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St. Thomas Aquinas: the Human Law and Natural Law Debate Essay Sample

St. Thomas Aquinas: the Human Law and Natural Law Debate Pages
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Are we naturally moral creatures? Do we always act towards the common good of others? I am positive that we do not, and in fact, as much as society wants to, we go against our morals and lead with our ‘feelings’. These feelings may feel right, but it doesn’t mean they will lead you in the right path to fulfil your ultimate end, true happiness. Hitler was a passionate man driven by feelings, but what he felt and did during the World War Two era was not for the sake of the common good, and was not morally right. In today’s society we often struggle between what is legally right and what is morally right. “Law is nothing other than a certain promulgated ordinance of reason to the common good by one who has charge of the community.” (McInerny, 617). In this respect there are many instances where human laws, and more specifically Canadian laws, are derived from natural law. The idea of natural law, according to St. Thomas Aquinas is that these laws are presented to enable a person to act towards the common good, in order to connect with their Summum Bonum, in other words their ultimate end. Aquinas believes that every person’s ultimate end is to commune with Jesus Christ and God Almighty.

Natural law itself reflects what is morally right for the common good; while human laws are the written rules and regulations that look to preserve order, while, in most cases, staying true to natural law. I would, however, like to make the argument that not all human laws are derived or are based on natural law. In fact I would like to pull instances directly from the Criminal Code of Canada and exhibit how do they not only create chaos, but that they contradict natural law. What is natural law? According to St. Thomas Aquinas that natural law is “nothing other than the participation in eternal law on the part of the rational creature.” (McInerny, 620). Natural law is the most universal of universal standards of judgments in which the act of practical reason acts towards the natural law.

Practical reason has indemonstrable principles that are self-evident (natural law) and from that we can draw conclusions which lead to human law. Thus, Human law is derived from natural law, according to St. Thomas. This means that we as humans act towards the natural law by way of human laws. My opinion? Yes, most Canadian laws are based on natural law, however, as humans, we are naturally rational, but our rationality get clouded over by emotions and in that respect we have certain laws that contradict natural law by way of acting against the common good. An example of how a human law is derived from natural law is that the ‘One Person, One Seat Belt’ law which states, “Every person travelling in a motor vehicle must wear a seat belt or use a child safety seat. The penalty for seat belt infractions is a fine between $200 and $1,000. Convicted offenders will receive two demerit points.”

This law is derived from the natural law of self-preservation by way of not wearing a seatbelt in a car accident, you are potentially causing death or harm to yourself as well as others. If you do wear a seat belt, you are acting towards the common good, and still committing yourself to the law of self-preservation. Now St. Thomas believes that yes, the effort of law is to make men good, by way of saying, “The virtue of any subject is to be a good subject to his prince. Any law that aims at this that it be obeyed by those subject to it. It is manifest then that this is proper to law, to lead subject to their proper virtue.” (McImerny, 629). When society follows law, they are acting towards the common good and further law is to make men good. But I believe that natural law is aimed to make men good, pure, and beautiful citizens acting towards their ultimate end, but since human law is derived from natural law, it is more particular, which mean less certain. Natural law is more general, more certain, and human law is a particularity of natural law which cause uncertainty, which leaves room for error.

In an example of Canadian Law that contradicts natural law of self-preservation is Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, otherwise known as the spanking law. It states that “every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. [R.S. c.C-34, s.43.]” (Barnett, 2008). This law does not define reasonable force, it does however exclude those under 2 and over 12. This means parents and teachers are allowed to physically punish their child and use this as a legal defence in court. Since there is no definition of reasonable force, it can cover extreme violence, such as beating using objects like hands, feet, wooden boards, rulers, electrical cords, etc. There have been cases in which the child was severely abused and the parent did not get charged and had their parental rights reinstated because of Section 43. This Canadian law that is still enforced today, is the exact opposite of acting towards the common good. It not only contradicts natural law, but it is morally wrong.

The reasoning of this law is that some people to this day view children as lesser, incapable human becomings as opposed to competent social actors in their own lives. This in itself is a fictitious belief and children are humans, so beat them and be legally allowed to do so is in violation of the natural law of self-preservation. With the two examples of how human laws, and more specifically Canadian laws, are and are not based on natural law my findings are that human beings making the shift from being rational creatures to emotional creatures. Our rationality is what separates us from non-human creatures, which act upon instinct or feelings, not towards a natural law. Canadians as a whole are losing the concept of the common good, and are actions are following suit. Canada acts for the sake of the private good, and thus they believe this is the highest good.

When asked what makes people happy, many confuse this question with material things like wealth, instead of non-material happiness, which is pure, infinite, and beautiful. This happiness is our ultimate end, communing with Jesus Christ and God Almighty. Since Canada no longer has this in mind, our actions at times violate the natural law and aren’t directed for the sake of the common good. These actions we take may violate our natural law, but they do not violate human laws. This is because of the shift of civilization as a whole. St. Thomas argues that law is always ordered to the common good, by the following passage: “Hence it is necessary that, since law is said to consist especially in its order to the common good, any other precept concerning a particular deed has the character of law only insofar as it is ordered to the common good. Therefore every law is ordered to the common good.”

As argued in this paper, it is evident that some laws are not ordered to the common good, in fact some are the opposites of the common good, they are evil laws that in turn allow people to perform evil actions. Thus, meaning when analysing some laws, there is no natural law present, therefore not only are not all laws ordered to the common good, not all Canadian, or human, laws are not based on natural law. I believe that we should go back to our roots and create a solid foundation based on our universal standard of judgement. This foundation, familiar to the foundation Descartes describes in his Meditations I, will eliminate the false concepts and laws that supposedly create a civil society and replace them with laws that are indeed ordered to the common good, to our ultimate end, our Summum Bonum.

In this way we can ensure that all law, eternal, natural, human, and divine, will be to the order of the Summum Bonum. Then the definition of law presented by St. Thomas Aquinas can again be correct. “Law is nothing other than a certain promulgated ordinance of reason to the common good by one who has charge of the community.” (McInerny, 617). In this sense is will not eliminate free choice but will enhance the idea of the common good in Canadian society, for according to St. Thomas, “a man has free choice to the extent that he is rational.” (European Graduate School, 2012).

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