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Natural Law Theory and the Obligation Not to Destroy Oneself. St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-74). Copyright 2006 Makoto Suzuki. The Aims. Understanding the Different Senses of “(Un)naturalness” and Their Problems Introducing Natural Law theory, esp. its theory of good and bad

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natural law theory and the obligation not to destroy oneself

Natural Law Theory and the Obligation Not to Destroy Oneself

St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-74)

Copyright 2006 Makoto Suzuki

the aims
The Aims
  • Understanding the Different Senses of “(Un)naturalness” and Their Problems
  • Introducing Natural Law theory, esp. its theory of good and bad
  • Considering what implications it has
does unnaturalness make badness
Does Unnaturalness Make Badness?
  • Many religions and philosophers, Eastern or Western, have held that naturalness makes things ethically good, and unnaturalness makes things ethically bad.
  • That is, they hold that something is good (or some action is right) because it’s natural, and something is bad (or some action is wrong) because it’s unnatural.
  • Even now this thought often appears in the debate of many practical issues, such as reproductive technology, genetic engineering (including cloning), abortion, suicide, euthanasia, environmental protection, vegetarianism, sexual role, incest, family and homosexuality. [Imagine how.]
different senses of naturalness
Different Senses of Naturalness
  • There are many possible things they may mean by “(un)natural.”
  • So the arguers first have to specify what they mean by “(un)natural.”
  • Second, they need to show that something’s being natural in that sense explains why it is ethically good, and that something’s being unnatural in that sense explains why it is ethically bad. Otherwise, naturalness does not make things ethically good, and unnaturalness does not make things ethically bad.
different senses of unnaturalness
Different Senses of Unnaturalness
  • Violating the descriptive laws of nature
  • Artificiality
  • Uncommonness or statistical abnormality
  • Being contrary to social conventions
  • Someone’s feeling or thinking negatively
  • Being contrary to the divine order or design
  • Being contrary to the purpose or function of a thing

Natural law theorists holds 7. We are primarily interested in their view. However, to distinguish their view from other superficially similar views, we will first see other senses of unnaturalness in order.

