• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Religious Studies - Ethics: Natural Moral Law

Extracts from this document...


Religious Studies - Ethics Natural Moral Law a) Critically examine what is meant by Natural Moral Law. (8 marks) b) Analyse and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Natural Moral Law as a definitive ethical theory. (12 marks) a) Natural Moral Law is the ancient belief that we can deduce what is right and wrong by looking at nature, this being the one moral code that is applicable to all people. The main features of Natural Moral Law as an ethical theory are that it is unchanging, universally applicable and relevant to all circumstances. The theory is absolutist, objective, deontological and thought to be God-given. Natural Law has also been interpreted to promote the idea that human law through government is an extension of divine law. Although Natural Law is consistent with Christian thinking and scripture, it is not reliant upon them and fundamentally, it is a system of morality based on human reasoning. The origins of Natural Law can be found in the ancient world amongst the philosophers Plato and Aristotle who believed that there was a law within nature that could be applied to everyone. In the 4th Century BC, Plato presented the idea through a debate between 'Nomos' (human law) and 'Phusis' (natural law). Aristotle, who wrote 'Nichomachean Ethics', distinguished natural justice from human justice in his claim that human justice was subject to change according to culture and nation whilst natural justice was independent of this, emphasising this concept in his statement that "Fire burns here as it does in Persia". ...read more.


Aquinas emphasised the concept of Natural Law evaluating both what one does and why one does it and encouraged the idea of exterior and interior acts. For Aquinas, both the intention and act are important, and to act in a good way for the wrong reason is to perform a good exterior act but a bad interior act. For example, helping a blind person to cross a road in order to impress someone would be considered morally wrong as Aquinas felt that a good action should be done out of charity and not for the sake of admiration by others. Aquinas appreciated the fact that good intentions didn't always result in good actions, however, the only end that was valued by Aquinas was God. Whether or not actions lead toward God depends upon if the action fits a human's purpose. Acts that accord with Aquinas' primary precepts are intrinsically good and acts that frustrate the natural order are intrinsically wrong. Aquinas presented the concept of 'secondary precepts', which were designed to help humans concerning things we should and shouldn't do because they uphold or fail to maintain the original primary precepts. His secondary precepts were deduced from the primary precepts and they are recognised as being to not murder, to not abort the unborn, to defend the defenceless and to not commit suicide. ...read more.


With his example of Eskimos who kill babies and family members who they think will not survive the winter, Nelson has shown that common human nature is unlikely. Furthermore, Aquinas' understanding of human purpose is limited, as although he states one of the final causes for humans to be reproduction, he himself was a celibate priest. The theory as a whole is focused upon humanity working towards the goal of glorifying God with little room for individual purposes in a relationship with God, and so therefore is narrow and restrictive in suggesting that we have particular functions to fulfil. 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. Joanna Lowe Page 1 Miss Monyard ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Practical Questions section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Practical Questions essays

  1. Discuss the Relationship between law and morals. Consider how far the law seeks to ...

    Disagreements as to the content of legal rules can be resolved by references to the statutes. Over the past thirty years there has been a considered development over societies view on drink driving. In the past it was considered to be acceptable for someone to spend an evening in a pub, consuming alcohol and then driving home.

  2. Essay on Law vs. Justice

    from the breakdown of trust that can flow from unethical or corrupt practices. Sustaining moral responsibilities in these settings requires attention to both sense and sensibility. Responsibilities are assigned, negotiated and deflected in differing ways in particular forms of moral life.

  1. A) Clarify the key features of a deontological theory of ethics

    It is inflexible and cold and goes against a lot of human nature. Perhaps the strongest criticism of deontology though is that Kant does not allow for conflicting duties. For example, your duty tells you not to lie, but so is allowing someone to be injured by another.

  2. Analyse and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of natural moral law as a definitive ...

    Aquinas' natural moral law is a Christian ethic and yet Jesus quite clearly opposes legalistic morality in the New Testament. Jesus debated frequently with moral legalists of his time, the Pharisees. Similarity can be found between Pharisaic law and natural moral law.

  1. What is Natural Moral Law? What are the strengths and weaknesses of NML?

    For example, a good knife cuts. In the context of the world and God Aquinas states that - for something to be good, it has to do what God had intended at the creation of the world. For example, at creation God intended for humans to procreate, thus contraception is bad as it intervenes with God's intentions.

  2. Analyse the important features of Natural Moral Law

    His primary and secondary precepts are a basic law which all other natural laws play a part in.

  1. Religious and/or moral principles are a hindrance with medical ethics. Examine and comment on ...

    It promotes the idea that an abortion can occur if the woman?s life is in danger, for example, there has been case in the last couple of years where a 17 year old girl has become pregnant. She?s of strong Catholic faith and lives with just her mother, who suffers from MS, whom she looks after on a daily basis.

  2. How are religious and ethical principles used in the abortion debate?

    Such a life would not be mere biological life, but rather as Glover describes it, the quality of life of one who consciously possesses preferences, plans, projects, desires, feelings, memories, a sense of identity etc. Since unborn children, as well as many mentally disabled or comatose adult human beings do

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work