Notes on Natural Law

Natural Moral Law


Antigone, Sophocles

  • Early (400BC) example of Natural Law presiding over state law

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle

  • “The natural is that which everywhere is equally valid”
  • Natural justice was not always the same as that which was just by law. Natural justice is independent
  • Logos, Ancient Stoics

    • Rationality governs the world
    • Human nature part of natural order
    • Natural Law – a law of right reason

    Romans 2:14-15, St Paul

    • Speaks of law which is “written in the hearts” of Gentiles

    On The Republic, Cicero

    • ‘True law’ – “right reason in agreement with nature”
    • “Eternal and unchangeable law valid for all nations and all times”
    • “One master and ruler, God” is the “Author, promulgator and enforcing judge”

    St Thomas Aquinas (1224 – 1274)

    • Christian philosopher
    • Absolutist and deontological (focused on the ethicacy of actions), but adopts Aristotle’s teleological worldview: that everything has an end or purpose.
    • Summa Theologica – “Law is nothing else than an ordination of reason for the common good promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community”
    • Natural law assists humans to direct their actions
    • To reach eternal destiny with God
    • Affects outward external view of actions and internal motivation (‘what’ and ‘why’)
    • “… man needs to be directed to his supernatural end in a higher way”
    • “… good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided”

    Reason and human purpose

    • Divine reason, perceived through revelation and human reason
    • “To disparage the dictate of reason is the equivalent to condemning the command of God”
    • Purpose of existence is Fellowship with God
    • Avoid non-natural, non-rational desires
    • Man’s first precept is self-preservation

    Real and apparent goods

    • Human nature essentially good (natural law within everyone)
    • Intrinsic desire to achieve perfection
    • Humans never knowingly pursue evil: “No evil can be desirable, either by natural appetite or by conscious will. It is sought indirectly, namely because it is the consequence of some good”
    • Sin: falling short of God’s expectations
    • To correctly distinguish between apparent and real goods is to reason rightly.
    • Reason identifies ‘natural’ / ‘cardinal’ virtues:
      1. Prudence
      2. Temperance
      3. Fortitude
      4. Injustice
    • Comparison with theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity)
    • Individuals should seek to develop these virtues – requires practice.
    • Virtues should become habitual

    Exterior and interior acts

    • Both intention and the act itself are important
    • To do something bad but with good intentions is to perform a good exterior act but a bad interior act
    • The only end that Aquinas values is God
    • Acts are intrinsically good or bad (Absolutist) – Because when humans act in accordance with their ultimate purpose, God is glorified.

    Primary and secondary precepts

    • Primary precepts
    1. Self-preservation and preservation of innocent
    2. Continuation of species through reproduction
    3. Education of children
    4. Live in society
    5. Worship God
    • Acts that accord with the main human purpose are good, others are bad.
    • Secondary precepts are morals which exist because they uphold the primary precepts.
    • For example, the primary precept of preservation implies:
      • Do not murder
      • Do not abort unborn
      • Defend the defenceless
      • Do not commit suicide

    “Summa Theologica”

    • “Inclination to good”
    • “whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to Natural Law
    • “A certain order is to be found in those things that are to be apprehended universally”
    • “Good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided”

    Catechisms of the Roman Catholic church

    • 1954
    • God shows humans what is right and wrong. Natural Law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every person.
    • 1955
    • Natural Law is the purpose of life. We should do good and thus find God at the end. Through Natural Law we know what we must do and avoid
    • 1956
    • Immutable and eternal. Anything that goes against it is sacrilegious
    • 1957
    • Absolute common principles, but application varies with circumstance.
    • 1959
    • Natural Law is solid foundations of rules. Builds communities.
    • 1960







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