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law

The point of morals is happiness and since law enforces morality, it stands to reason that the point of law is also happiness, which for Aquinas is indeed the case.

Aquinas defines law as "an act of reason planning action to serve the ultimate goal of happiness, specifically the happiness of individuals living in community." (1a2ae, 90, 2)

natural law

Being a philosopher, Aquinas likes to bring things down to their most basic level and he does this in the foundation of his thoughts on law. He says when we figure things out, the first thing we grasp is that things either exist or they don't exist. We recognize we exist, even though we don't necessarily know why (and give the name God to the mysterious cause of our existence). Then he says it's natural for existing, living things to flourish and grow; that's just what life does and it's something we recognize as obvious (i.e., truths that are self-evident). The measure of this flourishing (as we have said) is what he calls goodness; the closer we are to fulfilling our natural potential, the more "good" we are, and this flourishing and fulfillment is what we naturally seek and is what will naturally make us the happiest.

Just as all thought is based on a grasp of being (however mysterious it might be), all action is based on a grasp of good, because action always seeks good as its goal. Aquinas therefore defines law as an act of reason planning action based on the fact that lifeforms seek their own good (i.e., to grow into their own potential). So the primary law, upon which all other laws must be based, is that good be done (i.e., fourishing occur) and evil avoided. This is what Aquinas calls natural law, and this is the third key idea of Part Two of the Summa.

"Since good is grasped as always desireable, the first premise in reason's planning of action is that good is to be done and evil avoided. And on this are based all the other injunctions of the law in us by nature, which command us to do whatever reason, when planning action, naturally grasps to be good for man, whatever man naturally seeks as a goal."

We figure out what makes humans thrive and derive morality and law from that.

Aquinas points out three obvious derivatives of natural law:

1) Stay alive; conserve human life and oppose death.

2) Do whatever accords with our physical nature, which is what we have in common with other animals (e.g., having sex, having babies).

3) Do whatever accords with our rational nature, like "to know the truth about God, for example, and to live a social life." Therefore, this means "avoiding ignorance and not offending those we live with."

Natural law and its obvious derivatives are all well and good. However, it can get tricky when we try and apply them to the particulars, which is what we do when we construct human law.

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"Planning for the general good belongs to the people as a whole or to someone representing them, since those pursuing the goal must do the planning for it."
(1a2ae, 90, 1)

"Tyrannical law, being unreasonable, is not truly law but a breakdown of law."
(1a2ae, 90, 2)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Declaration of Independence

 
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