Compare and contrast the key features of Natural Moral Law & Virtue Ethics
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Compare and contrast the key features of Natural Moral Law and Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics is a character based ethical theory. This means that it looks at the virtue or moral character of the individual carrying out an action, rather than at ethical laws, or the consequences of particular actions. Rather than attempting to reason what should be considered 'good' or 'bad', virtue ethics focuses on how adopting certain attitudes may lead to certain fulfilments. Virtue ethics is principally concerned with the idea of the human character and asks how you can be a better person. In this way it is different to many other ethical theories as it puts right character before right behaviour. It argues we should be less concerned with actions and consequences, and much more with the character of the moral agent. The question 'what is it right or obligatory to do?' is nowhere near as important in virtue ethics as the question, 'how should we be?' The principles of virtue ethics are that 1. An action is only right if it is an action that a virtuous person would carry out in the same circumstances. 2. A virtuous person is a person who acts virtuously.
The Aristotelian 'Theory of Causes' is important to understand here because this states that everything has a final cause or purpose. In relation to natural law, this means that anything that interferes with that purpose is to be considered 'wrong'. Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotle's theories to Christianity. He posited that natural ethics was not only learned from observation of the natural because it seemed that the cravings of the body, which were by all means natural, were not all moral. As such he thought that in order to discover what is good we must use observation in combination with excellent reason. He believed that reason could be corrupted by the trials of human existence. With his reason he induced that the moral laws could be broken down into four precepts (in order of precedence); 1. Eternal law - The mind of God 2. Divine law - Our perception of the mind of God (the bible) 3. Natural law - Derived from observation of the way things "should" be and reason. 4. Human law - The laws created by the current earthly authority. An important aspect of natural law is that of exterior and interior motive. This means that an action must only be in itself moral (E.G.
For example, if reproduction is one of the final causes, how can we explain those who are homosexual or infertile? Furthermore, if one considers the possibility that homosexuality may derive from genetic traits, and therefore be a part of someone's nature, the final cause of reproduction has no basis. If this were the case, it could be said that sexual intercourse has as its purpose recreation and not reproduction. Vardy and Grosch have also challenged Aquinas' final cause of reproduction in 'The Puzzle of Ethics' with this argument, stating the possibility that the function of genitalia is pleasure and not reproduction. Whilst Natural Law upholds the idea that some things, such as the preservation of human life, have intrinsic value, one could also observe that Aquinas' thinking is typical of its time. His belief that every individual has a purpose and function that is God-given and unchangeable could be considered outdated. Alongside this argument, although Natural Law is supposedly a Christian ethic, Jesus opposed the legalistic morality of his time, the Pharisees. Although the weaknesses of Natural Moral Law outweigh the strengths, given the above criticisms, it is worth noting that natural law may not be as rigid as it first appears. Aquinas accepted that while the primary precepts were unalterable, the secondary precepts were subject to change owing to particular circumstances
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