The Natural Law Approach to Ethics
In the modern world people within society that have some ability or
knowledge of reason know that there are certain laws which govern the
way in which the world works. An example of this in the world can be
observed in the form of the laws of Gravity or that the angles of a
triangle will always add up to 180 degrees. We know these things
because as soon as we are able to think for ourselves we accept that
there are certain rules which are just part of our universe. We can
also know that these rules are certain as we can observe them working
in the world in our day to day lives and see for instance how objects
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A moral life is a life lived according to and in accordance
with reason. Aquinas deduced that fundamentally humans should do good
and avoid evil.
As a Mediaeval Scholar Thomas Aquinas set out to show that if human
reason is believed to have come from God or given by God then both
faith and reason together can provide people with the best tools for
living their lives. In matters of Ethics Aquinas believed that people
should not have to choose between blindly following either their
common sense or following the commands that are written in the Bible.
Natural Law attempts to show how the two can be brought together which
is both rational, intelligent and the person involved in making the
decision whether it is ethical or not can also be faithful to God at
the same time.
Another part of Aquinas's theory, which is relevant to the Natural Law
theory is Aquinas's views of conscience. Aquinas believed that
conscience was a device for distinguishing right from wrong actions.
Aquinas thought that in general people tend to try and do good and
avoid evil in life he called this the "synderesis rule". Rather than
being a voice that commands one thing or another, conscience is the
reason making decisions as conscience deliberates between good and
bad. Synderesis is right reason, the awareness of the moral principle
to do good and avoid evil. Conscientia distinguishes between right and
wrong and makes the moral decision.
Aquinas believed that human nature was essentially good as natural law
is within everyone and he also believed that humans were focused or
aimed towards the achievement of perfection and that they could never
knowingly pursue evil. Therefore in Aquinas's opinion any human
actions that are not in the pursuit of perfection can be explained as
the pursuit of an "apparent good". Aquinas also thought that by
choosing an apparent good a person is making an error because it isn't
really good for us for example the adulterer or adulteress commits
adultery because he or she believes that it is good but this is an
error in the eyes of Aquinas as it is preventing the human from
drawing closer to what God intended. In order to distinguish between
apparent and real goods Aquinas suggested we should use reason rightly
and to choose the right thing to do even though we are sometimes
tempted to do what we like but it's not always good for us.
For Aquinas both the intention and the act are important as to act in
a good way for the wrong reason is to perform a good exterior act but
a bad interior act. For example giving to charity (a good exterior
act) to impress another person (a bad interior act) is wrong as the
deed should be done out of charity not out of the admiration or
approval of others. But looking at it from the other side good
intentions don't always lead to good actions...