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Natural Moral Law

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Michael Rickner

on 12 October 2014

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Transcript of Natural Moral Law

Natural moral law remains an extremely powerful ethical theory, which provides many people with a means (empirically) to make well reasoned ethical decisions.

Basic Premise of Natural Law is that there is an objective IDEAL way of being human, and it is by this ideal that we measure our humanity.

Reaching this ideal would then make you happy.

We would be at our maximum of physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health both individually and with regards to our contribution to the community
Natural Law
Aquinas was hugely influenced by Aristotle when creating his Natural Moral Law. Especially the aspect of purpose.
What is a things' purpose?

Aquinas believed that ''purpose'' can be understood through an examination of the natural world and through the Bible.

It is the Bible which reveals the purpose of God to man.

Natural Law is available to any one who can reason - because they can see the design qua purpose and design qua regularity in the world - which are fixed.
St Paul - realised that people will fall short of achieving their purposes.

Romans 3;23 ''Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.''

This Aquinas believed occurred because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

Any action which seeks to follow the 5 moral precepts will bring people closer to God (good action) and anything that goes against them will move people away from God.

NML - Reason and Human Purpose
Aquinas maintains that there is a moral code towards which human beings naturally incline.

This he calls NATURAL MORAL LAW.

Accessible through natural order
Relevant to all circumstances
Given by God
Acknowledged by all - but only believers in God realise the impact it has in the after life.
Aquinas 2
Natural Moral Law
The challenge of situation ethics is so great that some Catholic theologians believe there needs to be a compromise between Natural Law and Situation Ethics. 'Proportionalism' (the title of a book by Brtitish philosopher Bernard Hoose) accepts, as Natural Law does, that certain acts are wrong or are evil acts in themselves. However, it says that it might be the right thing to do, if there is a proportionate reason, to perform such acts.

The arguments here gets quite tricky, and proportionalism ends up looking a lot like situation ethics. Proportionalists claim that doing a 'bad' action out of love makes an action morally good but not morally right. A 'bad' action is only morally right if it is proportionate. This is familiar from Just War thinking.

The main Biblical source for Aquinas was St Paul's letter to the Romans
''Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the thing that have been made.'' (Romans 1:20)

Jesus in Matthew 19:8 also mentions NML
''For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.'

Suggesting that divorce was intended to always be wrong according to NML.
NML - Bible
The principle of NML depends on establishing the purpose of human life Aquinas maintained that it is:

1) To live
2) Reproduce
3) Learn
4) Worship God
5) Order Society.

All things must operate in accordance with these principles to which humans are naturally inclined.

God has given people reason to help accomplish these purposes.

Everything is created towards a particular purpose - fulfill that = good.
NML - Moral Precepts
Aquinas believed that a relationship with God is open to all,

4 types of Law:
Eternal Law: God Will and Wisdom, which is revealed in
Divine Law: The Bible and the Church, made known in
Natural Law: From which (5 moral precepts)
Human Law is derived. Human Law is exercised via the government and state laws.

Romans 13:1 - ''Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is not authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.''
4 Types of Law that Govern the World
Natural Moral Law is Absolutist and Deontological.

What does this mean?

It is a moral code existing within the purpose of nature, created by God.

''Law is nothing else than an ordination of reason for the common good promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community''
Type of Theory
This Natural Law exists to assist humans to direct their actions in such a way that they may reach eternal destiny with God.

This divinely inspired law covers outward external actions and inward internal motivations for doing so.

NML evaluates both
'what I do' & 'why I do it'

Most basic law that governed nature = To do Good and Avoid Evil
The eternal law of divine reason is gained through revelation. The Bible. And through the use of human reason.

Moral Life - Lived in accordance to reason
Immoral Life - Lived against reason.

Reason dictates the ultimate purpose and destiny of human life - is fellowship with God.

The Primary Precepts - allow for humans to achieve the ultimate purpose.

''Natural Law is the same for all men...''
Reason and Human Purpose
Aquinas believed that humans were essentially good because the concept of natural law was within everyone.

''No evil can be desirable, either by natural appetite or by conscious will.'' - SYNDERESIS

Evil occurs when humans believe they are pursuing what they believe is an apparent good - e.g. a fornicator having sex for pleasure.

This is an apparent good - because it is not really good for us.
Real and Apparent Goods
To correctly distinguish between apparent and real goods, one must use reason.

This is not easy due to temptation.

Reason identitfies: 'Natural' or 'Cardinal' virtues:
Prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice.

Scripture reveals theological virtues: Faith, hope and charity. 1 Corinthians 13:13

To help a person follow natural law they must try and adhere to these virtues. Therefore, practice is required.
Real and Apparent Goods
Recap: Primary Precepts are ABSOLUTE!

Aquinas believed the intention and the action were important (hence it is deontological). It is important to get the intention correct according to Aquinas to develop your soul to be with God!

Therefore, to act in a good way but for the wrong reason is bad (good exterior, bad interior) EG?

Or the opposite, act in a bad way but for good intentions (good interior, bad exterior) EG?

Physical end = bad = because animals can experience them.
Academic end = bad = not accessible to all.
Exterior and Interior Acts
Aquinas believes that Acts are intrinsically good or bad (good or bad within themselves) because when humans act in accordance to their ultimate purpose - i.e. act in a good way they cannot help but glorfiy God.

Therefore, these 'good' acts (moral precepts & virtues) must be intrinsically good because they relate to God.

Thus helping the old lady across the street, because it is the right thing to do, it glorifies God because it is a moral precept and thus allows a human to fulfill their telos - because God is glorified.
Whether an actions leads you towards God, depends on whether it allows a human to fulfill their purpose that they were made for (by God) .

Actions which are in line with the primary precepts are good.

Actions which are not - are bad.

Secondary Precepts - are actions which uphold the primary precepts.
Primary & Secondary Precepts
Modern Use of NML
• NML used by R/C Church to decide R/C morality. Carried out by Magisterium and enforced by Pope.
• Primary precepts applied to produce secondary precepts
• Catholic teaching on sexual ethics (e.g. contraception/IVF) arrived at using NML. Genitalia has purpose of reproduction, to use it for any other reason (pleasure/homosexual sex) is morally wrong.
• Church teaches that some acts are intrinsically evil e.g. masturbation. (Veritatis Splendour 1993).
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