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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Natural Law



Do all the acts of the virtues belong to the law of nature?


It seems that not all the acts of the virtues belong to the law of nature:


Objection 1:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 2), it is part of the notion of law that it is ordered toward the common good.   But as is especially clear in the case of acts of temperance, some acts of the virtues are ordered toward the individual’s private good.  Therefore, not all the acts of the virtues fall under the natural law.


Objection 2:  All sins are opposed to some virtuous act or other.  Therefore, if all the acts of the virtues belonged to the law of nature, then, as a result, all sins would seem to be contrary to nature.  But this is said specifically [only] of certain sins.


Objection 3:  All share in those things which are in accord with nature.  But it is not the case that all share in acts of the virtues, since something that is virtuous for one person is vicious for another.  Therefore, not all the acts of the virtues belong to the law of nature.


But contrary to this:  In [De Fide Orthodoxa] 3 Damascene says, “The virtues are natural.”  Therefore, virtuous acts likewise fall under the law of nature.


I respond:  We can speak of virtuous acts in two ways:  (a) first, insofar as they are virtuous and (b) second, insofar as they are acts of certain kinds considered in their own proper species.
Thus, if we are speaking of the acts of the virtues insofar as they are virtuous, then in this sense all the acts of the virtues belong to the law of nature.  For it was explained above (a. 2) that everything toward which man is inclined in accord with his nature belongs to the law of nature.  But every entity is naturally inclined toward action which is appropriate for it in light of its form, in the way that fire is naturally inclined to give warmth.  Hence, since the rational soul is the proper form of man, every man has a natural inclination toward acting in accord with reason—which is just to act in accord with virtue.  Hence, in this sense all the acts of the virtues belong to the natural law, since the faculty of reason proper to each man dictates by nature that he act virtuously.
By contrast, if we are speaking of virtuous acts in their own right, i.e., insofar as they are considered in their own proper species, then in this sense not all virtuous acts belong to the natural law.  For many things done in accord with virtue are such that nature does not incline one toward them in the primary sense; rather, it is through reasoned inquiry that men have discovered these things to be, as it were, advantageous to living well.


Reply to objection 1:  Temperance has to do with sensory desires for food and drink and sexual pleasure, all of which are ordered toward the common good of nature, just as other matters pertaining to the law are likewise ordered toward the common moral good.


Reply to objection 2:  By ‘nature of man’ one can mean either (a) those things that are proper to man, and in this sense all sins, since they are contrary to reason, are likewise contrary to nature, as is clear from Damascene [in De Fide Orthodoxa] 2; or (b) those things that are common to man and the other animals, and in this sense certain specific sins are said to be contrary to nature; for instance, sexual intercourse between males is contrary to the sexual union between male and female, which is natural to all animals, and is in a special sense called a vice contrary to nature.


Reply to objection 3:  This argument has to do with acts considered in their own right.  For in this sense, because of the diverse conditions men find themselves in, it happens that some acts are virtuous for some people in the sense of being proportioned to and suitable for them, which are nonetheless vicious for others in the sense of not being proportioned to them.





I-II, q. 90, The Essence of Law

I-II, q. 91, The Different Kinds of Law

I-II, q. 92, The Effects of Law


Eternal law

I-II, q. 93, Eternal Law

Natural law

I-II, q. 94, The Natural Law

Human law

I-II, q. 95, Human Law

I-II, q. 96, The Force of Human Law

I-II, q. 97, Changes in Human Law

The old law

I-II, q. 98, The Old Law

I-II, q. 99, The Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 100, The Moral Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 101, The Ceremonial Precepts of the Old Law in Themselves

I-II, q. 102, The Causes of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 103, The Duration of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 104, The Judicial Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 105, The Nature of the Judicial Precepts

The new law

I-II, q. 106, The Law of the Gospel, called the New Law, in Itself

I-II, q. 107, The Relation between the Old Law and the New Law

I-II, q. 108, The Contents of the New Law