Was Thomas Aquinas Wrong?

Sometimes you read something that makes you ruminate about where you stand when it comes to beliefs you recently held dear. This necessarily does not alter your faith in that belief rather intensifies your curiosity and zeal to seek to understand the reasoning behind it. The mere fact that we cannot entirely comprehend some things doesn’t mean they do not exist. Things are known to us through revelation and through the logical arguments put forward that seem to give us incites on things unknown to us for example Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Does it mean that just because we could not fathom what it was before he discovered it mean that it didn’t exist? What about Newton and the law of gravity? What used to hold us down before he discovered it? If he never discovered it, would that mean that something else rather than gravity was holding us to earth? Using the same logic behind this without even purporting to any claim that may be considered biased, just because Thomas Aquinas said that there is such a thing as Natural law doesn’t mean it started to exist when he said it. And even if he did not mention any such thing, Natural law would not cease to exist. As ambiguous as the Theory of Natural law is, is it right to dismiss it? How would we explain those unwritten precepts and principles yet not spoken out loud that guide us? Positive law is not commensurable ground to repudiate the existence of Natural law. Even if it is more obdurate because they have been promulgated.
Are we human because of how we think and rationalise events in our lives or is the way we think and rationalise events what makes us human? What comes first? What sets us apart is the fact that we can think and rationalise our ideas and thoughts unlike other creatures who are also said to exist in a state of nature thus governed by laws of nature. This chiefly is not what Thomas Aquinas had in mind when he talked of Natural law. Laws of nature imply that every creature is meant to adapt to survive. I concur with this notion. But is that what is meant when we talk of natural law? Are we as humans designed in such a way that our happiness is determined by adaptation to survive and that is our mere reason of living? Of course it is essential but is that it? What explains the fact that without any interference from religion or knowledge gained we are disposed to cohabit with our fellow humans and not annihilate them just to survive and if we do, why do we feel guilty? Because of nature? If a lion kills another lion in the name of pride to mark its territory, why isn’t it the same when we do it? Praxeological arguments put forward on the comprehension of human actions establish that man is indeed a rational being who can decipher what he ought to do and that which he shouldn’t. He as well possesses free will and practical reason on top of that.
Natural law is an unwritten law that guides us. It generally inclines us to do good and avoid evil. One may raise the question; what do you mean do good and avoid evil? What is the measure of what is good and what is evil? This takes me back to the epistemological structure of the human mind. We think the way we do because we have practical reason rooted within us as well as rationality. Without them, even the choices we make in small matters would be nonsensical and be incomprehensible. One may then argue out, what has Natural law to do with practical reason and rationality? It is through following practical reason and being rational that we come up with natural law even without purporting to religion or the existence of a ‘God’ as a base for argument, this follows logic thus explaining the basis of natural law. The reason we are prone to make the better decisions without influence from religion as well supports this.
Practical reason and rationale is what we use to establish most positive laws. At least the laws we deem as just. If one agrees with this yet it is through the same practical reason and rationale that Natural laws are derived, then where do you suppose we get the sense that an edict should be as it is and thus lawful to follow? What guides us then to establish positive laws then if they do not arise from a somewhat primordial form of law? Wouldn’t we all live in a state of anarchy if this were true? Humans do not determine what is right and what is wrong. Therefore where does that sense of what should be deemed as right or wrong come from? Morality maybe? But can you really talk of morality without talking of Natural law? If so, where does that sense of what is moral and what is not come from? As much as Thomas Aquinas doesn’t answer all the questions pertaining to Natural law, his perception on what it is, is enlightening and personally it helped me discern what Natural law entails.


Jade Makory