Natural Law Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #34
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Natural Law Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #34


Thomas Aquinas was no dummy. Remember him? The Italian fella? Christian monk? Philosophical superstar of the 13th century? Aquinas thought morality was important for everyone, and that being a good person was a vital part of God’s plan for each of us. But he knew that not everyone had been exposed
to the Bible, or had even heard of God. So, what bothered him was: How could people follow God’s moral rules – also known as the divine commands – if they didn’t even know about the guy who made the commandments? Aquinas just couldn’t believe that God would have expectations for us, if he didn’t also give us – all of us – a way to meet them. So, Aquinas’ theorized that God made us pre-loaded with the tools we need to know what’s Good. This idea became known as the natural law
theory. And there are a lot of versions of this theory
still circulating around today. But Aquinas’ original take on natural law is by far the most influential, and the longest standing. How influential? Well, if you’re Catholic or a member of any of the major Protestant denominations, or were raised in any of those traditions, then you’re probably already familiar with how Aquinas saw the moral universe and your place in it. Basically, God is awesome, and he made you.
So, you are awesome. It’s just important that you don’t forget
to be awesome. [Theme Music] We all want stuff. Aquinas got that.
And he said that it was OK. In fact, the theory of natural law is based on the idea that God wants us to want things – specifically, good things. Aquinas argued that God created the world according to natural laws, predictable, goal-driven systems whereby life is sustained, and everything functions smoothly. And as part of this natural order, God made certain things that were good for his various creatures. Sunlight and water are good for plants. Meat is good for cats, and plants are good
for bunnies. And – because God is awesome – he instilled all of his creatures with an intuitive desire for the things that he designed to be best for them. The things that we’re designed to seek are known as the basic goods, and there are seven of them. The first thing that all living things just naturally want, Aquinas said, is self-preservation – the drive to sustain life. Aquinas thought God built all creatures with
a survival instinct. And this appears to be pretty much true. I mean, we naturally avoid dangerous situations
like swimming with hungry sharks, and when we find ourselves in danger, we don’t have to stop and ponder the options before getting ourselves to safety. After preserving our own lives, our next most pressing basic good is to make more life – in other words, to reproduce. Some beings are able to do this on their own, but since we need to coordinate matters with a partner, God kindly instilled us with a sex drive, and made the process feel good, to make sure that we do it. Thanks, God! But once we manage to achieve our second basic good – reproduction – we need to educate those kids we just made. For humans, that’s going to mean stuff like
school and lessons in morality. But even non-human animals need to teach their
babies how to hunt and avoid predators. Otherwise, the offspring they worked so hard to create aren’t going to survive long enough to reproduce themselves, which, of course, is the goal of everything. And while these first goods seem to apply to a pretty wide swath of creation, some of the basic goods are just for humans, because of the particular kind of being we are. For instance, Aquinas thought we are built
with an instinctual desire to know God. He believed we seek him in our lives, whether
we’ve been exposed to the idea of God or not. Interestingly, the existentialist Jean-Paul
Sartre agreed with Aquinas on this. He said we’re all born with a god-shaped
hole inside of us. The tragedy, for Sartre, is that he was an atheist, so he believed this was an emptiness that could never be filled. Next, taking a page out of Aristotle’s book, Aquinas also said that humans are naturally social animals, so it’s part of our basic good to live in community with others. While short periods of solitude can be good, he believed that we’re basically pack animals, and our desire for love and acceptance, and our susceptibility to peer pressure, are all evidence of this. Now, since we naturally want to be part a pack,
it’s a good idea not to alienate our pack-mates. So, basically, Aquinas said we recognize the
basic good of not pissing everybody off. I mean, he didn’t actually say it that way. But if he did, I’m sure it sounded a lot
better in Latin. The point is, Aquinas said we feel shame and guilt when we do things that cause our group to turn against us, and that was another basic good. And finally, Aquinas said we’re built to
shun ignorance. We’re natural knowers. We’re inquisitive, and we want to be right. This is another trait we share with non-human animals, because knowledge promotes survival, and ignorance can mean starving to death or ending up as someone else’s dinner. So these are the basic goods, and from them,
we can derive the natural laws. We don’t need the Bible, or religion class, or church in order to understand the natural law, Aquinas said. Instead, our instinct shows us the basic goods, and reason allows us to derive the natural law from them. Right acts, therefore, are simply those that
