From Gift to Law: Thomas’s Natural Law and Laozi’s Heavenly Dao

International Philosophical Quarterly 53 (3):251-270 (2013)
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For Thomas Aquinas, the creator of natural law is a personal, substantial, and relational God. For Laozi, it is an impersonal, non-substantial, self-manifesting dao. There are similarities, and this article will consider several of them. For Thomas, the act of creation comes from God, and for Laozi the giving birth of the universe is from the dao’s unconditional generosity. Thus it is possible to compare the way in which the world-originating generosity of God generates the moral law and the way in which the self-manifesting dao generates the moral law. In Thomas’s view the natural law is the rational participation of the human being in God’s eternal law. Laozi’s heavenly dao governs all things in the universe, and for this reason human beings and their techniques should comply with dao. Thomas emphasizes human freedom of will and the responsibility to pursue what is good and to avoid what is evil. Laozi emphasizes the objectivity of heavenly dao without any reference to human freedom of will or individual responsibility. With religious Daoism there develops the idea of collective responsibility and the divinization of dao, a point that invites further comparative study of Thomism and Daoism



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Vincent Shen
Last affiliation: University of Toronto, St. George Campus

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