went on to believe that all of us have a ‘god given’ purpose. Soon enough Aquinas had created natural law. Natural law was influenced by Aristotle and created by Thomas Aquinas.
Natural law is the idea that there is a natural order to the world that should be obeyed. This is determined by God. God made us with a purpose; natural law directs us on the purposes that we need to fulfil and natural law can be applied universally. Aquinas stated that there were four types of law: Eternal law, the perfect, complete set of God’s law that had created the universe. Humans have only partial knowledge of this. Divine law, the sacred teachings and texts of the church - that had come from God’s law written in the bible. Natural law, the human ability to know what is naturally right from our own reason. And finally, Human law, the interpretation of divine law. For example, a speed limit would be a human law, slower driving will result in less deaths, which relates to ‘though shalt not kill’ in the 10 commandments (divine law).
Aristotle and Aquinas both believed that humans would not deliberately do evil acts. It was believed you had to follow the synderesis rule, to ‘do good and avoid evil’. Aquinas believed that all decisions made by humans were either a ‘real good’ act, an act that is good according to natural law, or an ‘apparent good’ act. If a person does something that is morally wrong, that person did that as they thought they were doing good; this makes it an apparent good. When doing apparent goods people sin. This is due to not living up to what God expects all humans to be.
Aquinas believed that there were five main purposes to life. These were the primary precepts - we must abide by these precepts in order to please god as these precepts guide us on how to live a morally good life. This is where Aristotle and Aquinas had opposing beliefs. Aristotle believed that our purpose was to achieve happiness, whereas Aquinas believed that our purpose was to please god. The five primary precepts that we must all follow are: to live, to reproduce, to learn, to have an ordered society and to worship god. These primary precepts are the same for all people and all places, and can be applied universally, meaning the primary precepts are absolutist.
The primary precepts form a basis for Aquinas’ theory. These are followed by secondary precepts. Secondary precepts are rules that can be applied to specific situations. For example, it is wrong to have an abortion as it goes against the primary precept of reproducing. Another example of a secondary precept would be to commit murder; this would be wrong as it goes against the right to live, demolishing god’s plan for someone’s life. Therefore, if you don’t follow these precepts you aren’t fulfilling God’s intentions for you, causing you to sin.

Aristotle believed in causes. For example, the efficient cause (what gets things done) and the final cause (the end product). Aquinas saw these as a way to please god: human action determined by will as the efficient cause and humans striving to achieve their goal of beholding the Divine Essence as The final cause. The efficient cause of sexual intercourse is pleasure, because humans enjoy it. However, the final cause of sex is to reproduce (as god intended).Therefore, according to natural law sex is only good if procreation is possible. The final cause is intent – as it was Gods purpose to make people procreate.
To this day natural law is still used; it is mostly used by the Catholic Church. An example is the Catholic Church’s views on contraception, which relates to the divine law as well as the primary precept of procreation. Natural law is embedded into today’s society as well as the Catholic Church. Although society has changed drastically, we all still obtain a moral code. For example in the UK we have a right to an education, it’s against the law to kill and so on. These rules link back to the primary precepts of natural law.

Part B) ‘Aquinas’ theory on Natural Law provides a useful guideline to decision making’. Discuss (10 Marks)
Whilst many proponents of Natural law suggest that it helps them to make decisions, there are more criticisms levelled against the theory. In this answer I am going to be assessing the usefulness of natural law in today’s modern society, and the reasons why natural law is unnecessary at this point in time.
Firstly, some people would say we need natural law to know how to do ‘good’. This is incorrect as people are naturally moralistic, meaning that people do not need natural law or the bible to teach right or wrong. As natural law is absolutist it doesn’t accept consequences, meaning that things are either right or wrong. For example, if you take birth control you are doing something that is intrinsically wrong. But people who do wrong acts such as use birth control can still be moralistic humans. Atheists, who do not follow natural law, understand that it is wrong to kill. Humans can decipher evil without something like natural law telling them so.
Secondly, natural law does not progress with societal changes. Society is constantly changing, and natural law in our current society is obsolete and therefore of limited use. For example homosexuality is now significantly more acceptable than it was when natural law was founded. According to natural law it is wrong to be homosexual as there is no way to reproduce within the relationship meaning you can’t fulfil your purpose to please god.
Natural law also has no legitimacy, because there is no way of knowing that is how a higher deity intended those laws to be. As well as this there are many bible verses that contradict natural law. For example, Matthew 6 verse 1, Jesus said good actions should not be done for reward but for their own sake – this goes against natural law because natural law states that you need to do a ‘real good’ act in order to go to heaven. Another verse is Matthew 5 verse 39, turn the other cheek – this goes against the view within natural law that a person can hurt someone else in order to preserve their life. However, in the bible there are verses than go hand in hand with natural law, these being Matthew 6 verse 2, the motive for committing an act is important as well as the act itself – interior and exterior acts as well as Exodus 20, which is the 10 commandments – an example of divine law that are absolute laws found in scripture. Although there are verses that link to natural law, there are many contradictions that put natural law at fault making it not a useful guideline for decision making as it has no real legitimacy.
Natural law is an absolutist way of putting things; therefore the consequences aren’t taken into account. The primary and secondary precepts are set in stone sets of rules. If a person was to commit suicide, that would be going against the primary precept of living, but with natural law the circumstances aren’t put in place. What if that person was extremely depressed? Or what if that person was in mourning? Although most people would agree that suicide is a wrong act, there are circumstances that lead to it. Because natural law is absolutist this makes it an unhelpful guideline to decision making as natural law is very black and white, meaning that people will make decisions without thinking about the considerations in depth and taking a different approach to the situation. On the other hand, people could argue that due to the rules being set in stone, it gives clarity to one’s life and has easy rules to follow.
Natural law states that for example, women need to procreate as women have wombs, which means that procreation is necessary. Or that because a man can produce sperm, this must lead to reproduction, otherwise it would be morally wrong. This is simply nonsensical, as humans have canine teeth in order to chew up meats, natural law could suggest that it is morally wrong to be a vegetarian as that person is not fulfilling its purpose to eat meat. This should not be taken seriously and used in daily life as almost anything could be interpreted as natural law.
Overall, I think society doesn’t need natural law in order to provide useful guidelines to decision making. This is because as humans we have the capability to make moral decisions, and we don’t need natural law to decide what is right or wrong. We have laws set in place for that. Natural law is outdated and is unnecessary in today’s society.

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