Aquinas argued that because God creates humans, they basically want ‘good’ things. It can be argues that humans can consciously wish to reject the ways in which God wishes them to live. However Aquinas appears to reject this he argued that people do not seek to do evil but they are mistaken in what they deem ‘good’ this is known as ‘apparent good’. Aquinas is prepared to concede that some humans desire what he terms ‘apparent good’ that is something which will gratify an immediate desire, but will ultimately lead humans away from the ultimate purpose of existence, this being a relationship with God. The pursuit of ‘apparent good’ is sin.
In today’s society as in the past there is only one law accessible by all. This means that society in the past and now has a natural order, which has been given to us by God. However Aquinas makes a big presumption that we are all of the same nature and act the same but societies are different for example in some societies cannibalism is an ancient tradition, they are brought up to believe it’s right not wrong however we believe otherwise.
The continues to hold the view of natural law set forth by , particularly in his , this view is also shared by some churches. They understand human beings to consist of body and mind, the physical and the non-physical and that the two are inextricably linked. Humans are capable of discerning the difference between and because they have a . There are many manifestations of the good that we can pursue. Some, like , are common to other animals, while others, like the pursuit of truth, are inclinations peculiar to the capacities of human beings. To know what is right, one must use one's reason and apply it to Aquinas' precepts. The most important is the primary precept, self preservation. There are also four subsidiary precepts: procreation, education of children, living in society, and worshipping God. In addition to these, there are secondary precepts, which Aquinas did not specify like the other five. Therefore, for a deontological ethical theory they are open to a surprisingly large amount of interpretation and flexibility. Any rule that helps man to live up to the primary or subsidiary precepts can be a secondary precept, for example:
- Drunkenness is wrong because it injures one's health, and worse, destroys one's ability to reason, which is fundamental to man as a rational animal (i.e. does not support self preservation).
- Theft is wrong because it destroys social relations, and man is by nature a social animal
Natural Law can be understood as ‘the law seen in nature,’ It is a complete way of life, dealing with character, motive and action. Natural moral law provides a day-to-day and lifelong system for living a moral life. This means that the theory has no problem in realising acts, which are wrong, such as torture, murder and rape. There is a strength of certainty offered by the use of the Natural law theory can give security to a society. Aquinas suggests that all of humanity shares a common purpose and which overrides any other cultural or racial differences. However, Natural Law as the Roman Catholic Church applies it has been criticised for being rigid and legalistic.
Strengths of Natural law are that it is based on reason. It attempts to link ethics to the general structure of the universe. It is not based on feelings and emotions but is based on the mind working out what is natural, according to a rational process. For religious and non-religious people alike, making a moral judgement is a matter of listening to one's reason. Aquinas believed that ultimately the moral life is the life 'according to reason'. He believed acting reasonably and acting as a Christian are the same thing. Another advantage of The Natural Law theory is a clear-cut ethical theory, which is a major advantage. There is no need to look at individual situation to work out is an action is right or wrong. It is straightforward.
The Weaknesses of Natural law are that some Catholics and many Protestants have reservations about the theory. Some Protestants oppose Natural Law on the grounds that it undermines the belief that Salvation comes from God's grace, not from keeping moral laws. Natural Law shows what our moral life should be like on the assumption that we are rational beings who live in a world designed by a rational creator. If this is challenged so is Natural Law. However, what we regard as human nature is a product of the culture and society we live in e.g. In the case of sexuality we decide what is natural. Homosexuality can occur in societies therefore God lets it happen so it must be natural on the other hand it could be viewed as a mistake in nature like a handicap.
The strengths that can be credited to Natural Law are a product of it’s absolutist deontological view of mortality. This is to say that it enables people to establish common rules in order to structure communities Aquinas’s view of reason as a means for moral understanding and his idea of a common nature and morality for all people give natural law a universal proposal that goes beyond any one religion or culture. This can be seen as a very positive aspect considering the conflict and disputes that exist between cultures and societies, which uphold similar basic principles for example preserving life at all costs. Natural moral law gives a concrete reason to be moral and provides a firm basis for individuals to be moral and provides a firm basis for individuals to refuse to cross moral boundaries.