Natural Law Theory

Here is a small video I created explaining Natural Law Theory (Below is transcript):

In this video I explore the strengths and weaknesses of Natural Law:

Transcript of Natural Law Theory

St Thomas Aquinas developed Natural Law theory from Aristotle and the Stoics in the 13th century. Natural Law is an absolutist and deontological theory. To believe and use Natural Law theory, one has to believe in God because Natural Law believes there is one Natural Law which has been issued by God. This means that what is wrong in one situation is wrong in ever situation and to determine what is right and wrong we look at the action itself, not the consequences. There is emphasis on innate human reason to work out how you should be living. Natural law is useful on issues where is the Bible is silent e.g. IVF.In order to use Natural Law correctly we need to identify what is known as the primary precepts. These are the basis of the theory. We need to first agree that these are the main function of life. The primary precepts are the five purposes of human life. The five primary precept are: (i) reproduction (ii) life – to live/ the supreme good (iii) education – makes people independent and fully adult (iv) worshipping God and (v) law and order – upholds justice. These precepts are immutable; they cannot be changed. From the primary precepts, secondary precept form. For example if we examine the principle of life and it is there to ensure that all actions which are life threatening are in the moral law as wrong e.g. murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide etc are all wrong because the involve going against the precept of life.However, in reality it is not as easy as one action is good and one is evil. Some actions lead to both good and bad consequences which ever way you try and deal with it. For example, a pregnant women finds out she has cervical cancer. If the doctor performs a hysterectomy the baby dies and the mother survives. On the other hand, if she gives birth both the mother and the baby are at risk of dying. So whatever action the doctor takes there will both goos and bad consequences. This is called the principle of double effect. In these situations, two criteria need to be met to make it a permissible action. Firstly, the act itself must not be wrong and secondly, the person doing the action must not directly intend the evil outcome. So he doctor would do the hysterectomy with good intentions of saving the mother. This justifies his action.Casuistry is what applies these primary precepts to individual circumstances. These makes Natural Law quite flexible. It ensures that a solution can be produced from any situation. However, many consider this to be a weakness of the theory.They use the term casuistry pejoratively. This is because on one hand it states it is an absolutist theory and on the other it is allowing room for flexibility.

Natural Law allows us to know the divine and moral law through reason and revelation. Following Natural Law helps us perfect our virtues; both natural and theological. Natural virtues include prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Theological virtues include faith, hope and charity. For example, the primary precept of life means that life is extremely important. Therefore, the natural virtue of fortitude is perfected because no matter what happens, one is encouraged to stand strong and take care of our life and as mentioned before suicide will be considered immoral. 

Natural Law is based on five assumptions: (i) everything in nature has a purpose, (ii) nature was created by God, (iii) failure to develop this nature to the fullest is an imperfection, (iv) nature and its moral laws are knowable through reason and (v) natural law is part of some divine plan. Thats why for some people the theory fails. However, it has worked well and influenced the Roman Catholic denomination. For example, Roman Catholics believe abortion is wrong based on that it destroys the purpose of life: to live.

As mentioned, at the beginning Aristotleʼs philosophy influenced the Natural Law theory quite a lot. Aristotle in his theory of causality distinguishes between four causes which helps to explains something fully. Two of the four causes, efficient and final cause, Aquinas used to formulate the Natural Law theory. The efficient cause is what gets things done and the final cause is the end product. Hence, Aquinas goes on to say with us the accomplishment of the final cause/end product that equates to ʻgoodʼ we are doing the correct thing. If we can understand the final cause of an organism we can then work out the efficient cause/ the necessary processes to get the final cause done.

Natural Law is part of the branch of normative ethics. This is different to descriptive ethics. Natural Law is part of normative ethics because the impact of Aristotle’s causes moves it from being a theory that deals with what the population actually think it is right and wrong (descriptive ethics) to what they should think is right and wrong (normative ethics). This is because the natural processes required to fulfill the final cause are what should be right, not necessarily what is right at any given time. 

Just War Theory

Just War Theory

This theory dates back to St Augustine who had to persuade the pacifist Christian tradition in Roman times that war can sometimes be necessary. St Aquinas and other theologians later developed this theory. There are three parts to this ethical theory JUS AD BELLUM –rules set out for going to war, JUS IN BELLO – rules set out for being in war and JUS POST BELLO – the nature of how a war is ended.

So what are the Jus Ad Bellum Conditions?

  1. Just cause – in order for a war to be declared there must be a just cause. But who is to judge what is a just cause?
  2. Right intention – It is linked with the part of Natural Law that states that intention is really important. Ulterior motives such as acquiring land or protecting oneself should not be intended. But how can you test/measure intention?