1 violating the descriptive laws of nature
1. Violating the descriptive laws of nature
  • It is not the case that homosexuality is wrong or ethically bad because it violates the descriptive laws of nature. Why?
  • Violating descriptive laws, such as the laws of gravity etc., is humanly impossible. (the quotation from Glanville Williams in Beauchamp, 88)
  • Well, a divine might be able to violate the law and cause a miracle – but a miracle is considered to be good, and not bad at all.
2 artificial as unnatural
2. Artificial as Unnatural
  • It is sometimes said, for example, killing, e.g., suicide or active euthanasia, is wrong because it intervenes with the natural course of action (while letting someone die, e.g., passive euthanasia is permissible because it just let nature to take its course). Further, it is often said that artificial intervention with natural environment is wrong because it is unnatural. (Think also about reproductive technology, genetic engineering (including cloning), abortion etc.)
  • It seems, however, that unnaturalness as artificiality or artificial intervention does not make things bad.
  • Artificial things are often good, and better than natural alternatives. Being an instance of human industry, human interference with nature, or their product is not in itself bad. Without them, we cannot have good medicine, food, clothes, metal products including electronics, art works etc.
3 uncommonness as unnaturalness
3. Uncommonness as Unnaturalness
  • Idiosyncratic persons or things are not always bad, and extraordinarily good persons or things are always rare. For example, geniuses, esteemed scientists, artists, musicians and scholars are not bad, but good, because of their uncommon talents and contributions. Thus, it seems statistical abnormality itself does not make things bad.
  • Commonality in itself does not make things good or permissible. Many humans might tend to be more selfish than to be more altruistic, but this does not make them good.
    • If so, for example, meat eating is common, but it is not good or permissible for that reason. If it is so, it is for other reasons.
    • For another example: survival of the fittest is that living things with traits fitter for one environment have the high probability of leaving more descendents in that – but not other – environment. (“Fit” does not mean “strong” or “intellectual” – many traits of roaches have been fit for past environments.) This statistical normality alone does not justify eugenics, or the relationship between humans or animals where some hold down or decrease the population of others.
4 unnatural as being contrary to social conventions
4. Unnatural as Being Contrary to Social Conventions
  • Being contrary to social conventions, for example, not driving on the right side of lane in the US, is often wrong.
  • However, it seems that this is not because it is in itself morally wrong, but because of other reasons, e.g., putting someone in danger.
  • In fact, there have been morally repugnant social conventions, which require slavery, racial segregation etc.
  • Thus, unnaturalness as being contrary to social conventions fails to make actions wrong.
  • If so, for example, deviating from socially conventional sexual or familial roles or conventional sexual codes is not wrong for breaking conventions; if it is wrong, it is so for other reasons.
5 someone s feeling or thinking negatively
5. Someone’s feeling or thinking negatively
  • Perhaps people mean by “unnatural” just that they think or feel negatively of the person or activity in question. If so, can it be the ground for negative ethical judgments about them?
  • It seems that the answer is no. In the past, many people feel negatively of the Jews, of Black people’s dating with While people, and of women’s working outside. However, the negative feelings do not seem to justify negative ethical judgments about them, let alone Holocaust, lynch or any discrimination.
  • Then, negative feelings against homosexuals or homosexual activities do not make them bad or wrong.
6 being contrary to the divine order or design
6. Being contrary to the divine order or design
  • One may take “unnatural” to mean “contrary to the divine order or design.”
  • Provided that such a order exists and it is a good one, being contrary to the divine order seems bad.
  • However, it is hard to discover which action is contrary to the divine order. Presumably we know this from religious texts. However, this brings us back to the difficulties haunting the use of religious texts: plural religions, disagreements about interpretations, etc.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas holds that what is unnatural and hence bad for someone is indeed contrary to the divine order or design. However, he thinks that even without appealing to religious texts, by use of reason people – even pagans and atheists – can discover what is natural, good and right. Let’s look at his approach.
7 unnatural as being contrary to the purpose or function of a thing a being or its organ
7. Unnatural as being contrary to the purpose or function of a thing (a being or its organ)
  • This is the view that St. Thomas Aquinas and other natural law theorists take.
  • Two tasks for those who make this suggestion:
  • It is at first unclear what the “purpose” or “function” of non-artifacts means, and hence what purpose animals or their organs have. Thus, if someone says that something, e.g., homosexuality, is contrary to the purposes of human beings or their organs, he or she needs to specify what “purpose” means. Otherwise, this charge is vain.
  • Further, it must be shown that acting contrary to the purposes in the specified sense makes one’s way of life bad for him or her, and/or makes some use of the organs wrong.
the first interpretation of aquinas
The First Interpretation of Aquinas
  • Aquinas is often taken to derive the purposes of animals or their organs from the empirical facts about the hereditary inclinations characteristic of their species.
  • Ex 1. Spiders hereditarily spin webs; therefore, they have the purpose of spinning webs. (Thus, it is good that spiders spin webs well and bad that they fail.)
  • Ex. 2. Crocodiles chew animals with their teeth; therefore, their teeth have the function of chewing animals. (Thus, it is good that their teeth chew animals well and bad that they fail.)
  • Ex. 3. Humans have an inherent inclination to know; therefore, they have the purpose to know. (Thus, it is good that humans know well and bad that they fail.)
3 problems 1 why species and not individuals
3 Problems: 1. Why Species and not Individuals?
  • There are hereditary differences between individuals in one species. For example, it seems that while Ted Ginn, Jr. is destined to excel in sports or athletics, Makoto is hereditarily doomed to be nerdy.
  • Then, why do you insist that inherent inclinations characteristic of a species determine the purposes of each and every individual?
  • Why don’t you think the inherent traits of an individual determine the purposes for that individual?
3 problems 2 are hereditary inclinations so definite
3 Problems: 2. Are Hereditary Inclinations So Definite?
  • Are hereditary inclinations characteristic of humans definite enough to determine specific functions of them or their organs?
