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Religious Studies - Ethics: Natural Moral Law

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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