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Natural Law Reconsidered

Natural Law Reconsidered

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Published by stephen theron
This is a reconsideration of the traditional natural law position, defended previously by the author. It is a maximal underpinning of life and freedom. One may usefully compare with my other text here on The Good Life.
This is a reconsideration of the traditional natural law position, defended previously by the author. It is a maximal underpinning of life and freedom. One may usefully compare with my other text here on The Good Life.

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Published by: stephen theron on Mar 19, 2009
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IntroductionThe natural law reconsidered here is the doctrine presented intheological writings of Thomas Aquinas. The subtitle, suggesting acontinuity with the ideas of Chesterton and the mainly English lay andliterary theologians of the 1940s, is serious in intention. Truth isindeed what does not lie hidden (
), yet it is the onlyproportionate cause of wonder.The first three chapters hammer home the same point from threedifferent perspectives, this point being the necessity of transcendingthe legal approach. It is argued that the vocabulary of law, whileremaining convenient for Aquinas due to his view of the divinerevelational pedagogy, the Bible, is yet removed by him (and byimplication the New Testament authors) to such an analogical plane thatsuch discourse cannot be regarded as an essential part of hisphilosophical wisdom. A continuity with Nietzsche and modernspeculation then becomes more visible. Aquinas in fact gives the
of these later intuitions in terms of the
bonum honestum
itself as ultimately transcending any purely moral good.This teleological position is distinguished fromutilitarianism (ch.4) and ethical rationalism, opening the way tocreative options as pointed to in the tradition of the virtues andtheir unity, this latter (unity of the virtues) being a doctrine ofmore use in legitimating apparent aberrations than in discreditingunconventional virtue. Here the individuality of any existingsubstance, such as persons in particular is brought out, with theimplication of the insufficiency of any legal or scientific scheme. Aricher doctrine of vocation in terms of personal inspiration is putforward.Three central examples are considered in support of thethesis of love as the "form of all the virtues", viz. justice (only"mercy" provides the will to it), the erotic, the requirement never tomurder. Next (ch.10) we consider ultimate happiness as the end unitingall individuals, going on to consider the Gospel beatitudes aspresented by Aquinas as the charter here and now for full happiness.This leads to the topic of our natural and hence common inclinations asreflected in assertions of law, of which, we claim, the order of theseinclinations is the source, all being derived from the urge to personalfulfilment (salvation). We show the continuity with biological reality,the necessity for a meaningful ethics of having biogenic roots, thustranscending all dualism. We end with a stress on creativity as
sign and effect of love, love itself being the only defensible ethicalresponse to reality.
Introduction1. Natural Law Reconsidered.2. Against Atheistic or Any Other Moralism.3. The New Law, Modernity and Natural Law: a NecessaryReintegration.4. Consequentialism and Natural Law.5. Creative Options.6. Individual and Analogy.7. Justice: Legal and Moral Debt in Aquinas.8. Eros and the Human Good.9. Murder Today.10. Ultimate Happiness.11. The Beatitudes as our Natural Plan of Life.12. Natural Inclinations and their Order.13. Natural Law and Physical Reality.14. Natural Inclinations Broadcast.15. The Central Role of Creativity.IndexBibliography
Natural Law Reconsidered
 The doctrine of natural law has two poles, that of nature and thatof law. Conservatives use it so as to bind their charges by law,such law just happening to be "natural", though this circumstancehelps them to claim to present an easy yoke, a light burden. Yet itis a mere trick of language that suggests that the naturalness of such law makes it no longer binding or constraining, as "positive"law might be felt to be. If the real, existing and individuallypersonal subject does not find such a prescription comingnaturally to him here and now then he or she is withoutqualification law-bound, unfree. It is not here that the easy yokeand light burden is found.
Cf. Mtth.11,30.
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 (
) itself.
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
bonum honestum
, or honourable good, than isvirtue. Virtue is only a
bonum honestum
leading to
 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?"
1974, pp.52-66.
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
Nicomachean Ethics
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.
Summa theol.
IIa-IIae 145, 1 ad 1um, ad 2um.

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