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The Ethical Demands of the Natural Law
Transcript of The Ethical Demands of the Natural Law
The ‘way’ that life was meant to be lived, an awareness that includes a clear sense of moral obligation. Life was meant to go forward and to develop. To act otherwise would be irrational.
Pointed Toward Fulfillment
How Clear Is The Natural Law?
“Where do all of these ‘should’ in our lives come from?”
The Ethical Demands of the Natural Law
Some of our obligations come from the presence of goals in our lives; some come from social conventions; some from values; and some from the particular situation that a person is involved in.
One major source of our moral obligations is that inner pattern of life called Natural Law. It is found in every major human culture.
A Pattern of Life
There is a way that human life should be lived, a natural law that guides man in life.
This pattern of life is not something that exists because I planned it or made it myself. Rather, I experience this guide for living as something that was already there from the beginning in the nature of human life.
A Natural Law
The natural law is a pattern within nature.
In the natural law, by contrast, we are dealing with laws that were there in nature are not first found in books, but are discovered when one thinks about human life and what that life demands.
These laws of nature are not experienced as coming directly from God. Every religion has some divine rules which the God of those religions require his devotees to follow.
The natural law does not come from a special revelation. We become aware of it not by listening to a God but by becoming aware of what our nature expects us of.
We call this pattern of action a law. When we encounter it we are faced with a type of command or demand. Nature imposes a very real penalty on those who break its laws.
This moral law that I discover within human life is a law that governs all human beings, it is universal (valid for all human beings).
“All family members should respect one another. No human being should destroy his life by taking drugs. All mothers should take care of their children.”
In our human dealings with one another we sometimes judge one another and the basis of these judgments is a law which we know applies to us all. It is obvious to all of us, however, that the rules and customs which govern individual human societies differ from one another.
This shows us that the natural law which we are discussing here is not the same as these conventions of society. We are aware of both of these types of guidelines and we are directed by both of them in our lives.
An Obligation from Within
This obligation of the natural law is experienced as coming from within human life.
There is no need for society to teach me this or for God to give me a special message.
The pattern of the natural law which I find within me guides me forward. The nature that I experience is a dynamic reality that is always growing toward a fullness of human development.
Nature’s laws show a person the way to achieve fuller human realization.
Discovered by Reasoning
Man becomes aware of the pattern of nature in a very simple way, by thinking rationally about his life.
Emphasis on rationality the natural law is often called the law of right reason, the law of clear thinking.
Different from Instinct or Desire
It would be a mistake to think that following the natural law is merely a matter of following one’s own instincts.
Human instincts and desires frequently run contrary to the natural law.
Experience of the natural law, therefore, is a rational awareness of obligation which is very different from an instinctive feeling or desire.
We can experience a natural instinct and consider it to be an obligation or law of nature.
One problem with the natural law is that it is not always clear. It is not something which is written precise and clear language like the civil law.
It seems we are forced to say that human rationality is not perfect and that man does not always see clearly what is in accord with human nature and what is contrary to it.
The Basis of the Obligation
People experience three different sources for this obligation of the natural law:
In some situations there is a clear sense that nature itself demands that certain rules be followed.
There is an implicit demand in human life that we act rationally and we constantly feel this requirement.
God the Creator
God is the Creator of the universe and any pattern or order that is present in the nature of the universe comes from Him.
What is evident here is that a natural law obligation can be experienced in different ways.
Reflection on Natural Law in One's Life
Being human means being pointed in certain directions, toward certain purposes. There are certain ‘natural’ ways of living, a natural pattern or order for life. By following these natural directions in his life man reaches human fulfillment and realization. Refusing to follow these natural guidelines means that man does violence to nature and rejects the law placed there by God.