Law, Politics, and Philosophy

Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. Contact:


By Michael Jhon M. Tamayao, Ph.L., M.A.

I. Introduction

Life is not an absurdity.[1] Denying this assertion means affirming the insignificance and meaninglessness of our existence. Human consciousness is not a curse. It is an awareness of how significant and purposeful life is. And by saying this, the mind insists rationality and order.

Ethics begins with this realization; it is its ultimate presupposition, or even its ultimate principle. Remove it and you will create a whole new brand of ethics. Like the other fundamental sciences, ethics originated from an intrinsically significant question about our human existence; from questions like, “Where do I come from and where am I going?,” “What is the significance of my life?” Because of the gift of “consciousness”, man sought for the meaning of his very existence. What must he do to live a good and meaningful life? These basic questions of life are the main problems that preoccupy the science of morality or ethics.

Many great minds attempted to give a systematic, coherent and complete account about these fundamental questions about life. Among them were the Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, Medieval thinkers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and Modern thinkers like Kant and Bentham.

This principle of reason does not only apply to the movement of human life; it also applies and is even more evident in non-sentient beings. Trees exist for the purpose of giving life to oxygen-dependent organisms. Animals, both the prey and the predator, exist for the purpose of maintaining the ecosystem. From the motions of the celestial bodies down to the movements of the minute atoms, there is always an order that pushes everything towards a significant end. For both the sentient and non-sentient beings, there are laws that govern them.

The present paper will try to elucidate on this topic – the laws, specifically on the natural law. Man lives for his end, which must necessarily be good. The paper will discuss how the natural law and its precepts present themselves as the path towards that good. This will also highlight the uniqueness of this law from other laws. Because of freedom, man has the unique capability to deviate from the law. But the laws are not there for nothing. The conscience pushes man to continually be guided by these laws.

II. The General Notion of Law


We often think of law as a rule formulated to describe the natural tendencies of things. The Law of Inertia for example is a formulation of the natural tendency of physical objects to stay in their present direction or state until they are acted upon by an opposite force. Or the law prohibiting man to kill is also a formulation of man’s natural tendency to preserve life. In short, the reality of law is based on the nature of the thing on which it is implemented.

The nature or essence of a thing could be defined as that which makes the thing what it is. It is also the intrinsict worth and natural tendencies of a thing. It is universal, inasmuch as it applies to each and every individual possessing it, and transcendental, inasmuch as it goes beyond and is not limited by any individual object. An individual chair, for example, has the nature of being something to sit onto. Its nature governs what it is and what it should be. When the chair is no longer used for sitting, it forfeits its nature, which is also tantamount to saying that the chair seized to be what it is.

Things are as they are because they follow their nature. Or simply, they are as their nature. From this we could infer that the nature of a thing is itself its “law”.

Everything has an “end”[2] suited for its nature. The end of the chair is to be something used for sitting, the knife for cutting objects, and the pen for writing. They will not be what they are if they deviate from the end of their nature. If the ball-point of the pen becomes defective, the pen eventually loses its function and seizes to be a pen; it becomes a trash. Or by reason of human intervention, a pen forfeits its nature if it will be used as an instrument for killing. Briefly, the reality of something lies in the observance of this natural principle that nature must function according to its end.

This is not however a sweeping metaphysical explanation done out of our arbitrary choice to make things simpler. The laws are universal and transcendental. They exist independently of the existence of the human mind. They are not formed after the mind’s need to have a systematic view of the cosmos. Rather the mind is formed after them. Newton’s Law of Gravitation, for example, is not in itself “made” by Newton because it precedes the mind of Newton. The nature of an object thrown upward is to fall, not because Newton says so, but because it is the “objective” truth about the thing. To put it simpler, we do not “make” laws, we only “discover” them.

The nature of something also underlies the order of movement of that thing. Nature is the orderly flow in the existence or life of a physical or moral being. Since the law is the nature of objects, the law is itself a “guide”, an orderly path, imposed on the physical or moral being in order for them to achieve their fullness.

