Natural Moral Law - in theory and in practice.

Authors Avatar by allthegirlsjonesbtinternetcom (student)

Outline the theory of Natural Moral Law (18)

Natural Moral Law is an absolutist ethical theory which means that there is a moral command that is true to everyone all of the time, so it is universal and hopes to achieve absolute morality; “As fire burns both here and in Persia” Aristotle. Cicero stated that humans have the ability to reason and follow an intended purpose so that “true law is right in accordance to nature”.  It is based on deontology which originates from the Greek word ‘deon’ meaning duty. This means the motivation of an action is defined independently of its outcome and the action must be intrinsically good rather than instrumental. As it is concerned with reason Mel Thompson expressed the theory as “the rational understanding and following of God’s final purpose”. It is a deductive theory because it starts with the basic principles and from these the right course of action in a particular situation is deduced.

The theory is a pre-Christian idea which was first introduced by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher. Aristotle believed that there is an efficient cause which allows us to fulfill our Final cause (telos or purpose). For example we plant seeds and water them as an efficient cause to reach the final cause of a flower blossoming. The efficient cause is a statement of fact of descriptive ethics (saying what is there) however the final cause moves to normative ethics (statements about what we should and shouldn’t do) because it evaluates the intent.  He believed that the human purpose in life was to seek happiness through general all round well-being and everything we do is aimed at achieving that happiness which enables us to thrive and flourish and he called this final cause Eudemonia.

Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century monk, who studied the work of Aristotle furthered his work and developed it from a Christian perspective. As a Roman Catholic he believed that it was God who created everything with a sense of purpose and as humans we need to fulfil this purpose of achieving union with God through the natural law (the final cause). We use as a moral code and are intrinsically inclined towards. This can be understood through the natural world and studying the Bible and because humans have been given both reason and freedom they can choose absolute morality and good. St Paul said natural law “is written on the heart of gentiles” so it is accessible to all and those who have conviction of faith will know its importance and reach heaven – Aquinas’ interpretation of Eudemonia. We use our talents as expressed in the parable of the talents to achieve this final cause.

To develop the work of Aristotle, Aquinas defined 4 Cardinal Virtues which all humans should follow if they are to “do good and avoid evil” and fulfil their individual telos. In this way we are working on our efficient cause to reach our final cause. These cardinal virtues are Prudence (careful or sensible), Justice (fairness), Fortitude (courage) and Temperance (self control). He then introduced 3 theological virtues which all humans should hope to achieve which are Faith, Hope, Charity (Agape). By having these virtues humans will be able to fulfil their purpose however Aquinas also provided guidance of ‘the 7 Deadly sins’ which should be avoided because they will take humans away from God. As he said “to disparage the dictate or reason is equivalent to condemning the command of God.” These included; pride, avarice (greed and jealously), lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. 

Join now!

Aquinas maintained that there are also 5 primary precepts which should be established and followed in order to achieve natural moral law. These are to worship God, live in an ordered society, to reproduce, to learn and to defend the innocent (self-preservation).  Many of the rules we live by in a civilised society work in accordance with these primary precepts, for example; the commandment ‘do not murder’ upholds the precept of self-preservation. These precepts are set in stone and are immutable. “The first principles of natural moral law are altogether unalterable.” Each of these primary precepts can be upheld with secondary precepts which are the ...

This is a preview of the whole essay