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Explain what is meant by natural law.

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Lucy OBrien Natural Law is an example of Absolutism which is an objective moral rule or value that is always true in all situations and for everyone without exception. The earliest theory of Natural Law first appeared among the Stoics, who believed that God is everywhere and in everyone. Humans have in them a divine spark which helps them find out how to live according to the will of God, or according to nature. Natural Law is based on the ideas of Aristotle - that there are four causes to everything: the material i.e. the stuff it is made from; the formal or the shape of it; the efficient, the agent that brings about the thing; and the Purpose, the most important one, the reason for somethings existence. Aristotle considered that not only does everything have a purpose, for example the purpose of a knife is to cut, but that its supreme good is found when it fulfills that purpose, for example the knife cuts sharply. He said Every craft and every investigation, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good; hence the good has been well described as that at which everything aims. Aristotle argued that the supreme good for humans is eudaimonia, which is translated into happiness but also includes the idea of living well and thriving and flourishing with others in society. He argued that people might do other things in order to be happy, but that it would make no sense to try to be happy in order to achieve something else. Aristotle saw this as the final goal for humans but that it is to be achieved by living a life of reason, he saw reason as the highest of all human activities reason is the true self of every man, since it is the supreme and better party ... Reason is, in the highest sense, a mans self. When Aristotle died his works were lost as far as European Philosophy was concerned but were kept safe by Islamic Scholars. They were rediscovered by Thomas Aquinas just before he took up his position at the University of Paris. Aquinas used the ideas of Aristotle and the Stoics as an underpinning for Natural

Law. That Human beings have an essential rational nature given by God in order for us to live and flourish. That even without knowledge of God, reason an discover the laws that lead to human flourishing. And that the Natural Laws are universal and unchangeable and should be used to judge the laws of particular societies. Like Aristotle, Aquinas concluded that humans aim for some goal or purpose but he believed that the purpose of humans was not eudaimonia but perfection and developing into the image of God, he incorporated some of these ideas into Roman Catholic teachings. However, Aquinas did not think that this perfection, or perfect happiness, was possible in this life. He sees happiness as beginning now and continuing in the next life. The purpose of morality is to allow us to arrive at the fulfillment of our natures and the completion of all our desires. Aquinas decided that everything has a purpose that is built into nature, and that we can work out that purpose using reason. In his book Summa Theologiae, Aquinas attempts to work out what this perfection is by examining the reflections of Natural Moral Law as revealed by 3 Laws. The Eternal Law are the principles by which God made and controls the universe and which only God knows completely. We only know these as reflections; i.e. we only have a partial and approximate understanding of the laws which govern the universe. There is also Divine Law, which is the Bible. Aquinas believed the Bible reflects the Eternal Law of God. However, this reflection can only be seen by those who believe in God and only if God chooses to reveal it. The final law is Natural Law. This refers to the moral law of God which has been built into human nature and is also a reflection of the Eternal Law of God. However, it can be seen by everyone as it does not depend on belief in God, we simply need to use reason to understand human nature. In Natural Law there are primary and secondary precepts. The primary precepts are the fundamental principles of Natural Moral Law and the secondary precepts are worked out from primary precepts. Aquinas saw the primary precepts as always true and applying to everyone without exception, as they are direct reflections of Gods Eternal Law. The primary precepts are the preservation of life, reproduction, the nurture and education of the young, living peacefully in

society and to worship God. They are always true in that they point us in the right direction and are necessary for human flourishing. The secondary precepts, however, are dependent on our own judgment of what actually to do in a given situation and are open to faulty reasoning and may lead to wrong choices, making them more teleological than deontological. They are more open to interpretation than the primary precepts. An example is the statement Abortion is wrong which keeps the precepts and the preservation of life. The secondary precepts make Aquinas understanding of Natural Law realistic and quite flexible, it takes into account our human limitations and weaknesses. Aquinas saw the primary precepts as objectively true for everyone and he believed that by using our reason we can discover the right action in every situation by following the principle of the doctrine of double effect. There are times where we have moral dilemmas in which we cannot do good without a bad consequence. To solve this dilemma the doctrine of double effect was devised. It says that it is always wrong to do a bad thing intentionally to bring about good consequences, for example robbing to get more possessions. But, it is sometimes okay to do a good act despite knowing that it will bring about bad consequences for example the use of morphine to alleviate pain in a terminally ill patient, but at the same time it shortens their life. The bad consequence is acceptable provided it is unintended and just a necessary evil.

Natural Law has no serious weaknesses. (10)


Lucy OBrien I disagree with this statement. If the world makes sense and everything has a final cause or purpose then we can decided what is right or wrong. But if we do not believe that there is a final cause or purpose, then the natural law argument makes no sense. So, the natural law approach to ethics depends on its validity on metaphysics on seeing the world as a rationally ordered creation. If you dont believe that the world that the world is ordered according to reason then Natural Law makes no sense. Natural Law also has other weaknesses. One is that natural law finds it difficult to relate complex decisions to basic principles for example, should more money be spent on schools or hospitals. Some also argue that Natural Law is based on assumptions about the world and the in-built purpose of things that are questioned by modern science. The world has no rational system of laws governing it but the laws of nature are impersonal and blind with no intention of moving towards particular purposes. There is no divine purpose; it is simply the way things are. Karl Barth thought that Natural Law relies too much on reason, as human nature is too corrupt to be trusted, and not enough on the grace of God and the revelation of the bible. However, Natural Law could be said to have some strengths. It allows for a clearcut approach to morality and establishes common rules. The basic principles of preserving human life, reproduction, learning and living in society are common in

all cultures and so Natural Law is reasonable too. In addition, Natural Law concentrates on human character and its potential for goodness and flourishing rather than on the rightness or wrongness of particular acts, and so it allows for some measure of flexibility. All those things that we require for happiness health and friends are morally good. The purpose of morality is the fulfillment of our natures. In conclusion I think that Natural Law does have a serious weakness - if we dont believe that there is a final cause or purpose, then the natural law argument makes no sense. There are also some other minor weaknesses but on the other hand Natural Law does have some strengths.