#Explain natural moral law with reference to aristotle and aquinas (30)
Sarah and Briony
Explain Natural Moral Law with reference to Aristotle and Aquinas (30).
Natural Moral Law is an absolute law as it sets the same rules for all people in all times,it
includes the idea that everybody and everything has a purpose, which will lead to a good life
–Eudemonia. The theory of Natural Moral Law has been around for over 2000 yearsand is
essentially deontological, although it’s aimed at the ‘telos’ of eudemonia, it is entirely
focused on the actions that lead us there. Whilst Aristotle believed that natural moral law
was grounded in humans, Aquinas theologised the theory and believed it was God given and
leads to the afterlife if followed correctly.
Natural Law is a deontological theory meaning certain acts are right or wrong regardless of
the consequences. Aquinas’ theory of Natural Law, discussed in the Summa Theologica
would be considered absolutist as he believes all moral laws are sent by God and apply in all
situations at all times. Aristotle’s theory of Natural law, discussed in Nicomachean Ethics, is
mainly teleological because he focuses on the end of all our actions, and how they should
lead to happiness.
Aristotle believed that there were four causes to every object in the world, including
humans. These were the, material cause – out of what the object was composed, the
efficient cause – what is recognised as being part of the object, the formal cause – what
brings that object about and the final cause – the purpose, end, goal or aim of the object.
For example the material cause of a spoon would be metal, the efficient cause would be its
shape and structure, the formal cause would be a factory and the final cause of it would be
to use for eating. For Aristotle, the final cause was the most important for humans as it
focuses on ‘telos’, the end and eudemonia, which in turn gives humans their ethical
code.Aristotle valued the final cause, believing that goodness came in the form of
happiness.This happiness wasn’t a feeling but a reasoned, selfless action that contributed
towards the final goal of eudemonia for the whole society. Aquinas supported Aristotle’s
idea of there being an efficient and final cause to everything that happens. However, he
believed that God was the efficient cause and that life in the afterlife with him was the final
cause of everything humans do, regardless of whether they realise it or not.
Aquinas argued that there were four channels of natural law in which Natural Law filters
through to humans: eternal, Divine, natural and human. The eternal channel is how natural
moral law is unchanging, the same for all people in all times. The Divine channel is how the
ways in which we should live are given to us by God through scripture. The natural channel
is where as Gerard Hughes tells us in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, that humans
become distinct from animals and finally the human channel is about human manifestation
in everyday life of the natural laws given to us by God. For example, the ethical law of Do
Not Kill, is in almost every human society, it was given to us by God in the 10
commandments, human reasoning gives us the ability that animals do not have to follow
this law and the law DoNot Kill has manifested into our society in many ways, one being the
laws on speeding – so not to harm anyone. Aquinas created these channels on the basis of
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Aristotle’s theories of Natural Law, all except divine law which Aquinas added in himself, as
he believed Natural Law came from God.
Both Aquinas and Aristotle believe as part of Natural Moral Law that everything and
everyone has a purpose in life. Whilst Aquinas believes that there are five main precepts to
life given to us by God, Aristotle believes that there is just one main purpose in life, bringing
eudemonia for the whole society. The five absolutist primary precepts for humans, Aquinas
believed, are to live, to learn, to live in an ordered society, to reproduce and to worship God.
These precepts are absolute because they apply the same for everybody in all situations and
are written on our hearts. He believed that following the primary precepts will be pleasing
to God and will lead us to the afterlife with him. Aquinas also believed that the secondary
precepts are what enable us to achieve the primary precepts, for example polygamy being
legal in countries such as Afghanistan would increase reproduction rates and would
therefore be a secondary precept as well as monogamy in Western countries. Whilst the
primary precepts are absolute, the secondary precepts can change depending on the
Aquinas believed that there is Natural Law inside of everyone making human nature
essentially good, however humans can sin because they may confuse real good with
apparent good. Real good is achieved with the right use of reason and it leads us to
perfection. An example of real good is helping an elderly lady across the road, as your
kindness glorifies God. Apparent good is thinking something is good when it actually isn’t
and is in fact leading us further from Gods intentions for us. An example of an apparent
good is when Anders Brievik killed almost 80 students in Norway in 2011; he believed he
was doing the right thing as he was supposedly ridding the world of Muslim
supporters.Aquinas believed that sin comes in the form of bad use of human reason and in
thegoing against of Natural Law.
Furthermore, Aquinas believed as part of Natural Law thatvirtues representing excellence of
character showed the human qualities needed to fulfil our human nature and reach the
afterlife. Aquinas outlined four human qualities, also known as the Cardinal Virtues
necessary to lead a moral life; these were: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude.
Prudence is the ability choose appropriate actions at a given time, Temperance is the ability
to practise self-control, Justice helps us to balance our own interests with the interests and
rights of others finally Fortitude is the ability to confront fear in order to achieve a goal. An
example of one of these in everyday life could be showing prudence by choosing not to
drink at a party because you have to drive home afterwards. The theological (or revealed)
virtues are shown to us through scripture and cannot be obtained through human effort.
They are Faith – belief in God, Hope – the desire to reach the afterlife with God and Charityselfless acts of Love done in God’s name. These are mentioned together in scripture in a
bible passage from ‘1 Corinthians 13:13’ – These three things remain: Faith, Hope and
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Charity. But the greatest of these is Charity.Aquinas believed that it was only through divine
gracethat you could achieve these.
Moreover, Aquinas believed that people must perform a good exterior act with the right
intentions (interior act) in order to glorify God. Acting in good way but for the wrong
reasons is to perform a good exterior act (the act that people can see) but a bad interior act
(the motive behind the action). For example, helping an elderly lady across the road (a good
exterior act), but only to impress a friend (a bad interior act). Whilst the end that Aquinas
values is to please God, Aristotle believes that the good ways in which we act are leading us
towards happiness for the whole society –Eudemonia.