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Thomas Aquinas: Natural Law Theory


Thomas Aquinas was an Italian philosopher, a priest and a jurist. He had an impressive effect on Western philosophy, with many of the modern laws developing or opposing his original theories. His own ideas were influenced by Aristotle’s theories which he tried to combine with Christian principles.

He was honored as a Christian saint by the Catholic Church who deemed him to be a model teacher for any acolytes training to become priests. Today, his works have continued to play a large role in anyone seeking to become involved in religion, philosophy and even canon law.

Moral Philosophy

Moral philosophy is a branch in the study of philosophy which studies and defines the type of conduct that is acceptable. Otherwise known as ethics, this subset works to resolve questions that relate to human morality. It studies the issues of right and wrong, justice, virtue and so on.

Natural Law Theory

The natural law theory is a concept within the study of moral philosophy and it was outlined by Thomas Aquinas. Similar to his other works, Aquinas works to combine the Aristotle’s ideas with those surrounding Christian theology. The effect of this can be seen through his understanding of the law, which is seen as a reference to the unchanging principles of morality which act as the basis of human conduct, and can be observed by studying nature.

In his theory Thomas Aquinas defined natural law as a way for the ruler to dictate reason on his subjects, and ultimately reached the conclusion that God has used his intellect to govern this world. He views the Natural law to therefore be the eternal law, which involves both God and his creation. He makes an important distinction in his theory explaining how the natural law is present all around us but is effected by the human ability to act by our own free will. As a result the theory surrounding his law dwells deeply into the issue of human nature, examining what God has ordained for us.

Aquinas discusses the issue of good and evil in human nature, suggesting that our mind and view of our surrounding heavily effects a person’s actions. We do not commit actions because they are bad, we commit them because we perceive them to be good. This concept suggests that a human’s perception effects their action; we choose to see the good in everything and focus on that one aspect of an action, ignoring the wrong if it doesn’t suit us.

Studying Thomas Aquinas and his natural law theory requires a person to deeply study a human’s nature. God created the world to work in a certain way, and our ability to act freely allows us to perceive his creations in a variety of ways which may not always be correct.