Outline Aquinas’ primary precepts and explain how these link to Natural Law
Aquinas believed that there were five main purposes to human life. He named these the primary
precepts and ordered that we must abide by them to follow Natural Law and be good ethical people.
Whereas Aristotle thought there was one main purpose in human life, to promote ‘happiness’ in all
our actions, Aquinas believed there were five purposes given to us by God; to live, to learn, to order
society, to reproduce and to worship God. Aquinas believed that these five purposes have been
revealed to us through the four channels of law. Therefore, if we turn to scripture or we use our
reason, these purposes will become evident.
To live was very important to Aquinas. He believed that everyone had a right to life. In this sense,
anyone who murders and prevents someone from fulfilling their purpose of ‘living’ is not pleasing to
God and is a sinner. This has been most commonly used as a Catholic argument against abortion
because even a foetus, they believe, has a right to live.
Secondly, Aquinas thought that learning was a main purpose in human life. He believed that
everyone should learn as much as they can. Learning requires reason and as humans we are blessed
with reason, unlike plants and animals. In this sense, Aquinas believed you are pleasing to God if you
learn from others or learn for yourself. An example of this is Aquinas’ belief that sinners can repent
and learn from their mistakes in order to change their lives. Again this idea of learning from our
mistakes manifests itself in Confession in the Catholic Church.
Thirdly, Aquinas thought it was necessary to live in an ordered society. He thought that an ordered
society was a reasoned society. Therefore, we should not go against social order or social rules and if
we do we are not pleasing to God. Aquinas would therefore believe that the police and governments
are important to help us fulfil our potential as human beings.
Fourthly, reproduction was seen as a fundamental purpose for all human beings. Aquinas believed
that in order to continue the human race which has been created by God we must continue to
reproduce. This is why homosexual acts are immoral in his eyes because they cannot lead to the
birth of a child.
The final primary precept is to worship God. Aquinas believed that anyone who has had access to
the Bible should of course follow it and worship God as ordered in the Old and New Testament. For
those who do not have access to the scripture, Aquinas would argue that when they use their reason
they should know that it is right to worship God. All humans, Aquinas argued, should know to follow
the five primary precepts. If they do, they will be pleasing to God and will be granted an afterlife.