Natural Law, Rationality And The Social Contract

2079 words - 8 pages

Each day, billions of people throughout the world affirm their commitment to a specific idea; to be part of a society. While this social contract is often overlooked by most citizens, their agreement to it nevertheless has far-reaching consequences. Being a member of society entails relinquishing self-autonomy to a higher authority, whose aim should be to promote the overall good of the populace. While making this decision to become part of a commonwealth is usually performed without explicit deliberation, there is a common consensus amongst philosophers that something unique to the human experience is the driving force behind this decision. Contained within this something are highly contested points of debate amongst both past and contemporary political philosophers. Two such philosophers are Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Aquinas. Each of these political writers provide detailed arguments regarding the concept of natural law, the role that reason plays in this law, whether some laws are considered truly rational, and why some people choose not to follow certain principles even when they recognize them to be rational. By analyzing each of these arguments, we will arrive at the conclusion that even though the rational principles that reason provides us can easily be disregarded by the populace, that we can still find a common good within promulgating rational doctrine.
While Hobbes’ and Aquinas’ theories hold the same basic boundaries of recognizing inherent human knowledge, they have different opinions regarding the specifics contained within these boundaries. The foremost difference rests in the concept of natural law. Aquinas sees natural law as the second link in the chain of laws that originated directly from God. The foundation of all law is considered to be eternal law, which is God’s law that governs the entire universe. Natural laws are the laws that humans discovered from eternal laws; Aquinas believed that the primary tool for this discovery was the use of reason. Aquinas believed that God allowed the realization of natural laws to be derived from eternal laws through the rationality that He gave His creations. Aquinas stated that “the natural law is promulgated by God when he implants it in the minds of human beings so that they know it by nature,” (Aquinas, page 16). Aquinas devised that all laws fell into specific categories that were ordered relative to their distance from God’s eternal law. The importance of natural law for Aquinas was found within what it provided to humanity; the guidance from God on what should be considered good or evil. Quoting Romans 2:14, Aquinas noted that “although they do not have the written law, they have a natural law, whereby each of them understands and is conscious of good and evil,” (Aquinas, page 18). This knowledge was twofold according to Aquinas; it provided mankind with the general guidance that God wanted us to follow (the primary percepts) and allowed for the creation of more specific human...

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