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Natural Law Theory Essays

The Natural Law Theory of St. Thomas Aquinas

The Philosophy of Law, 6th Edition, Feinberg, Joel, and Jules Coleman, eds. Wadsworth, 2000

25 PagesPosted: 10 Jan 2013  

Date Written: January 1, 1999


In this essay I present the core of St. Thomas Aquinas’s theory of law. The aim is to introduce students both to the details of Aquinas’s particular theory of law, as well as to the features of his view that define what has come to be known as “the natural law” conception of law more generally. Though the essay is for the most part non-critical, some of the more important implications of the natural law position are raised for further thought and to pave the way for the study of alternative views which have been developed in the subsequent history of the philosophy of law.

One brief note about the structure of the essay will complete my introductory remarks: The essay tries to present as much of Aquinas’s theory in his own words as possible. Material taken directly from Aquinas appears in bold type throughout, with the origin of the quotation given in parentheses following the text. Unless otherwise noted, the material is taken from Aquinas’s Summa Theologica; the translation from Latin is that of the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.

Keywords: Aquinas, Natural Law

Suggested Citation:Suggested Citation

Dimock, Susan, The Natural Law Theory of St. Thomas Aquinas (January 1, 1999). The Philosophy of Law, 6th Edition, Feinberg, Joel, and Jules Coleman, eds. Wadsworth, 2000. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2197761

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Essay The Natural Law by Thomas Aquinas

1670 Words7 Pages

In every man there is an innate sense of right and wrong buried within him. This sense guides people, culture, and even whole countries to act in certain ways. Thomas Aquinas called this innate sense the natural law. The natural law is established by God in order to make men more virtuous. When examined closely it is found that the natural law contains the precept of all law and, is at odds with certain laws that exist today, specifically abortion. The “natural law is appointed by reason” (Aquinas IV, 94, 1) and given to everyone. This is very contrary to popular belief that right and wrong are relative; however, the idea of an absolute right makes sense. For instance, it is naturally understood that it is wrong to murder. This fact does…show more content…

No one needs to tell him “you ought to be very upset about that, it was terribly rude.” Furthermore, the child did not sit and debate the issue. The child is upset automatically; he has been deprived of a good and responds with desire for that good – whatever that good may be. Also, the natural law is “the same to all men, and is equally known by all” (Aquinas IV, 94, 4). Location does not affect the natural law. While different cultures have certain values that are reflected in how they respond to the natural law, the natural law itself is constant. This can occur because the natural law is in its essence very vague. That natural law dictates that there should be such a thing as modesty; however, it does not dictate what qualifies as modest. Instead people interpret the natural law. An example of this would be when Europeans first entered Africa. The European’s thought the natives were immodest because they did not cover as much as themselves as the Western civilization deemed fit. However, the African people were being modest for what their culture demanded. In this way, the natural law existed; but, they had a different reaction to it. So the natural law is the same to all men but not reacted to in the same way by all men. This is why it may appear to some that there is no definite right, when in fact; there is only one right and many responses to that right. The natural law only really states one thing. Aquinas

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