Getting Natural Law and Sexual Ethics Right

By The Cranky Thomist

The Cranky ThomistFinally! From a Notre Dame professor no less. Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex.

He is right. St. Thomas Aquinas made natural law a significant part of his moral philosophy. In his thought, natural law is driven by the primary principle of doing good and avoiding evil. The entire structure of morality, the intent of divine and natural law, as well as the virtues and grace, are all directed toward reasoning about which behaviors can move humans toward the love of God and toward the love of fellow creatures in charity. Morality consists of reason planning action so that good may be done and evil avoided. What is right is based upon what is good.

The primary law, upon which all other laws are based, is that good be done (i.e., flourishing into the love of God and the love of fellow creatures in charity) and evil avoided. Morality and law are thus drawn from that which makes humans grow toward the good.

“Since good is grasped as always desirable, the first premise in reason’s planning of action is that good is to be done and evil avoided. And on this are based all the other injunctions of the law in us by nature, which command us to do whatever reason, when planning action, naturally grasps to be good for man, whatever man naturally seeks as a goal” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

Aquinas pointed out three derivatives of this natural law, seeing us first as living beings, then as physical creatures, and finally as reasoning creatures.

First, we must conserve human life and oppose death. Then, we must do whatever accords with our physical nature, which is what we have in common with other animals (e.g., having sex, raising children). Finally, we must do whatever accords with our rational nature, the thing that distinguishes us as human (“to know the truth about God, for example, and to live a social life; so the law in us by nature commands whatever is relevant to such inclinations, like avoiding ignorance and not offending those we live with” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

Since natural law is based upon practical reasoning and our understanding of the reality around us, Aquinas believed it was knowable by all and applicable to all (with the caveat that it is humans doing the thinking).

As Gary Gutting says, “the church needs to undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.”

Cranky Thomist Blasts Bishops’ Toxic Natural Law Groupthink

The Fool is delighted to introduce a new voice from the peanut gallery that is The Pope’s Fool … The Cranky Thomist!

The Cranky Thomist

November 16, 2014
By The Cranky Thomist

I think therefore I am. But what a minute! What happens when I space out? Do I cease to exist? And do I exist again when I start thinking again?

Agnes cartoon by Tony CochranPhilosophy is awesome! However, unorthodox, anti-scientific pseudo-philosophy is not. Case in point—the toxic natural law idea that has gotten firmly stuck in the papal and episcopal mindset for decades now.

The groupthink goes like this: Natural law means that you look at nature and figure out morality from that. First you see that God made man and woman. And then you see that men and women make babies. And then you conclude that contraception is immoral. And homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. And in vitro fertilization is a sin (rather than a blessing that helps people create families). And then you say that all of it is based on the “observance of the precepts of the natural law.” Seriously???

Natural law has been around since ancient Greece and was embraced in the Catholic intellectual tradition by St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s easy enough for anyone to understand, and has nothing to do with looking at nature and making stuff up.

According to Aquinas, natural law works like this. The primary natural law, upon which all other laws are based, is that good be done and evil avoided. So we figure out what makes humans grow towards the good and derive morality and law from that (with good in the Christian sense being defined as that which moves us toward the love of God and fellow creatures in charity). As Aquinas says, “Since good is grasped as always desirable, the first premise in reason’s planning of action is that good is to be done and evil avoided” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

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