Natural Moral Law is an absolutist and deontological ethical theory. This basically means the theory is set to one set of rules and is concerned with the actions themselves rather than the consequences. Humans have within them a divine spark which helps them to discover how to live according to nature. We all have options, we have choices whether to obey the laws that govern the world but they need to use reason to understand and decide whether to obey these cosmic laws. Aquinas linked this idea of a cosmic natural law with Aristotle’s view that people, like everything else have a specific nature, purpose and function.
Aquinas used the ideas of Aristotle as a basis for Natural Law. Natural Moral Law would be seen as the highest in the hierarchy followed by the law that governs the country and us, the society who follows these laws. According to Aquinas, we all have an essential rational nature given by god in order for us to live and reach our true potential. Even without knowledge of god our reasoning will become known in order for us to reach our full potential. The natural laws apply to everybody as they are universal and unchangeable and should be used to create particular laws of societies. Aquinas believed that everybody aims for a goal or a purpose; we are all made in the image of god and so the supreme good must be the development of this image which is human perfection.
However Aquinas did not believe that human perfection or perfect happiness was possible in this life, he saw happiness as beginning in this world and continuing to the next life. The purpose of morality is to enable us to arrive at the fulfilment of our natures and the completion of all our desires. Aquinas used the following laws to try and discover what perfection actually is by using Natural Moral Law as a basis. External law is the principles by which only god made and controls the universe and which only god knows completely. We only know these as reflections, basically meaning we only have partial understanding of the laws which govern the universe. Devine law is the bible, the bible is a reflections of god and his ways, this can only be seen if god chooses for people to see it.
Natural law refers to the moral law of god which has been built into human nature. This is a reflection of eternal laws of god; this is our reason to understand human nature. The last law that Aquinas used is human law, these are everyday rules that govern our lives. Aquinas saw that the fact humans do not always act in a way that strives towards perfection is explained by using the term ‘apparent good’. This is the idea that we may have got things wrong and have followed something that we think is good but in reality does not fit into the perfect ideal. In order to work out what is an apparent food we need to use our reason correctly and choose the right thing to do, this is the real good. There is an ideal human nature that we can all live up to or fall away from and our moral inclinations determine whether we achieve this or not.
Aquinas believed that god created us and he wants us to be with him but he also gives us free will. Therefore there must have been a set of rules that lead us to the path of god, these are the primary precepts. Aquinas saw the primary precepts of Natural Law as always true and applying to everybody without exception as they are a direct reflection of god’s eternal law. An example of a primary precept could be to preserve life, in all societies without exception is wrong to unlawfully take a life. Reproducing is always a good thing, bringing a new life into the world in all societies is seen as a good thing making this a primary precept. Primary precepts are all good acts because they lead us towards the main purpose.
To sum up the theory of Natural Moral Law, it is basically here and should be used to help people thrive to reach their true and full potential. It allows us all to appreciate the laws and the importance they have in our lives and using the primary precepts we are acting in a good and beneficial way for everybody individually or as a whole.
“Aquinas’ theory of Natural Law provides useful guidelines to decision making” Discuss.
There are many views on whether this statement is true or not, there are many good points about the theory however there are many criticisms against it. First of all the theory is beneficial to society as a whole as it enables people to establish common rules in order to structure communities. Thus making the theory a universal one, as natural law can be used as a tool for moral understanding and his idea of common nature and morality goes beyond any single religion or culture. However, it is questionable whether there is a single ‘one size fits all’ human nature and whether day to day rules can be deduced from fundamental laws.
Many people have different or changeable natures, for example somebody who has different sexual orientations. Homosexual men and women argue for recognition as normal human beings. Their acts are classed as unnatural by Aquinas because their actions will not lead to new life. They say that they find love and purpose in life through their expression in their sexuality. Maybe primary precepts differ in certain circumstances. However natural law may not be as rigid as it first appears, although primary precepts are unchangeable, the secondary precepts may change in some particular aspects. The conclusions of the Catholic Church regarding the prohibitions of artificial contraception and homosexual acts may be challengeable in certain special cases.
Natural law is flexible enough to accommodate different cultures and people sexualities because the secondary precepts are reasoned by the society who can interpret the primary precepts in accordance with their time and practise. But natural law relies heavily on reason; this implies that human beings are capable of reasoning accurately on complex matters and decision making.