Proportionality – The damage caused by the war should not exceed the good expected to come out. How are you supposed to predict this?

  1. Declaration by a legitimate authority – This principle is linked with this quote from the Bible “Obey the powers that be for they are ordained by God” Romans 13:1-2. Some like Wilcockson say that this principle has been overlooked so that terrorists now have rights of this nature.
  2. Last resort – Every other must have been used before going to war e.g. peaceful negotiations. If an authority has already decided this is what they want to do is there any point in negotiations?
  3. Formal declaration of war – Some countries do not recognise the UN rules for going to war and they may not recognise this principle. We have seen some of the most horrific example of when this rule has been violated e.g. Pearl Harbour
  4. Reason chance of success – There should be a relative chance of success but if one knows they don’t have a chance of success they may feel ashamed in declaring it.

Then what are the Jus In Bello conditions?

There are two conditions according to Just War Theory for how we should behave in war. Jus In Bello requires agents of war to be responsible for their actions.

  1. Principle of discrimination – innocent people or ‘non- combatants’ should not be directly or directly attacked according to the Geneva Convention. Is this really possible?
  2. Principle of proportionality – Minimum force should be used to achieve good and just like with proportionality before the damage caused should not outweigh the good. With nuclear weapons is this really possible?

And what about Jus Post Bello then?

This is a fairy new addition to the Just War Theory. This concerns the aftermath of war and restoring peace and fairness.

Restoring human rights – bringing back the equality and rights that everyone has.

  1. Distinguishing between innocent civilians and those who should be punished
  2. Bringing to trial war criminals and ensuring they receive justice
  3. Giving the defeated country the opportunity to reform.

Is the foetus a person?

Is the foetus a person? – Notes are taken from internet sites such as Yahoo answers and my own knowledge 

Yes it is because…

  1. Life begins at conception – and ‘the body is the temple is the temple of the holy spirit’
  2. Judge – who is to judge what a ‘person’ is 
  3. Self- conscious – “Babies Remember Birth,” David Chamberlain, Ph.D., indicates there are pre-birth memories, indicating individuality.
  4. Size – A six-foot woman on life-support is a person; a six-inch foetus girl on life support is a person. Degree of energy-independence is not a determining factor.
  5. Location – A six-foot woman in a room or in Yosemite camping is a person; a fetal girl in a womb is a person. Location is not a determining factor of personhood.
  6. Age – A 60-year-old woman is a person; a fetal girl of six prenatal months is a person. Age is not a determining factor of personhood.

No it is not because…

  1. Birth marks the beginning of a true person because if you think that in the Genesis man was nothing until God gave a breath of life and so a baby is not a living human until it is born.
  2. Personhood – the embryo/foetus does not have the seven criteria which gives it equal rights as the mother (rationality, self-awareness, ability to act intentionally, biographical considerations as opposed to biological considerations, ability to establish relationships, sentience, ability to communicate)
  3. Rights – Whose rights are more important those of the mother or the embryo – a real person vs a potential person
  4. Ectopic pregnancies and disabilities – double effect because the mother is not only at risk and suffers extreme pain the foetus is likely to never develop into a full and proper human being so why keep the pregnancy?
  5. Image of God – God is said to be the giver and take of life and if we are made in the image of God shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same.
  6. Viability – The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so how this embryo who relies on the mother have greater rights than the mother.
  7. Ensoulment – Many including theologians like St Augustine believe that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move (which is at about 16/17 weeks) the embryo has been ensouled so before that the embryo is just another animal.
  8. Peter Singer – He believes that a human being is a “person” weeks after birth and a shrimp’s life is more important than a foetus.
  9. Aboriginal people – They believe it is only a person once it is named.

Genetic Engineering

Types of Genetic Engineering

In this video I explore – somatic-cell gene therapy, germ-line gene therapy, enhancement genetic engineering (designer babies), eugenic genetic engineering, animal genetic engineering, gm crops, embryo cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.

Ethical Responses

In this video I look at what would Natural Law, Utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, Situation Ethics and Christian Ethics say to the different forms of genetic engineering.

As Christian Ethics is so varied I have not included it in the table below 

 

Natural Law

Utilitarianism

Kant

Situation ethics

Somatic-cell GT

☺ Fulfils precept to live

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Germ-line GT

☺ Again helps fulfil purpose of life and reproduction

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Enhancement GT

☹ Against God’s design and doesn’t seem to have a purpose.

☺  Makes people happy

☹ It doesn’t make other ‘that’ happy

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Eugenic GT

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

GM crops

☺ Help solve problem of world hunger which helps to also fulfil the precept of life.