are in accordance with the natural law. So how does this whole system work? Well, I recognize the basic good of life,
because I value my own life. And that’s clear to me, because I have a survival instinct that keeps me from doing dangerous, stupid stuff. Then, reason leads me to see that others also
have valuable lives. And from there I see that killing is a violation
of natural law. So, for each negative law, or prohibition, there’s usually a corresponding positive one – a positive injunction. For example, ‘Do not kill’ is a prohibition, but there’s also a positive injunction that encourages us to promote life. And I can take that positive injunction of promoting life to mean anything from feeding the hungry, to caring for the sick, to making healthy choices for myself. And we could do the same thing with each of
the basic goods. The basic good of reproduction leads to a prohibition, don’t prevent reproduction, which is why the Catholic Church has been so opposed to birth control. And the positive injunction there is: Do procreate! Do all the procreating you want! And if you think it through – using your God-given reason – you’ll be able to see how the other natural laws are derived from the basic goods. But, of course, as with the Divine Command Theory, the theory of Natural Law raises plenty of questions. For example, if God created us to seek the good, and if we’re built with the ability to recognize and seek it, then why do people violate the natural law all the time?! Like, if this is supposed to be something so intuitively obvious that even plants and non-human animals can manage it, why is the world so full of people-killing and offending others and folks who do everything but seek God? Aquinas had two answers for this: ignorance
and emotion. Sometimes, he said, we seek what we think is good, but we’re wrong, because we’re just ignorant. And yes, that happens. I mean, there once was a time when cigarettes
were literally what the doctor ordered. Back then, we thought we were promoting our
health, but we were actually hurting it. No matter how awesome God made you, or your desires, you have to have some understanding of how to be awesome. But ignorance can’t account for all of the
stupid things we do. Aquinas, again following Aristotle here, said that, even though we’re rational, we’re also emotional creatures. And sometimes, we see what we should do, but emotion overpowers our reason, and we fail to do the things we know we should. So, in those cases, we just kinda forget to
be awesome. Now, as with the Divine Command Theory, Natural law gives us a handy answer to the grounding problem. It tells us that morality is grounded in God,
that he created the moral order. It also gives us a reason to be moral – following
the natural law makes our lives work better. But while it seems to have a lot more going for it than divine command theory, natural law theory has its share of critics as well. First of all, it’s not going to be super appealing
to anybody who doesn’t believe in God. You can tell me God set the world up according to natural laws, but if I reject that whole premise, there’s not a lot you can do to convince me. Another objection comes from 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, in the form of what’s known as the is-ought problem. And to investigate this, let’s pop over
to the Thought Bubble for some Flash Philosophy. Hume said it’s fallacious to assume that just because something is a certain way, that means that it ought to be that way. But that’s basically what natural law theory
does all day long. We look at nature and see that creatures have
strong survival instincts. So from there we conclude that survival instincts
are good. But, are they? I mean, to me, yeah, because it helps me stay
alive. But my survival instinct could also cause me to do all sorts of things that look immoral to other people. Like killing you and crawling inside your still-steaming body, tauntaun-style, to stay alive in a blizzard. Not that I would do that, but just for example. Likewise, we can observe the existence of sex drives and conclude that reproduction is good. But, sexual drive can also fuel terribly immoral
things, like sexual assault. And for that matter, is reproduction always
good? Is it something all beings have to do? Am I sinning if I choose never to have children? And what about bodies that can’t reproduce? Or people who don’t want to reproduce or
have partners that they can’t reproduce with? Thanks, Thought Bubble! As you can see, for all it has going for it, natural law theory can pretty quickly open some big ol’ cans of philosophical worms. Which might be why 18th century German philosopher
Immanuel Kant thought we needed a better option. Which we’ll consider next time. Today, we learned about natural law theory,
as proposed by Thomas Aquinas. We studied the basic goods and the way instinct and reason come together to point us to the natural law. We also discussed some problems with the theory, in particular, the is-ought problem advanced by David Hume. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of the latest episodes of shows like Blank on Blank, Braincraft,
and Coma Niddy. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these awesome people and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.

