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Natural Law theory Essay

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With reference to other aspects of human experience, explore the claim that Natural Law theory is irrelevant. Justify your answer. [15]

Natural Law is becoming more irrelevant due to our secular culture. Natural Law depends on the belief that the world was designed by a creator, and that morality is absolute according to his standards. Aquinas assumes that all men must seek to worship God. What about an atheist? According to Thompson, if someone does not believe in God, then “the natural law theory loses its foundation.”

Furthermore, in today’s society natural law has largely been replaced by utilitarianism, the belief that our moral choices are less absolute and should be based on creating the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. It has even been referred to as, “the ethics of the planet.” It is far less restrictive and many argue it is a superior philosophy to natural law. According to Peter Mullen, Working with Morality, it may be necessary, for example, to torture an innocent person to save the lives of thousands.

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Peter Singer once wrote a piece condemning natural law in a magazine called Project Syndicate. He prefers practical ethics to theoretical ethics. He cites the case of a South American woman called Beatriz who was pregnant and suffers from lupus, this made the pregnancy difficult. Furthermore, the child had anencephaly. Singer was enraged that the natural law philosophy of Catholic El Salvador prevented her from getting an abortion. He wrote with regard to natural law, “The use of the term “being with a rational nature” is very broad, perhaps too broad.”

Even the Pope has recently condoned the breaking of natural law in extreme circumstances. Pope Francis has indicated that women exposed to the Zika virus may be permitted to use contraception to avoid pregnancy, in a departure from Catholic teaching. His comments came as women in South America frantically try to terminate pregnancies for fear of giving birth to babies with microcephaly, which gives them unusually small heads. He said that unlike abortion, “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” and in certain circumstances it may be “the lesser evil”. This proves that natural law is becoming irrelevant even for the Catholic Church.

Among more orthodox thinkers, objection to the natural law takes several forms. Many, Protestant evangelicals in particular, presume that natural-law thinking fails to take seriously the condition of human sin and places misguided trust in the powers of human reason debilitated by the Fall. Consequently, natural-law theory is thought to be insufficiently Christocentric and located outside the realm of grace, thereby engendering a version of works-righteousness. These critics remain sceptical out of a concern that natural law is autonomous and somehow external to the centre of theological ethics and God’s providential care of the world.

On the other hand, many would argue that natural law is not irrelevant because it is instinctual within all humans. Some believe that God has implanted the natural law as a form of moral instinct. For example, the writer Johannes Teutonicus said that the natural law of men is based on an, “instinct proceeding from reason.” Therefore even if one is an atheist you cannot escape the urge to follow natural law based on your conscience.

Finally, Natural Law continues to be central to Catholic teaching. Early teachers such as Aquinas supported it and so do modern day clergy. The RCC believes that everyone is subject to it from birth (natio), because it contains only those duties which are derivable from human nature itself, and because, absolutely speaking, its essentials can be grasped by the unaided light of human reason. Just recently in March 2015 Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has invoked the natural law in stressing the moral unacceptability of gay sex and gay marriage.

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