☺ Solving the problem of world hunger outweighs any costs

☺ Imperfect duty to make people happy 

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Animal GT

☺ Humans have dominion over animals so nothing wrong with using them to fulfill the precept of life.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺ Kantian ethics is based on the ability to reason so using animals to fulfil imperfect duty is not a problem.

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Embryo cloning

☺ Life is scared so this would be a NO.

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Reproductive cloning

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Therapeutic cloning

☺ Helps fulfill purpose of life – to live.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Kantian Ethics: Strength & Weaknesses

I have recently updated this table so not all strengths and weaknesses are discussed in the above video.

Strengths

Weaknesses

1. Creates a distinction between duty and inclination. Inclination is may be because something benefits us but morality is something above that it is about duty.

1. No rules if two duties conflict e.g. our duty to make other happy and our duty not use an embryo for genetic research even though genetic research makes people happy. Strangely Kant would argue in this situation one duty must not be a true duty. Furthermore, it can impractical in terms of trying to fufil all duties e.g. the duty to care for all patients equally in a hospital faced with a fixed budget.

2. Makes justice impartial because you cannot promote happiness if that happiness undermines another happiness. This is also a criticism of utilitarianism.

2. Personalised rules can not exist as they cannot be universalised. (Could also be a strength)

3. Humans are given intrinsic worth, dignity and respect. Demonstrates that humans have rights.

3. No allowance for compassion or sympathy.

4. We are equal individuals unlike some forms of Christian ethics which suggests that if you do not follow the Lord Jesus Christ you are not equal to other people.

4. What is more important consequences and people or actions? e.g.. man with axe example.

5. Easy to follow with a clear criteria because it is based on innate human reason. More importantly gives us answers which arguably other theories like Situation Ethics do not.

5. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative can be difficult to use in terms of world politics. For example, we cannot scarifice the few at war for the sake of many.

6. People generally do have the same idea about morality.

6. Kant’s deontological theory of ethics is in fact vague. The reason being no two moral situations are the same hence can one maxim fill both situations. No. Is murder the same as self-defence, suicide, abortion?

7. People recognise the idea of duty as a part of being human.

7. The theory only works if everyone agrees with it which is clearly not true. For Natural Law or Virtue Theory to work one doesn’t need everyone to work.

8. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God unlike Natural Law which if the existence of God is rejected then so is Natural Law.

8. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. can ought really imply can?

9. Is it really universal can everyone really be classified a rational moral agent?

10. Kant argues that happiness is the by-product of morality not the intention behind it – is this suggestion really logical – why would you follow it then?

11. Not everyone is capable of ration decision-making hence theory is not universal.

Kantian Ethics Revision Quiz

Questions (answers below)

1. What Century did Immanual Kant formulate his ethical theory and what nationality was Kant?

 

2. What quote can be used to sum up his theory?

3. Distinguish between the categorical and hypothetical imperative and give examples.

4. Why is the moral law, according to Kant, categorical?

5. How many formulations does he give of the categorical imperative, what are they and why does Kant give them?

6. Explain the formulations of the categorical imperative – what do they mean?

7. How many example of the first formulation are they? and what are they?

8. What is the distinction between duty and inclination?

9. By doing our duty what do we achieve?

10. Give 3 strengths and weaknesses of Kantian Ethics.

________________________________________________

1. 18th C and he was German.

2. ‘Two things, above all others, fill the mind with ever increasing awe and wonder: the starry heavens above and the moral law within”

3. The Hypothetical Imperative looks to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision and you will get an A’ and the Categorical Imperative is an absolute command which does not look to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision’.

4. Because it was hypothetical it would not be universal – so if it said be moral so you can go to heaven it would be changeable and not universal as some people may not wish to go to heaven.

5. Three: (i) Universalisability (ii) Means to an end and (iii) Kingdom of ends – these are three ways given to understand the same moral law – categorical imperative.

6. Universalisability – only commit to an action that if the rest of the world did would be logical and sustainable. Means to an end – do not use people as a mere means to an end, rather you should respect and give then the same respect you give yourself. Kingdom of ends – if as a lawmaker of the world you could put your action into legislation then the action is moral. 

7. 4 – 2 are perfect duties (contradiction in conception) – do not commit suicide and do not commit false-promising and 2 are imperfect duties (contradiction in the will) – fulfil your own potential and gives others happiness.

8. Duty is what we ought to do and inclination is what we want to do (they don’t always conflict).

9. Goodwill because we eliminate selfish interests.

10. See post on strengths & weaknesses.