83 Comments

  • Neo Smith

    Natural Law is inherent and cannot be taken away – it is innaliable. Just because you do not believe in it, it does not mean it is not there. Natural Law will always catch up and punish you for the bad behavior. Some may call this karma, but nonetheless, it is true. Seek the middle ground, stay within moderation, and do not be assholes to each other, and world peace could be accomplished. If only about 5 billion people would just adhere to the basics of goodness.

  • Ercan Er

    Well, Kant was trying to disprove utiliterianist movement and their "hedonist" approach on morality. They were making an overly big assumpiton that "the core and very principle of morality depends on utility", Kant argued that before building a morality concept (and a law system according to it) we must first really look at what can be a real "morality principle?", categorical impreative was all about this. What can be identified as moral foundation for any of us?

  • jffrydsr

    I feel many childhood churchgoers who transitioned out of religion had the same general thought; I recall thinking in bible study as an 11-year-old, "how do the kids in Haiti born to voodoo practicing parents have a chance at heaven? Am some of us just as damned as they are; why?… now I can thank my mind for being able to reason what I believed rather than accept it.

  • LaLa Land

    Real Natural Law is not a theory.  Hidden yes, but theory, no.  It is what has governed the consequences of our individual and aggregate human behaviors since the beginning.  Our lack of discovering, learning, adhering to, and teaching its two sacred principles is the reason we are in the post-apocalyptic, morally relativistic, chaotic mess we are in today.

  • Danica Peña

    This might probably be the weirdest comment here but he seriously looked like Steven Rogers – healthier and thicker version with a bit of lines

  • Xavier Smith

    Aquinas was pretty good. When I first learnt about him as a teenager I thought it was BS because he believed in god, but I can now see that he was right about most of the theory even though he was wrong about god.

  • alex hood

    "We are born to shun ignorance" from what i experiences it seems to be the opposite we humans want to be stupid and ignorant, minus me of course

  • Satvinder Bindra

    I don't understand the concept of God as it is not natural & doesn't come automatically to human mind. And what kind of extra works we do in the pretext of God.

  • Opinunate ted

    Natural law is not an idea that started with Aquinas. It started with Plato and Sophocles, back in Ancient Athens.

  • Bernard Walsh

    When you oversimplify Aquinas's theory you simply do an injustice to scholarly thought and our search for truth. Your example of seeking life at the expense of another in a blizzard distorts Aquinas. Please revise this video.

  • Loepeck

    I’m starting to hate my philosophy lessons more and more. It just seems so pretentious. These men thought they were so profound, intellectual and important by spending their days thinking about unsolved mysteries of the universe, sure themselves that they alone hold the answer to everything.

    Just can’t get my head around it. Why should anyone care about existence? You were born, so you exist, you will die and no longer exist. It’s nothing to dream about seriously just get on with life!!

  • danballabani

    The rebuttals mentioned here by Hume and others is just silly. Like Aquinas didn't think of those "problems". The German and French philosophers are not only very difficult to read but they're wrong

  • Overbelaste Belastingbetaler

    7 natural laws

    The Principle of Mentalism

    The Principle of Correspondence

    The Principle of Vibration

    The Principle of Polarity

    The Principle of Rhythm

    The Principle of Causality

    The Principle of Gender

    -Hermes Tristmegistus

  • KENNY BANDA

    The Bible, at Job 38:33, refers to laws governing the entire universe. People who accepted that enlightened view were protected from superstition.

  • Charissa Bayadog

    i like your discussion a lot. i only got to the maximum of 5 minute listening capacity but if topic is interesting i can stay an hr or more.

  • Carlos Parra

    So Sartre believed that we are all born with a God-shaped hole inside of us but at the same time we would never be able to fill it? what an unfulfilling and tragic way of thinking. Poor bastard.

  • purplepaintpot

    John Finnis has some interesting things to say about the is/ought problem. I was convinced by his argument against this objection.

  • David Niggemeyer

    Natural Law doesn't have any supposed "flaws", but rather is based on the assumption or belief of a Creator God with a system of morality & ethics, of which, atheists & agnostics reject in deference to their utopian social order that they wish to establish without God. The Bible predicts a One World Governmental System that will persecute the Church and pervert God's justice to satisfy their flesh & tickling ears or what sounds good to them vs what is actually right.

  • Marsworld

    Took my professor 3829374329347 days to explain this and yet I understood this in 9 minutes on youtube in the comfort of my bed…

  • vkorchnoifan

    But suppose we wonder about "dangerous, stupid stuff". We might even be come ignorant and/or careless about "dangerous and stupid stuff "? Suppose we explore philosophies about meaninglessness and purposelessness, we might think that since we have no meaning in this universe, it all a joke, then could we become ignorant and careless about "dangerous and stupid stuff" ? I think yes !! Hell, we might think that if we are going to die shouldn't we take everyone with us ? Mass murder become us. A negetive injunction against life ? Who wants to reproduce ? We should only care about ourselves not others. Isn't life totally without meaning anyway ? Lets have a war against ourselves, If it doesn't have a heart beat kill, no, if does destroy it. Who cares ?? Hatefulness is good, anger is joy, drugs are more meaningful, it causes sensations that leads us to hate ourselves more.

