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Aquinas, Cicero and Augustine have greatly contributed to the concept of natural law and its application in the contemporary society. From their arguments, it is evident that natural law is directly related to the concept of justice and that they are the foundations to good governance. Accordingly, this paper will critically analyze the arguments brought forward by these scholars, show the relationship between natural law and justice and finally point out how these suppositions could contribute to good governance.
Since the beginning of time, humans have existed as social beings who lived together interdependently. However, for a harmonious existence, there was need for laws and rules that defined the extent to which an individual would behave towards himself and others. According to Aristotle, human beings were naturally meant to be political. He argued that humans had a natural affinity for group coexistence and that this could only be facilitated by the availability of a strong government or a leader. One question, though, remains elusive (Taylor, 1997, par. 4). What, actually, is the source of the content of these laws? What makes a given society believe that doing action A is illegal or doing action B is legal? These are the questions that have led to years and years of scholarship with an ultimate focus of determining the content of law. Among those who have contributed greatly are Sophocles, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Cicero. They make their scholarly contribution on the classical natural law theory.
On his part, Cicero purports that Naturallaw is the essence of true law and true law cannot be at loggerheads with nature. It is characterized by universality, consistency and eternity. In addition, commands of natural law call for duty while its prohibitions drive one away from wrongdoing. Despite human efforts to try and limit and alter some part of the natural law, Cicero argues that this is unfair and it is a sin. However, he further argues that trying to change the whole law in its entirety is impossible. This perspective gives insight on what natural law is all about. It is an innate part of a human being and that it calls not for an interpreter. Naturally, an individual is capable of defining and clearly expounding on their meanings. Human efforts cannot force an individual from obligating to their demands. In terms of universality, natural laws cannot portray any discrepancies in one region of the earth to the other. In addition, the law does not mellow or change with time. They remain the same. And that God is overall and is the creator of the natural law (Constitutional rights foundation, 2009, par. 5).
Considering this argument, one factor comes out clearly. Natural law is an innate construction of God and no human being can change it. In fact, any human effort to alter it could result into trouble for the citizen. Bastiat as quoted by Taylor (1997) argue that any possible contradiction between human law and natural laws of morality could lead the citizen to have to make the decision of either “losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” (p. 12). This marks a close relationship between the conceptions of natural law by Cicero and the concept of Justice. Equally, justice is a concept that defies time. It does not mellow after a given period of time. Justice does not have a given human specifications like the due process involved in law. As Hameed (2007, par. 6) quotes the United States constitution, equal justice cannot be denied to any society. This is because justice possesses a quality of timelessness and hence never changes.
Augustine’s contribution towards natural law equally runs towards the same line. He also attributes the wrongness and rightness of human actions to an innate part of the human body. He believes that human beings are prone to sin. This was characterized by Adam and Eve who sinned against God and hence brought into existence the concept of original sin. His conceptualization draws a similarity with Cicero. Just like him, Augustine argues that laws are innate and are created by God. Trying to go against the natural laws within the human body means that one will be trying to defy God’s order of creation and hence, one has to be punished just like Adam and Eve brought punishment to mankind by trying to go against God.
How do scholars view the Concept of justice? One of the greatest contributors to this concept is Plato. He critically analyzed the several concepts that tried to explain justice and comes up with the definition of justice in two perspectives; individual point of view and the social perspective. As an individual, he defines justice as a human virtue. As a concept of virtue, justice is an innate part of a human being and it is responsible for consistency in good deeds. Socially, justice was defined by Plato as “social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good” (Bhandari, 2008, par. 1). Plato makes a definition of justice in the lines of social morals and righteousness.
Plato’s definition of justice gives a clear picture of the similarity between Cicero, Aquinas and Augustine’s conceptualization of natural law. Plato argues that an individual who is just will always live a happy and fulfilled life. He argues that virtues contain an aspect that enables them to harmonize the wellbeing of an individual or a society. Without virtues, this internal aspect of harmonization gets lost and therefore results into a life that is not happy. Naturally, the soul of an individual is destined to play certain roles and perform certain given functions. When these roles are well played, the soul feels satisfied and happy. These functions and roles are virtuous. However, whenever the soul is denied the opportunity to work its roles as expected becomes unhappy and portrays bad working (Bhandari, 2008, par. 7).
Basically, Plato argues that the human soul contains an innate obligation to perform certain functions. Naturally, these functions are virtuous and just. This therefore ascertains the argument by the named scholars above that natural laws are innate. While Plato argues that the soul always wants to perform its functions which are in nature virtuous and just, Augustine, Aquinas and Cicero argue that natural laws develop within human beings and therefore they do not need an outsider to expound. They argue that naturally a human being will have an internal push to behave virtuously. Therefore, within a human being lies a fountain of virtues and justice which Cicero, Aquinas and Augustine call the natural law while Plato on his part calls it justice. Aquinas believes that every man was imparted a sense of reason by God. Through this sense, his actions and ways were to be well defined. He had to use this reason imparted to him by God to make judgment on every aspect of his life.
These arguments concerning natural law and justice are a great source of knowledge about the role of the government. Aquinas, Cicero and Augustine are for the fact that a human being, though with an innate disposition to behave justly, has a weakness that causes him to behave unjustly. They all point out that humans will always want to act towards their own good. This calls for a form of regulator that would ensure that the society operates within the expectations of God who was the creator of the natural law and justice. Aquinas on his part advances the role of the government by pointing out that it should act as the weapon for the common good of the society. He goes further to justify that if the government forgets its fundamental role of ensuring that citizens act within the expectations of the natural law and also ensuring common good for the society, it is the role of the citizens to revolt so that justice is restored.
In conclusion, it is evident that the concept of natural law as advocated by Aquinas, Cicero and Augustine are very similar to the concepts of justice. In both, a human being is created with an internal structure meant to observe a harmonious coexistence within the society. These propositions affirm Plato’s definition of justice. In his argument, he emphasizes on the fact that the soul always operates on certain lines which are virtuous. The baseline is that both natural law and the concept of justice argue that within the human being is a push to do good. This was created by God. However, human beings will sometimes get derailed and start acting towards selfish interests. This calls for a government or leader that would ensure that individuals act in ways that would promote common good. And this forms the foundation of a government.
Bhandari, D. (2008). Plato’s concept of justice: An analysis. Web.
Constitutional Rights Foundation. (2009). Thomas Aquinas Natural Law and Common Good. Web.
Hameed, S. (2007). Concept of justice in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Reading Islam. Web.
Taylor, E. (1997). Natural Law. National Center for Constitutional Studies. Web.