Week 3 Discussion
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1. Do we live in a cosmopolitan era? In other words, can we achieve global citizenship? If so, what are some examples?
2. What is natural law? Does it have universal weight, or is it a concept solely applicable to Western elites?
3. Looking ahead, what is “cultural relativism?” Do you agree or disagree with its main tenets?
* Please respond to one of the questions. Thank you.
ONLY ONE QUESTION (150 words response)
I THINK NATURAL LAW IS THE BEST TO ANSWER.
The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics
First published Mon Sep 23, 2002; substantive revision Tue Sep 27, 2011 ‘Natural law theory’ is a label that has been applied to theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality. We will be concerned only with natural law theories of ethics: while such views arguably have some interesting implications for law, politics, and religious morality, these implications will not be our focus here. This article has two central objectives. First, it aims to identify the defining features of natural law moral theory. Second, it aims to identify some of the main theoretical options that natural law theorists face in formulating a precise view within the constraints set by these defining features and some of the difficulties for each of these options. It will not, however, attempt to recount the history of the development of natural law thought. (For a very helpful detailed history of natural law thought up to the beginning of the modern period, see Crowe 1977. For a very helpful detailed history of natural law thought in the modern period, see Haakonssen 1996. For an article-length recap of the entire history of natural law thought, see Haakonssen 1992.)
1. Key Features of Natural Law Theories
Even though we have already confined ‘natural law theory’ to its use as a term that marks off a certain class of ethical theories, we still have a confusing variety of meanings to contend with. Some writers use the term with such a broad meaning that any moral theory that is a version of moral realism — that is, any moral theory that holds that some positive moral claims are literally true (for this conception of moral realism, see Sayre-McCord 1988)— counts as a natural law view. Some use it so narrowly that no moral theory that is not grounded in a very specific form of Aristotelian teleology could count as a natural law view. It might be thought that there is nothing that can be done to begin a discussion of natural law theory in ethics other than to stipulate a meaning for ‘natural law theory’ and to proceed from there. But there is a better way of proceeding, one that takes as its starting point the central role that the moral theorizing of Thomas Aquinas plays in the natural law tradition. If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is Aquinas’s. (Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.) It would seem sensible, then, to take Aquinas’s natural law theory as the central case of a natural law position: of theories that exhibit all of the key features of Aquinas’s natural law view we can say that they are clearly natural law theories; of theories that exhibit few of them we can say that they are clearly not 1/21/2019 The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/ 2/12 natural law theories; and of theories that exhibit many but not all of them we can say that they are in the neighborhood of the natural law view but nonetheless must be viewed as at most deviant cases of that position. There remain, no doubt, questions about how we determine what are to count as the key features of Aquinas’s position. But we may take as the key features those theses about natural law that structure his overall moral view and which provide the basis for other theses about the natural law that he affirms. For Aquinas, there are two key features of the natural law, features the acknowledgment of which structures his discussion of the natural law at Question 94 of the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologiae. The first is that, when we focus on God’s role as the giver of the natural law, the natural law is just one aspect of divine providence; and so the theory of natural law is from that perspective just one part among others of the theory of divine providence. The second is that, when we focus on the human’s role as recipient of the natural law, the natural law constitutes the principles of practical rationality, those principles by which human action is to be judged as reasonable or unreasonable; and so the theory of natural law is from that perspective the preeminent part of the theory of practical rationality.
1.1 Natural law and divine providence
While our main focus will be on the status of the natural law as constituting the principles of practical rationality, we should consider for a moment at least the importance within Aquinas’s view of the claim that the natural law is an aspect of divine providence. The fundamental thesis affirmed here by Aquinas is that the natural law is a participation in the eternal law (ST IaIIae 91, 2). The eternal law, for Aquinas, is that rational plan by which all creation is ordered (ST IaIIae 91, 1); the natural law is the way that the human being “participates” in the eternal law (ST IaIIae 91, 2). While nonrational beings have a share in the eternal law only by being determined by it — their action nonfreely results from their determinate natures, natures the existence of which results from God’s will in accordance with God’s eternal plan — rational beings like us are able to grasp our share in the eternal law and freely act on it (ST IaIIae 91, 2). It is this feature of the natural law that justifies, on Aquinas’s view, our calling the natural law ‘law.’ For law, as Aquinas defines it (ST IaIIae 90, 4), is a rule of action put into place by one who has care of the community; and as God has care of the entire universe, God’s choosing to bring into existence beings who can act freely and in accordance with principles of reason is enough to justify our thinking of those principles of reason as law.
1.2 Natural law and practical rationality
When we focus on the recipient of the natural law, that is, us human beings, the thesis of Aquinas’s natural law theory that comes to the fore is that the natural law constitutes the basic principles of practical rationality for human beings, and has this status by nature (ST IaIIae 94, 2). The notion that the natural law constitutes the basic principles of practical rationality implies, for Aquinas, both that the precepts of the natural law are universally binding by nature (ST IaIIae 94, 4) and that the precepts of the natural law are universally knowable by nature (ST IaIIae 94, 4; 94, 6). The precepts of the natural law are binding by nature: no beings could share our human nature yet fail to be bound by the precepts of the natural law. This is so because these precepts direct us toward the good as such and various particular goods (ST IaIIae 94, 2). The good and goods provide reasons for us rational beings to act, to pursue the good and these particular goods. As good is what is perfective of us given the natures that we have (ST Ia 5, 1), the good and these various goods have their status as such naturally. It is sufficient for certain things to be good that we have the natures that we have; it is in virtue of our common human nature that the good for us is what it is. The precepts of the natural law are also knowable by nature. All human beings possess a basic knowledge of the principles of the natural law (ST IaIIae 94, 4). This knowledge is exhibited in our intrinsic directedness toward the various goods that the natural law enjoins us to pursue, and we can make this implicit awareness explicit and propositional through reflection on practice. Aquinas takes it that there is a core of practical knowledge that all human beings have, even if the implications of that knowledge can be hard to work out or the efficacy of that knowledge can be thwarted by strong emotion or evil dispositions (ST IaIIae 94, 6). 1/21/2019 The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/ 3/12 If Aquinas’s view is paradigmatic of the natural law position, and these two theses — that from the God’s-eye point of view, it is law through its place in the scheme of divine providence, and from the human’s-eye point of view, it constitutes a set of naturally binding and knowable precepts of practical reason — are the basic features of the natural law as Aquinas understands it, then it follows that paradigmatic natural law theory is incompatible with several views in metaphysics and moral philosophy. On the side of metaphysics, it is clear that the natural law view is incompatible with atheism: one cannot have a theory of divine providence without a divine being. It is also clear that the paradigmatic natural law view rules out a deism on which there is a divine being but that divine being has no interest in human matters. Nor can one be an agnostic while affirming the paradigmatic natural law view: for agnosticism is the refusal to commit either to God’s existence or nonexistence, whereas the paradigmatic natural law view involves a commitment to God’s existence. On the side of moral philosophy, it is clear that the natural law view is incompatible with a nihilism about value, that is, the rejection of the existence of values. It is also incompatible with relativist and conventionalist views, on which the status of value is entirely relative to one’s community or determined entirely by convention. It is also incompatible with a wholesale skepticism about value, for the natural law view commits one to holding that certain claims about the good are in fact knowable, indeed, knowable by all