  • Millan Ferende

    Even if you don't believe in God, there can still be natural law. 2+2=4 is a natural law. Cooperation achieves more than aggression is a natural law. It's just there, it just is. These are laws we live under. So I think we can still accept and follow natural law, even without having to believe in whatever.

  • Varkman

    On 4:31 minutes there's a quote by Thomas Aquinas (about the bible, and why it's unnecessary in order to understand the natural law). I'm curious if he really said this, so I've tried to confirm this quote, but I can't find it anywhere. Could you please provide the source for this quote? Thanks in advance!

  • Erick Romero

    Do not kill? No. Its DO NOT MURDER. Killing is permissible within Natural Law if you are defending your right to life. He/she whom is trying to violate yours has forfeited theirs. That's how real Natural Law works

  • Gideon Boyle

    Why don't people follow natural law all the time? Because the universe is infinitly complex and mankind is finite and even if a person can make the proper sacrifices to he will inevitably, tragically be overwhelmed by this infinite chaos and die. Of course we don't do it, the question should be, "why does anyone ever try to do it at all! -JP

  • Michael Hopcroft

    We seem to be seeing an argument against Natural Law being an inherent trait for humans in the growth of the number of people who are in fact embracing ignorance and viewing the word "educated" as a pejorative, as if too much learning makes one less trustworthy (presumably because they've "learned all kinds of tricks" to fool them. A similar trait would be those who base their worldview entirely on one set of ideas (in many cases religious, although political totalitarians are similar) and loudly discard any other source of knowledge or the ideas of those who seek other sources. In effect, the shun all ideas but those they are comfortable with and demand everyone else do the same.

    It also seems to contradict Natural Law to do things like leap onto a grenade on the battlefield on an impulse, exchanging certain death for the knowledge that you've saved the lives of the rest of your squad. Self-preservation as a primary good seems to fall short in that situation.

    So it appears that "obedience" to the Natural Law is a trait that is not really inherent but must be taught. Which does not make living by its basic principles invalid, but does mean there are ethical systems — ALL ethical systems — are skills that must be learned deliberately. And it is not merely possible but almost obligatory to teach these systems.

  • Danilo Pie

    You sound like you know natural law but i think your lacking some knowledge…. To really know natural law google or YouTube Mark passio natural law… Very in-depth lecture…. 8hrs long…. If you really want to know natural law…

  • Libs Hate Montesquieu

    Those are very weak arguments against natural law. Natural law is the most moral and logical concept ever devised by man. Everything else especially from Germany is simply resentment and tyranny disguised as morality.

  • ECRWriter

    Hi Hank! This video had a lot of useful information for my thesis, but I'm trying to figure out how to cite some of this info and/or where I can find the original source material. Should I contact the script writer/consultant?

  • Patz13

    God's law is written on everyone's heart. (Romans 2:15) People violate the natural law because they want to. People want what they want ….even when it is fattening, dangerous, illegal, harmful or immoral.

  • Shawn Damkani

    Now the next question why do people feel the need to follow others , out of fear all these governments rule through violence, NOT NATURAL LAW , sad & unfortunate.

  • Eleazar L. Magariño

    There is nothing divine in Christianity! Christianity is a pagan idol worship Roman imperialist agenda for domination, extermination and control of all those who disobey the Caesar.

  • ECWnWWF

    things I've learned from Mark Passio – Natural Law is not a "theory", Natural Law is absolute and you are bound by it, whether you believe in it or not.

  • Bird Up

    The only problem with the concept of "God" is that you can't create a universe, or even exist, without energy and matter to begin with. It is impossible to have God without a universe, which is why the idea that God created the universe is nonsensical.

  • kiarash kh

    one subject in philosophy doesn't include everything if you want to know all of your answers you should go for law and rules. that is make us human and not animals. and the best rules are the ones that God made for you.

  • glen gravell

    The problem with natural law is; some cancel out others and others enforce some AND we don't know what they all are BUT considering that every law seems to need two sides or two meanings or two applications for two different peoples – I have come to believe that considering the highest probability, we very well, might very likely be living on a Binary star system and wonder what beings, from a trinary or solitary system would look like

  • Two Three

    Natural order has a higher priority to human needs and wants. Avoid offense and shun ignorance. Avoid, because you cannot always. So do not be ignorant on what offense is and how it is used.

  • Random Dude

    Nice to see that there is a lot of quality in your work. I can say with certainty that this is a valuable source of evidence and should be treated as one.

  • W K

    This is the reason why classical liberalism is the only possible moral political system, and why by monarchy and socialism, which do not recognize natural rights and instead collect power in centralized authorities, are inherently immoral.

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