Cicero, Aquinas, and Contemporary Issues in Natural Law Theory

Review of Metaphysics 62 (3):491-523 (2009)
This paper contends that the natural law theory of Saint Thomas Aquinas has been inappropriately removed from its foundation in the classical philosophical traditions of Cicero and Aristotle. Critics charge that because it refers to the eternal law, and hence divine revelation, St. Thomas’s natural law theory is not “natural.” The author in reply demonstrates the Ciceronian and Aristotelian—and therefore pagan, naturalist—roots of the Thomistic theory. St. Thomas’s discussion of natural law in the Summa mirrors Cicero’s attempted derivation of natural law from “a rational encounter with objective reality.” Further, St. Thomas’s Summa includes demonstrations that God is the Cause of all objective reality. This truth does not however deny the “naturalness” of human rational consideration of reality, but rather shows that humans internally apprehend an external order which owes its reality to the First Cause of all being. Human reason and natural law thereby necessarily involve a participation in the eternal law. The author concludes that attempts to dissociate Thomistic natural law theory from its Ciceronian and Aristotelian roots lessen the force and persuasive power of the former. The proper approach involves, not an abandonment of the traditional theory, but its further development and its application to present issues
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