Natural Law Theory: On Nature, The Divine, and Law Open Access

Beyer, Allyson (2017)

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My honors thesis addresses the question of moral relativism and natural law, specifically by questioning if it is possible to arrive at unchanging moral principles that are grounded in human nature. If we view nature and the way the world is constructed in different ways, do our ideas of morality and law change? If what we fundamentally believe to be true is different among different people in different times, and in different cultures, can we conclude that there is anything universal about ethics? By examining the legal and political philosophies of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and G.W.F. Hegel, I show how these three philosophers use their ideas of human nature and the divine to construct their views of law and ethics to ultimately determine if morality is relative or if there truly are universal laws.

In order to better understand the connection between law, nature, and the divine, I will focus first on St. Augustine's The City of God and Vernon Bourke's The Essential Augustine. My first chapter will outline how St. Augustine treats the issue of law and human nature, including his view of man's fall from grace, starting with Adam and Eve. In my second chapter, I will discuss Thomas Aquinas' Treatise on Law from the Summa Theologica, the foundations of natural law theory and Thomas Aquinas' view of nature, heavily influenced by Aristotle, and establish Aquinas' universal ethical understanding in which he emphasizes nature's role in discovering the human good and our final end. My third and final chapter looks at Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right, and will analyze how Hegel gives an account of human nature in society and attempts to balance law and ethics as both universal in nature and also applicable to specific human situations. Tracing the ideas of human nature and the divine through St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Hegel will allow me to conclude how our ideas of nature inform our ideas of ethics and law and ultimately, whether there are universal moral laws.

Table of Contents

I. Nature and the Divine in St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.....5

II. St. Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law.....17

III. Hegel and the Philosophy of Right.....41

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