  • The inherent characteristics of humans might be too indefinite to determine specific functions.
  • For example, Aquinas holds that (the preservation and promotion of) subsistence, procreation, knowledge and sociability are the functions of human beings and hence intrinsically good while their destruction or hindrance is intrinsically bad. However, do humans hereditarily have the inclinations to live, procreate, know and socialize?
  • The worry is that these inclinations, and almost all others, might not be hereditary characteristics of humans, but be shaped by conditioning, training, culture and education.
3 problems 3 failure of derivation
3 Problems: 3. Failure of Derivation
  • More fundamentally, the empirical facts about hereditary features alone do not seem to imply the functions or purposes.
  • Apparently problematic traits, e.g., tendencies to be selfish and aggressive, might be hereditary inclinations characteristic of human beings as a species. If so, should we conclude that it is our function to be selfish or aggressive and that it is bad to be altruistic or non-aggressive?
    • About suicide: some say that we have an hereditary inclination to destruct oneself. If this is true, is it partly good to destruct oneself?
  • If not, we cannot automatically derive the purposes of species members from the hereditary capacities and inclinations of the species.
the second interpretation of aquinas
The Second Interpretation of Aquinas
  • Many recent interpretations holds that Aquinas does not derive the purposes of animals or their organs from the empirical facts about the hereditary inclinations characteristic of their species.
  • Instead, he taken to hold that only by use of rational intuition on the empirical facts, we can see what development of which hereditary inclinations the functions or purposes of a species.
  • This view has replies to the 2nd and 3rd problems.
    • Even if humans only has indefinite hereditary inclinations, we can know by intuition what function for them to serve: subsistence, procreation, knowledge, and sociability.
    • Even if humans have hereditary inclinations to be selfish or aggressive, we can know by intuition that they do not indicate any functions or purposes of humans.
rational intuition and disagreement
Rational Intuition and Disagreement
  • There is disagreement over the functions of humans as species even among people who hold this type of view.
  • As we see, Aquinas holds that subsistence, procreation, knowledge and sociability are the basic functions of humans.
  • Contemporary Natural Law theorists John Finnis’ list of basic functions includes not only subsistence, knowledge, sociability but also play, aesthetic experience, practical reasonableness and religion; procreation is not a basic but derivative function.
  • It is unclear how this sort of disagreement can be resolved by appeal to rational intuition.
natural laws and individual good
Natural Laws and Individual Good
  • According to Natural Law theorists, (the preservation and promotion of) these functions or purposes of humans are good for any individual human being, and their destruction and hindrance are bad for any of them.
    • Because they universally hold, they are called “laws”.
  • That is, even if a human does not desire or value subsistence, knowledge, sociability, procreation etc. with full acquaintance of them, these are her purposes and good for her, and their destruction or hindrance is bad for her.
    • This means that it is bad for you if you risk your health (e.g., suicide), not study at all, not make friends, not make children etc., even if you do not care about them at all.
continued
Continued
  • Further, even when a human desires or values something with full acquaintance of it, if it is neither on the list of basic functions and nor a means to achieve them, it is not good for him.
  • Conversely, even when a human wants to avoid something with full acquaintance of it, if it is not detrimental to the basic functions, it is not bad for him.
some practical implications
Some Practical Implications
  • If subsistence is a basic human function, shortening one’s life is bad for him or her. Then, suicide and euthanasia are at least partly bad for him or her even if he or she desires it with full knowledge of what it involves.
  • If procreation is a basic human function, not making and bringing up one’s children or preventing one from doing so is bad even if he or she does not want to have children at all.
    • Will homosexual behavior, masturbation, contraception, oral sex, sex for mere pleasure etc. be bad for someone?
    • It will be if but only if it prevents the person from procreation.
    • On this respect, this view differs from the thought that if one uses his or her sexual organ in a ‘deviant’ way, i.e., a way different from procreation, it is bad for him or her.
    • This latter view is more implausible in that human organs, e.g., hands, legs, mouths (with teeth) and brains, can be used in various ways that are not bad for anyone. Mouth has a use for eating, but it also has uses for talking, licking stamps, blowing bubbles etc., and none of them is bad for anyone.
natural law theory pde and obligations
Natural Law Theory, PDE and Obligations
  • The previous explanation of Natural Law theory focuses on what is good or bad for a human being.
  • What determines the rightness and wrongness of actions? According to Natural Law theory:
  • An action is obligatory if and only if both (1) failing to perform the action would hinder or destroy a good for someone, and (2) the failure cannot be justified by the Principle of Double Effect.
    • Is keeping away from suicide, assisting suicide or euthanasia obligatory? (How about alcoholism, drug addiction and smoking?)
  • An action is recommended if it promotes a good for someone and a bad for nobody.
a practical implication on paternalism
A Practical Implication on Paternalism
  • Natural Law theory tends to justify paternalism more often than the theories that takes more individualistic views on what constitutes good or bad for someone.
  • Paternalism is the intervention with another’s choice or action without the person’s consent for his or her benefit. (Beauchamp, 98-9)
    • E.g., suicide prevention, the doctor’s not letting his or her patient die against the patient’s will or forcing certain operations, forcing introverts to socialize, etc.
  • The reason is that certain things (subsistence, knowledge, friendship etc.) are good for any person even if he or she does not want it, and we should promote and not destroy the good.
assignments
Assignments
  • Read the rest of Beauchamp, “Suicide” and Rachels, pp. 34-44 & pp. 50-4 of “Euthanasia”
    • It is optional to read Rae Langton, “Maria von Herbert's Challenge to Kant”. (This piece is moving.)
  • One-page comprehension paper is due on Thursday.
    • What are the three standard definitions of suicide? What are the problems for each of them? In your own words restate what Beauchamp says.
    • You do not have much space to illustrate the points by examples. Explain all the relevant points concisely.
  • Start thinking about the topic of your essay paper. Because the paper is only about 7 pages, the topic must be narrower than “the permissibility of abortion (euthanasia, suicide etc.)”.