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Law for Aquinas is God and a True Example of Aristotle's Prime Mover
Natural law requires minimal moral content as a prerequisite for viewing something as in contravention of the law, while the positivist school holds that the law is whatever the state (in whatever form that exists) says it is. The concept of the natural law has the advantage of being based on something immutable, though admittedly morality may differ somewhat from one society to another. The concept of natural law was first developed in the Greek world and has been carried through to the present day. There are a number of different approaches to this concept. The Graeco-Roman tradition held that there was a natural law that was accessible to mankind through reason. Christian theorists adopted aspects of Cicero's Stoic philosophy, an example of natural law, because of its emphasis on moral content. The Christian legal philosophy that developed was in many ways a fusion between the fundamental Christian teachings and the adapted teachings of the Stoics. Natural law is the belief that there is a higher law than that of a government and that any law to be written by a government must be compared to and brought into line with natural law. This higher law is considered universally valid, and it is reached or perceived by the application of human reason.
Natural law is derived from a knowledge of the nature of man, and in the Greek world, the study of the nature of man and how it is manifested in the moral, political, and social life of the people begins with the Sophists. They based their view of human nature on their observation of numerous cultures and peoples. The Sophists were relativists in moral terms, arguing "that all moral and political principles are relative to the group which believes them" (Lavine 25).
The idea of natural law would be attributed to the mythical stage of Archaic Man. Later theorists like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Hobbes would envision man in a state of nature, before the creation of the state, and in such a condition the only law possible was natural law. Through the action of reason, human beings became aware of the fact that self- preservation could best be secured if they united and substituted organized cooperation for the anarchy of the state of nature. This was the making of the social covenant Hobbes saw as the means by which each person agreed to hand over to a sovereign the right of governing him or herself, provided that every other member of the prospective society did the same.
Plato would further develop the idea of natural law through the application of reason, following the Sophists in seeing a higher form of law than that passed by governments. For Plato, natural law existed in an ideal state, embodied in the Forms which he saw as the unchanging idea of an object, a state, a concept, with what appears in this world being only a shadow of this ideal Form. Moral terms such as justice refer in this world to approximations of the central and immutable idea of justice. These "moral Forms set the objective moral standards by which human conduct and character should be judged" (Stevenson 30). These absolute standards exist not just for the individual but for society as a whole. The concept of the Forms "can be seen as the culmination of Greek confidence in the intellect and Socratic concern with ethics" (Stevenson 30).
Central to Plato's thought is the power of reason to reveal the intelligibility and order governing the changing world of appearance, with the purpose of creating, at both the political and the individual level, a harmonious and happy life. Living a moral life means living a life of reason, for to live a moral life one must make choices, which means one must apply reason to alternatives and select the best among them. The way Socrates lives his life is the way Plato would have everyone live, with integrity and dedication to principle. The thrust of philosophy from the time of the Greeks has been toward the supremacy of reason and to the idea that reason could be applied to every aspect of human life and interests and could illuminate each of these areas. At the same time, reason was seen as essential in adopting a moral life. For Plato, reason offered "a philosophic vision of a realm of eternal truth, beauty, and goodness above the flux of changing opinion" (Lavine 65).
Aristotle approached life from a more scientific point-of-view, analyzing the compendium of human knowledge to his time to find patterns and meaning beyond mere facts. Aristotle was originally one of Plato's students, but he came to disagree with what he called the "other-worldliness" of his teacher. For Plato there were two worlds, the world perceived by the senses, and the world of the Forms, the ideals of which the objects in this world are only pale imitations. Aristotle disputed this, asking how, if the Forms are the essences of things, the Forms could exist separated from things, and how, if the Forms were the cause of things, they could exist in a different world?
Aristotle made a distinction between form and matter, but he said that these two features of reality could be distinguished only in thought, not in fact. The forms are not separate entities but are embedded in particular things in this world. Every object has both form and matter. Form is universal in that many particulars may have the same form. Form is the thing's essence or nature and is related to its function. The object's matter is what is unique to that object, the object's "thisness," and it stands as the principle of individuation. For Aristotle, reality is composed of a plurality of substances (Lavine 68-72).
At the same time, Aristotle agreed with Plato that everything in this world is striving toward the Good. Aristotle created a teleological system in which everything had to be striving toward some ultimate and concrete perfection that exists as the Telos, or goal. Aristotle called this the Prime Mover, the cause of the universe, not as that which started the universe but as that to which the universe is moving as the Final Cause. It is pure activity, and the activity involved is pure thought.
Aristotle and Plato both saw happiness as following from the human being living a moral life, or living in accord with the moral virtues. Happiness can be identified not as an element in living the good life but as the act of living the good life. Aristotle indicated this with reference to the issue of wisdom, and wisdom for Aristotle meant knowing the good life and how to achieve it. For each art, said Aristotle, there is an end to which the art tends, and the variety of smaller goals along the way are the means to achieve this end. The knowledge of the goal, the chief good, serves as a guide so that we direct our energies toward and achieve the goal. Aristotle argued that not all ends are final ends, for some are the means to other ends. Yet there has to be a final end or the process would be infinite and never reach the good, the chief good that is something final. There can be only one final end, and that is the end human beings are seeking. Identifying what this is requires a consideration of its nature and the nature of competing goals. Happiness, said Aristotle, is such a goal because we always choose happiness for itself and never for the sake of something else. On the other hand, honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose for themselves are chosen for the sake…[continue]
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