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The Relevance of the Natural Law Theory

The Relevance of the Natural Law Theory

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Published by Joel Sagut

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Published by: Joel Sagut on Dec 04, 2009
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 There is a good value in learning various ethical systems. The process allowsus to become acquainted with varied points of view, and hence broaden ourhorizon and understanding about these things. So far, our exchanges in theclass have brought us into the philosophies of relativism, hedonism, stoicism,pragmatism, and even the situational and power ethics theories. There aretimes that these systems clashed. One system may hold a tenet that iscontrary, and even contradictory, to the tenets of another. Often, the naturallaw theory is criticized on the ground that such theory fails to update with therecent developments in the human civilizations. With all these differences, wemay start asking: can there be a possibility to come up with a norm that canbe applicable to all? If Habermas’ discourse ethics makes us hope for reason’scapacity to name an agreement or understanding among discoursing parties,can we then hope for the possibility that our discourse in class can allow us toapproximate a norm, a particular way of doing things, which may beacceptable, or at least bearable, for all?At one time, I began to wonder, how should we really understand “ethics” as aparticular or specialized discipline? With the varied and at times conflictingethical standards, how are we to know the most appropriate ethicalperspective that could guide us to act morally on a particular situation? Will itbe alright to say that I am a utilitarian at times but I can also be a powerethicist when the situation warrants it? Is it justifiable to transfer allegiancesfrom one ethical system to another depending on which system soundsreasonable at a particular situation? Or, shall we fight for our loyalty to onlyone system which we believe to be the best, and defend the system from allforms of critique and even corruption?
As the discussion progressed, one thing that I truly appreciated is the closerexamination that we do on the systems. It allows us to see more closely thestrength and weaknesses of each, and personally, it allows me to compare orto dialogue a particular system with my own natural law tradition, of which Iam raised because of my faith, exposure and training. Our discussions allowme to see views that are very different from what I traditionally hold. Inseveral instances did I encounter the dilemma of asking myself about “how farcan my commitment to natural law system allow me to converse with a newone?” One concrete instance of this dilemma was the discussion of the powerethics theory.Of the many ethical systems that we have discussed, the one system that hasdisturbed me most is the power ethics theory. In a sense, I am more or lessfamiliar with the other systems previously discussed. I have alreadyencountered relativism in the past. I got acquainted also with Stoicism,hedonism and pragmatism. Situational ethics is also among the most knownrivals of natural law theory, and so more or less, I also got acquainted with it.
But the power ethics theory was given stronger intellectual backing when thephilosophy of Nietzsche was introduced. As presented in the report, the powerethics theory of Nietzsche was a reaction to the power and influence that theChristian natural law morality had in the past. In fact, the report seems tosuggest that the Nietzschean philosophy is a criticism against the theory thatprimarily holds the existence of the Divine being. There is no other system thatis more attuned to a consciousness about God than that of the Christian,natural law, morality.
 My first question then was: how reproachable natural law morality really is thatthe power ethics theory seems convinced that the former is a totalabomination in ethical discourse and should be overcome if man wishes tomature. It seems that for the power ethicist, adopting the views of Christianmorality is a form of weakness that should not be accommodated in any sense.Power ethics rests on the importance and value of human freedom. It believesin the great potential of the human person, and it recognizes the fact that if the human persons can maximize their freedom, then they can reach to thehighest peak of their human existence. This is why Nietzsche blames religionbecause he believes that religion suppresses rather than encourages theexpression of human freedom. This is where Nietzsche, as a power ethicist, conflicts with Christianity. Thelatter was an oppressor of human freedom according to the former. In fact,Nietzsche argues that Christianity has trivialized the concept of virtues. Whenvirtues are supposed to be a rarity, Christianity has made it appear as if allpersons are capable of becoming virtuous. Nietzsche himself claims, “theytake from virtue the charm of rareness, inimitableness, exceptionalness, andunaverageness – its aristocratic magic.” (WP, 175). Furthermore, Nietzschealso claims that the notion of who is virtuous was also distorted by theChristian tradition. Christianity believes in the virtue character of meeknessand humility, of forgiveness, of sharing and sacrifice. For Nietzsche, along withmany other critics against the Christian religion, this reversal of the characterof virtues is a product of manipulation. This was accommodated by theentrance of the slaves in the Christian community, and the slaves’ way of overcoming their masters is in promoting the ideals that give more praise forthe weak rather than the strong. Hence, the critics would say, Christian valuesare not really pure and pristine. They are political in character and areproducts of deceit. These are results of the dirty tactics employed by the weakin order to fight back against the strong. Nietzsche himself argues that theChristian moral values come into power through “slandering, inculpation,undermining of virtues that oppose them and are already in power byrebaptizing them.” (WP, 171). Power ethicists would claim that the strong hasbecome an object of contempt and the weak of sympathy because theappreciation of which is virtuous and which are not have also already beenchanged.
against existence was the
existence of God…”
(WP, 377) as quoted by BryanBustamante’s report, p. 4 of 8.
Furthermore, Nietzsche has reflected about the realities of the humancondition and argues that ethics is basically about desire (the will) for power.In this ethics of desire, the reality of dissatisfaction plays a very important role.Human persons don’t get complacent with what they have. It is part of theirhuman condition that they long for more. This longing, desire, for somethingmore should not be treated as an abnormality. Dissatisfaction opens up aperson for what is beyond him/her. Dissatisfaction opens up the possibility formore perfection and therefore, it is something admirable in itself. Nietzscheeven believes that the more violent the desire is, the better would it bebecause it drives more powerfully the person involved. He even says that “thegreatest ideas are those that have been created by the most violent andprotracted desires. The more our desire for a thing grows, the more value weascribe to that thing.” (WP, 184). For Nietszche, there is nothing wrong withdesire, even if it is the desire for power, because it actually empowers theperson more to seek for the fulfillment or achievement of the thing desired.Given this Nietzsche argues that the good is that which actually propels humanpersons to the realization of their being. It is not the good that seeks fidelity toan already established norm. Good is not found in conformity but rather indifference and uniqueness. Anything that drives the person to behimself/herself is good. Anything that engenders the realization of the powersof the person is good. Anything less and anything that hinders that constitutesevil. This is then a good contribution in the discussion of ethics. Ethics is ultimately,for power ethicists, the realization of the person. Ethics is not about norms, butit is about sincere reflection of the realization of one’s being. An ethicist couldnever become complacent, but he/she is rather involved in the greater work of discerning the proper things to be done in all situations. Furthermore, powerethics led us to a better appreciation of our being human. It corrects the manyforms of suppression that is present in many ethical systems. It questions thesuppression of the body and emotions among the stoics, and to a certaindegree, of Christian morality. But at the same time, it does not also permit theextravagance of some ethical theories like hedonism. Power ethics does notpermit an action for the sole purpose of satisfying the self. The goal of powerethics is never pleasure but self-perfection. Hence, it would not also toleratethe permissiveness of hedonism, and even of anarchism. It simply wants warnsthe people not to rest content with too little and too much restrictions, but itdoes not also proscribe to have too much. It rests on the quite noble end of 
human perfection
.However, despite all these praises available for power ethics theory, there arealso things that may serve as our points of caution in our appreciation of power ethics theories. These are the areas which I believe, based on myappreciation of the other systems, to be the limitations of power ethicstheories.One notable limitation of the theory is its self-directed character. It appearsthat the theory has ignored one basic aspect of human existence, and that is,interrelationship. The human person does not exist in isolation, and this

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