Natural law

What is natural law?
Natural law is a moral theory which asserts that there is a moral code which applies to all humans and which exists within our nature. This moral code is knowable through human reason by reflecting rationally on our nature and purpose as human beings.
Aristotle quote concerning universal order of things?
Aristotle suggested that there is a universal natural order of things. He wrote ‘The natural is that which everywhere is equally valid… that which is natural is unchangeable, and has the same power everywhere, just as fire burns both here and in Persia.

Cicero Natural Law Quote
‘True law is right reason in agreement with nature… valid for all nations and all times and there will be one master that is God’
Aristotle’s input bullet points:
1)Everything has a telos, discovered through human reason
2)Efficient/final cause
3)Superior/subordinate aims
5)Cardinal virtues
Efficient and final cause
Everything has these, the efficient cause is that which brings something to exist and the final cause is its purpose, or telos
Superior and subordinate aims
Humans final cause/superior aim is eudaimonia – to achieve this we set subordinate aims, these are things which help us reach our superior aim.

Get quality help now
Verified writer

Proficient in: Courage

4.7 (348)

“ Amazing as always, gave her a week to finish a big assignment and came through way ahead of time. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Greek word for ‘Good spirit’ meaning happiness. According to Aristotle this is everyones superior aim. The eudaimon is the man who is truly happy, its not just a passing pleasure – it is the man who orders his life rationally and ethically according to virtue so as to achieve the Good.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

For Aristotle human reason plays a key role in living a moral life.

What did Aquinas do with Aristotle’s work?
Aquinas developed Aristotle’s idea of natural law by stating that everything had a purpose given to it by God. In esse, he Christianised natural law.
Natural law key characteristics
Absolute and deontological – it is absolute as it applies to everyone, everywhere at all times and without exception. It is deontological as it focuses on the morality of specific actions and our duty to perform or avoid them (Greek word ‘deon’ meaning duty) and not on the consequences or motives.
Aquinas’ basic law which is the summary of all moral law
‘…that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided’
What is law? and Aquinas’ 4 levels of law?
Aquinas defines law as “an ordering of reason”. He identified found types of law which he said were inter-related:
1)Eternal law- the mind of God, that which governs the cosmos
2)Divine law- the mind of God in the scripture
3)Natural law- the mind of God in nature
4)Human law- human laws based on natural law to govern mankind.
The importance of rationality in natural law
Aquinas greatly valued human reason as a way of coming to know and understand God’s will. He said ‘the moral life is the life according to reason’. For Aquinas, the highest good is the rational understanding and follow of God’s final purpose.
Aquinas’ Primary precepts
Aquinas’ principles of Natural law are spelt out in his primary and secondary precepts. The primary precepts are discoverable through human reason by reflecting on the purpose of human life. They are: preservation of life, reproduction, education, living in an ordered society, worshipping God. These precepts do not change.
Aquinas’ natural law quote
‘Natural law is the same for all men…. there is a single standard of truth and right for everyone… which is known by everyone’.
Why follow the primary precepts?
If we fulfil these primary precepts by living according to them then we will fulfil our telos as rational human beings. When we live according to the primary precepts then this enables us to live in a right relationship with God. And thus will gain eternal life with God in heaven. We have to re-establish the broken relationship with God caused by Adam and Eve.
Aquinas’ secondary precepts
Are derived from the primary precepts, they are more detailed and specific. An example would be the primary precept “preservation of life”, the secondary precept deduced from this would be “do not abort”. Aquinas’ theory is almost completely absolute, however, Aquinas deemed it acceptable to break a secondary precept in extreme circumstances, for example, if someone stole a gun and threatened to kill, stealing the gun would be acceptable, because although you’re breaking a secondary precept from living in an ordered society (do not steal), its okay because you are upholding the primary precept (preserve life).
Apparent goods
Aquinas believed that when humans do bad things they are pursuing apparent goods, falsely believing them to be real goods. That is, there are certain actions which may appear to be good, but intact are bad as they do not lead us towards our superior aim/final goal/telos. For example: doing drugs may be an example, it feels good but does’t fulfil our telos.
Aquinas called them…?
Aquinas classified apparent goods as ‘sins’, sins consist of falling short of God’s intention for humans. That is we fail to meet the mark of target set for us by God. This highlights what Aquinas would call the original sin, where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and left mankind with the tendency to deviate from the virtuous path.
Cardinal virtues
Aquinas believed that to distinguish between real and apparent goods we must use reason. Reason identifies the ‘natural’ or ‘cardinal’ virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance. Prudence was ranked most important for Aquinas as it is concerned with intellect. Prudence allows us to correctly judge what is right and what is wrong in a situation. Justice the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due. Fortitude is the courage to fulfil what is right. Temperance is the restraint of our desires or passions.
Theological virtues
Aquinas also referred to three revealed virtues, faith, hope and charity. These differ from the cardinal virtues as they are not achievable through human effort, a person can only receive them by their being infused by divine grace.
Interior and exterior acts
Aquinas distinguished between ‘interior’ and ‘exterior acts’. The interior act is the motive behind the action and the exterior is the action itself. People must perform a good exterior act with the right intention if they wish to glorify God. So giving charity to look cool would be deemed a bad act according to Aquinas.
Aquinas stated that even if a good act which has an intended good effect has secondary bad consequences, it is still right to carry out that act. This is known as the principle of double effect. If both your interior and exterior acts are good, then you cannot be held responsible for the consequences. For example, if a doctor had to perform a hysterectomy on a pregnant woman to remove a cancerous cell, which led to the death of her foetus, it would be a good act as the intention was to save the woman’s life and the death of the foetus was an unintended by product.
Natural law IS compatible with Christianity
1)”it should be the goal of every human to return to God and gain eternal life” (superior aims)Matthew 25:31.
2)God mad the world and established within it a sense of order and purpose which reflects God’s will (Genesis 1)
3)The motive for committing an act is important as well as the act itself (interior/exterior acts) matthew 6:2
4)People sometimes fall short of God’s will and sin (real/apparent goods) John 8:1
5)the primary precepts reflect the main purposes for mankind as outlined in religious scriptures (Genesis 1)
Natural law IS NOT compatible with Christianity
1)It is based on reason and not love. Jesus, however, told people to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34)
2)Some perform good deeds outlines by the precepts because they think they’ll gain eternal life in heaven and not because its the right thing to go which was taught by Jesus.
3)Some religious believers would question Aquinas’ belief that there is a universal human nature; for example, gay religious believers may argue that they were created that way by God.
4)Joseph Fletcher argued that Jesus in the New Testament says people are more important than rules, e.g. the healing on the sabbath (Matthew 12:10)
5)It conflicts with Jesus’ teaching “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), natural law would allow one to break this in order to preserve ones life
Strengths of Natural law
1) Establishes common rules, following natural law precepts would lead to a stable structured society
2)natural law seems reasonable, even completely different cultures follow these rules, they’re deduced through human reason
3)Guidance on day-to-day questions
4)safeguards against slippery slope
5)may not be as rigid as it first appears because of the secondary precepts
Weaknesses of Natural law
1) Aquinas could be wrong about his primary precepts, sex is no longer just considered appropriate in a marriage to reproduce.
2) outdated – medieval view
3)Jesus’ oppositions
4)Protestant theologians such as Luther would reject Aquinas’ natural law approach as unreliable since human reason has become distorted by sin since the fall. Only revealed theology (the bible) can reveal to us God’s will regarding morality.

Cite this page

Natural law. (2018, Jan 10). Retrieved from

Natural law

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment