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The Natural Law theory believes that God commands something because it is moral, not the
other way around.
 Humans have reason within them and can therefore know and obey laws.
 Because humans have the faculty of choice they will not necessarily obey the law.
 If a law is unjust, we may have a moral obligation to disobey it.
*Example: Laws that permit torture, slavery, human trafficking are unjust.
*Example: Members of animal liberation groups break into laboratories and set animals
free because it is just, according to them.
*Example: Anti-abortionists block women from entering abortion clinics because they
believe abortion to be immoral.
*Example: In the back of his van, Dr. Jack Kevorkian—despite repeated warnings from
the courts—continued to assist terminally ill people in ending their lives, until he was
put in jail because he thought it was moral that people have the choice to end their
*Each of these examples people engaged in civil disobedience justified their actions on the
grounds of a higher moral law.
Thomas Aquinas on Natural Law
The natural law is given by God. Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good. But
God has already given an answer to this question: he did so by creating man and ordering him with wisdom and
love to his final end, through the law which is inscribed in his heart (cf. Rom 2:15), the “natural law”. The latter “is
nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and
what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.”
1. The natural law is given by God.
2. It is naturally knowable by all human beings (rather than created by God, morality has
always been a part of us since we all inherently & naturally know what is right and what is
wrong (You know making fun of someone is wrong. You may still make fun of them but you
still know it was wrong).
3. Examples of things that are good include:
• Life
• Procreation
• Theoretical and practical knowledge
• Social life
• Justice
What are situations where things that are good are made into something bad?
-Example: Telling the truth is good but what if truth-telling gets someone killed?
-Example: Sexual relations are good in themselves but not with someone who is not your
spouse or partner.
Questions to consider:
1. Think of a controversial topic, such as abortion, homosexuality, or the death penalty, that is
sometimes regarded as a religious issue. Can the morality of these practices be discussed
without bringing in religion?
2. Helen Prejean adopts the natural law approach by asking if God would return pain for pain and
torture for torture. Do you think God is ok with torture for a good cause (such as torturing a
terrorist to get information) or pain for disobeying the law (such as the death penalty for a