Thomas Aquinas – Jurisprudence Notes

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Aquinas came around the time when the power of the church was declining and concept of secular state was gaining momentum.

  • Aquinas intended to counter this secularism wave through a rational argument.
  • He argued that political state is based on the natural needs of man.
  • The order, as God is responsible for both needs and their satisfaction. state is part of a divine
  • The controlling principles of the universe supplied the ultimate criteria by which human laws must be judged.
  • Aquinas then divided law into further four categories:-

o   Eternal
o   Natural
o   Divine
o   Human

Eternal law

  • Aquinas believed that universe is the creation of God.
  • He argued that since God is rational by nature, the universe cannot be random.
  • Eternal law is divided into two more categories:-

o   Laws that are subject of physical, biological and social sciences and according to which universe functions
o   laws of behaviour that distinguishes right and wrong conduct

  • Eternal law is not knowable as to know eternal law is to know God’s mind and that is not humanly possible.
  • Aquinas illustrated this using example of sun by arguing that we do not know what sun is like but merely an idea from its effects on earth.
  • Since every person is subject to eternal law why there exist wrongdoers. Aquinas gives two reasons:-

o   human beings have imperfect knowledge of the eternal law and therefore are prone to error
o   the eternal law rewards good people with happiness and punishes the bad ones

Natural Law

  • Laws forming part of the eternal law that is followed despite not knowing them.
  • Human beings follow laws of nature such as eat, drink and sleep despite not knowing about the biological functions of human body,
  • Natural law is that part of the moral eternal law that rational human beings understand by their God-given reason, which is denied to physical objects and other animals.

Divine law

  • It consists of the Ten Commandments and other authoritative Scriptures.
  • It is important because:-

o   Natural law only helps in survival to aspire to a higher supernatural end directions are needed which are given in divine laws.
o   Human understanding to interpret natural rule is flawed and may lead to wrong interpretation. Hence, cardinal moral rules need to be prescribed.
o   Human made laws cannot govern direct interior acts.
o   Human laws cannot punish evil all evil without hurting common good. Eg – Cannot ban virtues like lust, selfishness, impatience etc.

Human law

  • It consists of law established by custom or by the legislative acts of the state.
  • Aquinas held that the moral authority for human lawmaking is found in that part of the eternal law which reason reveals to man in the form of natural law.
  • There are two ways in which human law is derived from the natural law:-

o   By deriving logical consequences from the self-evident premises of natural law
o   By determining the way natural law applies to particular types of cases

  • There exists three pre-conditions for the recognition of an enactment as a law at all:-

o   Law is made for the common good
o   Law is made by the whole people or by God’s vice regent for the whole people, who is the monarch ruling by divine right
o   Law is promulgated

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