The theory of “Natural Law” first originated in Ancient Greece. Many philosophers discussed their own views on natural law, as it played an important part in Greek government. Some of these philosophers included St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Hobbes. For Aquinas, natural law exists in the individual’s conscience, opposing to Hobbes belief that individuals had limited access to virtue, and therefore needed to be coerced into doing good by the state. Throughout their views of natural law, each is vital to show an idea of how human beings and the government should function in the world.
In the book Classics of Western Moral Theory, Aquinas states that “Law is a measure of action by which one is led to act or refrain” (Aquinas, 69). The idea of natural law is that moral ideals are derived from the nature of humans; as well as being given to a higher being, God. Through natural law, Aquinas believed that a citizen is not bound to obey an unjust law if he can do so without harm or causing turmoil. He also believed that positive law originated from natural law.
Initially, Aquinas believed that natural law has important precepts. He believes that the primary precept of law is, “ good is to be done, and evil to be avoided ” (Aquinas, 70). For Aquinas, anything that individuals do is thought to be done with goodness. Through this, positive law is really contained within natural law. Natural law is determined by human nature and the inherent qualities within us, while positive law is determined by the will of the individual. The two also differ in regards to when something is determined as wrong.
Under natural law, it is wrong when it is against reason or morals, as opposed to be wrong simply because the law says so under positive law. Within natural law there is room for discernment and choice, yet under positive law there is no room for choice, it is merely a matter of do as told. Natural law is based upon human nature and actions, whereas positive law could nearly be called artificial and not related to human nature at all. There are also four minor precepts: procreation, education of children, living in society, and worshipping God.
Secondly, Aquinas strongly believed that it is necessary to have private property under natural law. Aquinas believes that private property is not a contradiction of natural law because reason derives the benefits of private property. “we do have a natural property right over external things, since we have reason and will that can turn such things to our benefit”(Aquinas,73). In some circumstances there is an unequal distribution of property between individuals. However, in this case, the goods used must be in common to serve the common good.
Private property also encourages responsibility and a peaceful state. Men take better care of the things that they posses than the things that are held in common by all or many others. Therefore, it is more beneficial to have private property use. Most importantly, Aquinas saw private property as a way for man to take better care for what he was given in the state of nature.
Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand, had a completely different view of natural law, then of Aquinas. In his work, Leviathan, he states that, “ A LAW OF NATURE” is a Precept, or general Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved”(Hobbes,78). Hobbes believes that individuals are looking to escape from the state of nature and war by looking towards peace. In order to obtain peace, Hobbes looks to individuals using reason, which enables them to respond to Hobbes three fundamental laws of nature.
It is through these laws that man can seek peace and to enable man’s natural right to all things, providing that others will do the same. Hobbes argues that the first law of nature is that each person should seek to live with others in peace. The second law of nature is that each person should only retain the right to as much liberty as he or she is willing to allow to others. The third law of nature states that it is not enough simply to make contracts, but that we are required to keep the contracts we make.
Government was created, according to Hobbes, to protect people from their own selfishness and evil. Hobbes believed in the rule of a king because he felt a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. It is because the people were only interested in promoting their own self-interests, Out of the various forms of government, Hobbes believed that there must be some common power in order to enforce the laws, because it was Hobbes fear that human’s hunger for power would always be a threat to the contract.
Hobbes concluded that there must be some sovereign authority that was created by the people, as part of the social contract that would be authorized to punish anyone who broke the rules. “So that the nature of Justice, consistent in keeping of valid Covenants: but the Validity of Convents begins not but with the Constitution of a Civil Power, sufficient to compel men to keep them: and then it is also that Propriety begins” (Hobbes, 81). There still remains an important part for the social contract theory to become effective.
According to Hobbes the main focus surrounding the central government was on an absolute sovereign. He stresses the idea of absolute sovereignty citing that if power over the commonwealth were to be divided only chaos could result. Hobbes writes, “if the essential rights of sovereignty . . . be taken away, the commonwealth is thereby dissolved, and every man returneth into the condition, and calamity of a war with every other man, which is the greatest evil that can happen in this life; it is the office of the sovereign, to maintain those rights entire” (Hobbes,85).
Therefore, the sovereign dictates the law, which, in turn, provides the foundation for morality. Therefore, what is in accordance with the law is deemed morally right, and what opposes the law is morally wrong. This theory gives way for criticism if the sovereign is unjust. Thus, Hobbes counters this by stating that the sovereign cannot be unjust. Ultimately, Hobbes believed that the government was preferable than social chaos, especially under an absolute sovereign. Nevertheless, both Aquinas and Hobbes have set forth interesting views on natural law.
Even though many of their ideals differed, their end result was the same; the common good of the people. Even though they may differ on how this plan works, they are able to identify with the essential need for reason in a man’s life: for it may be obtaining goodness or finding peace. Thus, their beliefs have shown how we as a race are able to better ourselves through the tools of reason and government. Sources J. Narveson, ed. , Classics of Western Moral Theory: An Anthology of Original Texts in Philosophical Ethics, University of Waterloo, Version 1. 3, 2001.