Chapter 7. Deontological Theories: Natural Law
Section 5. Problems with Natural Law


1. One of the difficulties for natural law theory is that people have interpreted nature differently? Should this be the case if as asserted by natural law theory, the moral law of human nature is knowable by natural human reason?

2.How do we determine the essential or morally praiseworthy traits of human nature? Traditional natural law theory has picked out very positive traits, such as "the desire to know the truth, to choose the good, and to develop as healthy mature human beings”. But some philosophers, such as Hobbes, have found human beings to be essentially selfish. It is questionable that behavior in accordance with human nature is morally right and behavior not in accord with human nature is morally wrong. For instance, if it turns out that human beings (at least the males) are naturally aggressive, should we infer that war and fighting are morally right?

3. Even if we have certain natural propensities, are we justified in claiming that those propensities or tendencies should be developed? On what grounds do we justify, for example, that we ought to choose the good?

4. For Aquinas, the reason why nature had the order it did was because God had put it there. Other thinkers, such as Aristotle, did not believe that this order was divinely inspired. Does this alleged natural moral order require that we believe that there is a God that has produced this natural moral order? Evolutionary theory has challenged much of the basis of thinking that there is a moral natural order, since on evolutionary theory species has developed they way they have out of survival needs.

5  It is doubtful that one can infer moral principles forbidding adultery, rape, homosexuality, and so forth, either from biological facts about human nature or from facts about the inherent nature of Homo sapiens. 

6. Critics of natural law theory say that it is doubtful, however, that the inherent nature of Homo sapiens establishes laws of behavior for human beings in the same way as it may establish laws of behavior for cats, lions, and polar bears. It is especially difficult because so much of human behavior is shaped by the environment, that is, by deliberate and nondeliberate conditioning, training, and education.

7.  Two philosophers (Aquinas and Aristotle) integral to the theory have different views about god’s role in nature, which confuses the issue, especially when trying to decipher if the theory relies on the existence of god.

8. The intrinsic nature of humans as it pertains to establishing laws of behavior may not be the same for animals, which presents difficulties within the theory.

9.. Human behavior may be solely reliant upon the environment that one is exposed to, which includes social classes, education and upbringing, this opposes the theory.

Proceed to the next section of the chapter by clicking here>> section.

© Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

Return to:               Table of Contents for the Online Textbook