What are the principles of natural law? Every adult has the right to become a parent. Discuss

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What are the principles of Natural law?

        Natural Law is defined as “any attempt to cement the moral and legal order with the nature of the cosmos and or the nature of human beings.” That is to say, we are naturally inclined towards certain objective principles that stem from our nature and can be discovered through reason. Natural law can be seen from both a religious and non religious perspective. The religious view would hold that these objective truths come from God and his will for creation; whereas the non religious view would substitute objective conditions for human flourishing as the source of constraint.

The idea of Natural Law first appears among the Stoics of the first century B.C. They believed that all humans possess a divine spark that leads them to discover the fundamental laws for individual and social happiness.

Natural Law can also be seen to some extent in Aristotle’s 4 causes. The Final Cause is the aim of an object or action, and every object and action has an aim. This aim is an action’s good, so activity that brings about the Final Cause is considered good, while activity that prevents the Final Cause is bad. For example, if one was to take the final cause of Man to be the use of rational thought, then certain actions that prevent this e.g. drinking, could be seen as wrong, as our nature is striving towards the Final Cause.  

Thomas Aquinas elaborates on this by combining Aristotle’s ideas with Christianity. The Final Cause, according to Aquinas, is God and his purpose for us. This rests on the notion that God created the world with an established order, designed to bring everything to fulfilment. The objective principles are from God and therefore have divine authority over mankind. There is a two part explanation for natural law. From God’s perspective, it is humanity’s participation in eternal law (the rational plan by which all creation is ordered).  For this reason, Natural Law is not compatible with agnosticism, as it requires commitment to God’s existence. From a human perspective, Natural Law represents the principles and laws laid out by God that are knowable by human nature through reason, and which contribute to individual and communal good. Animals follow natural law through necessity, but we as humans have been given not only rationality but the capacity for choice, and obey these laws because we recognise their reasonableness. Aquinas believed that the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude are perceivable in this way. As the truths of Natural law stem from human nature, everyone can gain knowledge of them even without knowledge of God.

Aquinas begins with the vague statement of "The good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided" as his first precept. For Aquinas, what is good is God’s purpose for us. This is the objective way of determining our purpose. The subjective way is to look at personal fulfilment, which a Christian may well argue can only be achieved by following the objective goal. Aquinas believed that we are naturally inclined toward the good, but we cannot aim for it directly as it is too abstract. Instead, we should aim for concrete goods that are evident immediately, such as life, procreation, knowledge, society and reasonable conduct. This idea was developed by Finnis, who proposed seven basic goods: life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, friendship, practical reasonableness and spirituality or ‘religion’.  These goods are our purpose and aim; however, sometimes the purposes can be ambiguous. One could condemn sex with contraception on the grounds that the purpose of genitalia is procreation, so using contraception would be preventing this good. However, if another purpose was to allow a couple to show their love and obtain pleasure while doing so, then it could be justified. This definition of purpose would rule out masturbation, but not sexual foreplay or even adultery. Using general principles applied to specific cases, ‘casuistry’, can lead to such problems in the interpretation of ‘purpose’. Indeed, some would argue that there is no purpose for the world, that we got here through chance and that we posses reason merely for survival.

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With regard to ethics, Aquinas has a value based ethical theory. Rightness or wrongness is judged by whether an action contributes to or frustrates the good, as to understand the good is to understand God’s will for it. Using something against this will in an unnatural way is wrong. Non religious views of natural law see the good not as God’s purpose, but that which prolongs a healthy life and enables the species to play its part in the universe. In natural law, it is the action itself that is defined morally, not its consequences. As a result, an act ...

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