In the thought of Aquinas, however, natural law does notseem to have functioned in this way, much to the annoyance of the more zealous moralists calling themselves Thomists.
Inreading him one is forced more and more to see how he focussesfirst upon the natural inclinations, understood in an "objective"sense as being those
of our specific and generic nature, in sofar as this nature may be taken as common to us all, which evokeinclination prior to any operation of free choice. For it is preciselythese inclinations that a free agent will
as part of theactivity of choosing (
WE do not begin, that is, withconstraints, as calling this ethics a theory of law must often havesuggested. Thus our guiding, central inclination is to our ultimate end("ultimate" is to be understood here as in "ultimate reality"; thereis no call to make it exclusively a term to a temporal process). Asbeing our ideal fulfilment one can only have one such end, just asa matter of conceptual analysis, Aquinas thinks. We call ithappiness, though Aquinas has two terms for it,
, both of which he identifies with God (it can also be calledsalvation). Revealingly, he states that these, or this, is more trulyor directly the
, or honourable good, than isvirtue. Virtue is only a
This alone shows that Aquinas was not a moralist, in the sense of an adherent of
, i.e. of the doctrine, in whatever form,that there is a universe of "values" somehow separate from thehuman good in general, so that we have to "respect" it or them,not allow ourselves spontaneously to follow after happiness.
Cf. V. Bourke, "Is Thomas Aquinas a Natural Law Ethicist?"
Just one short
of the vast Second Part of the
, the whole of which deals with ethics and moral theology, isdevoted to natural law. This is not even the main concern of thetreatise on law itself, which as serving as a preface to the immediatelyfollowing treatise on grace is only there at all out of deference to thepattern of development in scripture. Law is also dealt with in thequestions on the virtue of justice, which again are more concerned withthis virtue than with natural law. Aquinas's exhaustive commentary onAristotle's
underscores this stress, and cannot bedismissed as merely retailing Aristotle's views, since Aquinas begs todiffer in a few places. What he does stress (more than Aristotle) arethe ends of human nature, and here the aspect of law as defining anessence or nature appears, but not as particularly restrictive. Forthese ends only oblige us as it were vacuously, or under pain of notattaining them if we fail to pursue them.
IIa-IIae 145, 1 ad 1um, ad 2um.