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Explain the Theory of Natural Law

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The theory of natural law originates from Aristotle’s idea of goodness as fitness for purpose and stoic’s concept of a universal law of reason which is in agreement with nature. What we now call human nature. This point is then furthered by Aquinas who agrees with the argument but furthers it by linking it with his Christian belief by saying following this law is equivalent to following the command of God as human nature is in us inbuilt into us from when God created us.

Aristotle believed that every object has a specific purpose and function and that its supreme good is to fulfil that purpose. This includes humans, Aristotle believes that humans also have a purpose and function so when it fulfils it then it reaches supreme good like other objects. He believes that the supreme good for humans is to reach eudaimonia which is to live a good life to help you flourish. He saw this as the final goal is to flourish so all the actions they do is to help them reach this in the end.

This is where natural Law comes in. Aquinas took this belief and linking it with his religious belief he came to the conclusion that as human’s goal is to flourish God gave us a rational nature when he created us which would help us reach this. He gives us a universal and unchangeable law on how to live so we are able to reach supreme good, to reach perfection. However he didn’t believe that it was possible for us to reach this is this life; we begin now and continue into the next life.

He believes our natural law and divine law are equal in importance as natural law is the law God built into us when he created us and divine law is the law we read in the bible where we can learn further laws God teaches to help us flourish. He believes these both derive from Eternal Law, the law in which God created the universe and everything within. Aquinas focused on the fact that as humans goal is to reach perfection their actions would reflect this meaning they would act in a way which meant they would aim to achieve good and avoid evil.

Humans would never knowingly pursue evil as this would not help them achieve perfection. However if they do wrong it’s because they believe they are doing good, this is called apparent good as they haven’t used their reason correctly meaning they made mistaken reasoning as it isn’t helping them reach perfection. The correct thing to do is real good which is when humans do the right thing by using their reason which will help them to achieve perfection. Aquinas says to achieve real good they need to be in accordance with their human nature and for both their interior and exterior act to be in accordance with each other.

This means the actual action has to be good as well as the intentions, to work out if they are actually good you need to use reason. This makes this argument deontological as there is only right and wrong it doesn’t think about certain circumstances. Aquinas condenses down natural law into five primary precepts which apply to everybody without exception as they are a direct reflection of Gods eternal law. The primary precepts are: the preservation of life, reproduction, the nurture and education of the young, living peaceful in society and to worship God.

He believes these are the five things which are essential for people to live by to achieve perfection therefore these five things are built into us in our human nature. He then suggested secondary precepts which derive from the primary precepts such as, do not use contraception as it prevents reproduction. However the secondary precepts require personal judgment as they aren’t set in stone they are what you think which gives this argument a teleological feel to it as it can depend of the circumstances. But the secondary precepts can lead to apparent good as they may not be good due to inexperience with using reason.

The ability to decide how to act in a specific situation by translating the primary precept into a secondary precept takes experienced reason as I said prior to this if it’s not experienced it can lead to mistaken reasoning which leads to apparent good as your interior act is good but your exterior act is not. Aquinas didn’t think about circumstances and situations as he said the primary precepts are objectively true for everyone and that using our reason we can find the answer in every situation by using this principle making this absolute.

It has since been updated by implementing the doctrine of double effect. This is idea that in some situations you have to do a bad action in order to achieve a good consequence. For example if a woman has cancer but is pregnant as well it is fine to give her chemotherapy as it will save her life even though it will kill her unborn foetus as the action or intention isn’t meant to kill the baby but to save the life of the mother. The theory of natural law can be argued that it is out of date and should be updated with the ever developing world and our developing understanding of human nature.

As previously it was acceptable for someone to kill one another however it goes against the precepts of preserving human life and to live in an ordered peaceful society. Also the idea of using contraception in order to prevent the spreading of STD’s and HIV/AIDS not to prevent the production of a child but as it goes against the precept of reproduction its wrong. Overall the concept of natural law is to establish a standard of morality which is independent of Gods will as Gods will is shown through eternal law which is where natural law and divine law derives from.

This leads us to see the difference between the things which will help us achieve perfection and the things which will not. Therefore the theory of natural law is to help us achieve perfection. If Natural Law theory is applied rigidly to ethical problems, obvious injustices arise. Discuss (10 marks) I agree with this statement as since the Natural Law theory is a deontological argument it doesn’t take each situation into hand meaning that there is either a right or wrong which can conflict with controversial topics such as abortion and euthanasia which a teleological argument may suit better.

Regardless of the fact that natural law gives you a universal law which is unchangeable meaning that everyone should follow it which means there should be not injustice as everyone is following the same law. But as we don’t live in peace and harmony it can be argued is it actually a universal law and is there really apparent and real good or do people actually choose to do wrong? As Aquinas believes that Natural Law is to help us achieve perfection and we have our five primary precepts to follow which will help us achieve them.

But if we don’t follow them we won’t fulfil our purpose of perfection. However with matters such as killing natural law would condemn it as it goes against the precept of preserving life but also goes against our conscience as we know it’s wrong to kill others. But as this law isn’t teleological it ignores each circumstance such as according to natural law it would be wrong to kill the Taliban as it goes against the primary precept of preserving life.

But on the other hand is killing the Taliban wrong because killing them will stop the suffering of thousands and will stop the death of lots of people as they kill and torture thousands of people. It would be deemed wrong as even though the interior act is good the exterior act is still wrong. This is the same as in the Second World War, the holocaust, it can be argued that killing the Nazis was wrong as they are humans therefore we should preserve their life but they killed millions of Jewish people would it be wrong to kill the Nazis to stop this?

Or would it be okay? Because if it is wrong that’s an injustice as it is saying you won’t kill a smaller group of people meaning a larger group will get killed by them. Also in the matter of abortion again it’s going against the precept of preserving life and also goes against our conscience as it is an innocent defenceless life which in natural law and a lot of people would say is right not to abort children.

But isn’t it also wrong to bring a child into this world which you don’t want as it wouldn’t have a good quality of life as you never really wanted it also if the child is born to a young mother who is under aged, the mother may not be able to look after the child as they are so young they have no experience. Is it not right for the abortion to go ahead in those circumstances? What about if a lady got raped and as a consequence of it they became pregnant would she be able to abort the child? Due to the argument being deontological it means that the laws and the controversial topics will clash.

Thirdly with euthanasia is also very controversial especially when linking to Natural Law as people may want to end their lives or others to end their lives for them as they don’t feel they are living a good quality of life and may feel they are not able to reach perfection because of their possible inability to reason due to their disability. They may feel that they are unable to contribute to community meaning they don’t feel the need to leave anymore. This argument has recently been in the news with the gentleman who wanted to be euthanized as he had motor neurone disease meaning he was slowly dying inside out.

However natural law would object to this as it isn’t preserving life but also God gave us life and it’s not for us to take it when we feel like we should he chooses when our life is going to end. Overall I still believe that if natural law theory is applied rigidly to ethical problems justice will arise but there are elements that can be linked in to help give a view but I don’t think it should be linked rigidly as it is deontological and doesn’t take situations into thought which is important in our ever developing society.

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