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Knowing the Natural Law

Knowing the Natural Law

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Knowing the Natural Law
    Book Description:

    Knowing the Natural Law traces the thought of Aquinas from an understanding of human nature to a knowledge of the human good, from there to an account of ought-statements, and finally to choice, which issues in human actions. The much discussed article on the precepts of the natural law (I-II, 94, 2) provides the framework for a natural law rooted in human nature and in speculative knowledge. Practical knowledge is itself threefold: potentially practical knowledge, virtually practical knowledge, and fully practical knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2734-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-25)

    In the 1960s a long-standing secular philosophical dispute entered Thomistic circles. For centuries the use of nature as the basis and foundation of ethical judgments was presumed for interpretations of Thomas Aquinas. In contrast, modern philosophy, as characterized by G. E. M. Anscombe, utilized a “moral ought” divorced from human nature.¹

    In 1965 some Thomists began to wonder whether in fact the modern doctrine was found within Aquinas, who had, they said, anticipated the divide between nature and ethics; unfortunately, this insight of Aquinas had been buried and distorted by subsequent commentators. We might well wonder what precipitated this new...

  5. 2 THE TEXT
    (pp. 26-43)

    Question 94, article 2 of thePrima secundaeasks whether there is one precept of the natural law or many. Ultimately, Aquinas will answer that there are many precepts to the natural law; nevertheless, these precepts are united into a single natural law by the very first precept, urging us to do good and avoid evil. Aquinas begins with a general explanation of first principles; he then looks at the very first principle in speculative reason and the very first principle in practical reason. Finally, he looks at the more particular principles of practical reason.

    Aquinas has an extended treatment...

    (pp. 44-60)

    In the last chapter we saw that natural inclinations play a central role in Aquinas’s argument. Unfortunately, it is far from clear what Aquinas means by a natural inclination. Three possibilities suggest themselves. First, he might be referring to inborn emotional desires, what Aquinas would call passions of the soul. We say, for instance, that we have a natural sexual drive or that we have a natural desire to preserve our own lives.

    Second, Aquinas might be referring to natural desires of the will. Aquinas considers the will, like the passions, to be a conscious desiring power. When we are...

  7. 4 GOOD
    (pp. 61-84)

    In this chapter, we hope to take our first step from the realm of purely speculative knowledge into practical knowledge. From knowledge of natural inclinations we hope to arrive at the materially practical knowledge of the good. The greatest obstacle to this step is a false conception of practical reason. In chapter 1, we saw that Peter Geach proposed descriptivism in opposition to prescriptivism. The latter view claims that the term “good”—and therefore practical knowledge—does not describe any attribute in the good object; rather, the speaker uses it to express his attitude toward the object. In contrast, Geach...

  8. 5 NATURE
    (pp. 85-107)

    The objection concerning physicalism claims that descriptivism, in which good and evil are discovered in the world around us, leads to the objectionable ethical view called physicalism, in which the human good is reduced to biology and the human will is left out of the picture. In chapter 1 we suggested two avenues of response to this objection. First, one could attempt to show that Aquinas himself often bases moral good or evil upon nature. Second, one could attempt to show that descriptivism need not necessarily lead to physicalism; one can discover moral good and evil in nature and yet...

  9. 6 THE WILL
    (pp. 108-125)

    We hope to discover what the will contributes to our knowledge of the good. Somehow, the will must be central to ethics, for any good activity that does not ultimately arise from the will is not moral activity. Properly functioning digestion is indeed good for a human being, but it is not a moral good. If the goods that Aquinas discovers through our natural inclinations are simply goods of nonconscious inclinations, then it seems that they are disconnected from the human or moral good. In short, physicalism seems to follow from the use of nature exhibited in the last chapter....

  10. 7 OUGHT
    (pp. 126-149)

    At the level of virtual practical knowledge the word “ought” is introduced, a word more emblematic of the naturalistic fallacy than anything found in materially practical knowledge. The term “good” is plausibly descriptive; at least it uses the descriptive copula “is.” But when we begin to speak about what ought to be the case, then we no longer seem to be describing anything. We are now making plans, or we are dictating the way the world is to be. As Hume suggested, we have an entirely new kind of copula.

    Unfortunately, the claim that ought-statements are not descriptive rarely gets...

    (pp. 150-174)

    Even those who staunchly defend the naturalistic fallacy, asserting that we can never begin with an is-statement and reach an ought-statement, may be unperturbed by the last chapter’s defense of descriptivism. After all, they might say, the argument concerns only hypothetical ought-statements, which are unproblematic; they are notessentiallypractical or prescriptive.

    In contrast, so the argument goes, “moral” ought-statements are prescriptive and cannot be derived from mere description. They have binding force independently of any presupposed desire or endpoint. No amount of what-is-the-case will ever generate this moving and directive force of reason, which involves an entirely different meaning...

    (pp. 175-200)

    We have been trying to unravel the flow of thought in the following passage:

    The good has theratioof an end while evil has theratioof its contrary,for which reasonall those things to which man has a natural inclination, reason naturally grasps as goods andconsequentlyas to be pursued through activity, and their contraries as evil and to be avoided.

    In the last two chapters, we have seen how the mind moves from materially practical knowledge of what is good to virtually practical knowledge of how we ought to behave. Chapter 7 first revealed this...

  13. 10 ACTION
    (pp. 201-230)

    We have seen that reason progresses from purely speculative knowledge to materially practical knowledge and from there to virtually practical knowledge. Even this last step still provides a description of the way things are; it describes what is necessary for an agent insofar as it has a certain end. We have yet to move to purely practical knowledge, a knowledge not expressed in the indicative mood but in the imperative. In this final chapter, we will examine the final move from knowledge to action.

    Proponents of the new natural law theory sometimes argue that if practical reason begins with speculative...

    (pp. 231-236)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 237-238)