The Christian philosophers however developed this view into something “theistic.” For them the order found in the cosmos cannot simply be confounded in nature itself. By virtue of causality, the orderly cosmos must necessarily have an intelligent designer. Just as the complex mechanism of a watch cannot simply be explained through the orderly mechanism of the gadget, so is the orderly universe (cosmos) cannot simply be explained through the orderly mechanism of nature itself. It is only through a radical reference to an intelligent designer that the order can be fully explained. For the watch, man is the intelligent designer; and for the universe, it is no other else than God Himself. As the ultimate governor of the universe therefore, God is ultimate lawgiver and the source of all laws.


According to St. Thomas, law is an “ordinance of reason, promulgated for the common good by the one who has charge of a society.”[3]

As an ordinance, the law is an objective guide which is so patterned after the natural course of movement of things. Hence, it is an ordering in reference to the end of an object or individual. And as an ordinance of reason, the law is something that is objective, permanent, useful, and good.[4] In being objective (that is, in being a “true account” of something), the law must necessarily be “just” and “honest.” Any law that does not give an objective account of something or someone is an untrue, unjust, and dishonest law. An untrue and unjust law is not itself a law.

A law is relatively permanent because it is discerned by reason as something universal and transcendental. The law is not a product of man’s arbitrary will but the “discovery” of his reason. Man discovers truths about God’s plan and providence.

A law is also something promulgated to its subjects, that is, it must be made known to those bound by it. Inanimate objects governed by physical laws “know” these laws simply by “doing” them. Man, who has free will and reason, “knows” these laws through the use of the said faculties. In man, it is not however the case that “knowing” is “doing” like that in inanimate objects. Knowing and doing are two separate operations for him.

A law is promulgated for the common good, This is based from the fact that laws are someone or something’s nature. Nature, as we have said, is the order which is weaved towards an end or purpose. This purpose or end is good because it “perfects” the very being of someone or something. Since men share the same nature (because nature is universal), an authentic law promulgated on men also means a guideline that leads men towards the good each of them share, i.e. the common good.

The law is promulgated to a society. This is indicated by the idea of common good, that a law must reflect the “commonality” in the nature of men. Law sustains order not only within an individual, but also the extrinsic interconnections of peoples and things.

The ultimate “one” (person) who has charge for the society is the one who has supreme authority to say “what is right.” Man can be a legislator because, by virtue of his reason, he has the ability to know what is right from what is wrong. But definitely he cannot be the ultimate legislator of the universe. Only a Supreme Being endowed with an immeasurable wisdom can promulgate a perfect law that guides and order the whole of creation. Only a God knows what is “best” for the “universal” society.

It is important to note however, that law in its strictest sense (i.e. as it applies in ethics), pertains to the norms of “conduct” provided by reason that tells us, in reference to the good end, which action are good therefore to be performed and which actions are evil therefore to be avoided. Law as studied in ethics is limited to norms governing “free actions” of man.

Before going to the Natural Law, let us first have a brief discussion of the eternal law.


Law could also be seen as a path programmed in each creature. For the non-living creatures, including the animals and plants, a definite path is laid down for each and everyone of them. But for man, who is endowed with will and intellect, the path is as convoluted as the streets of Manila. However, whether determined or free, the different paths lead towards each creature’s destined ends.

The eternal law can be viewed as the master plan that maps out all the different paths taken by all creatures in the universe. This plan is enacted and promulgated by no there else than God Himself, the ultimate source and master planner of creation. He eternally plans and directs the universe toward an end, which is also Himself.[5] This eternal law emanating from His Divine Wisdom is all-encompassing; it extends to all acts and movements in the universe. As St. Augustine says, the Eternal Law is the Divine Reason and Will commanding and directing everything to follow and preserve the natural order and to refrain from disturbing it.

The eternal law “determines” everything. It is the reason why objects follow the tendencies of their nature. The scientific laws give us a glimpse on how this Divine plan works. Stones fall after being thrown upward, plants grow with proper nourishment, brutes follow their instincts, and even celestial bodies follow a certain pattern of movement. Everything moves according to a certain order. This order maintains and balances the cycles of life and death, potentialities and actualities from the beginning of the world’s conception in the Divine Mind up to its end and final union with its Creator.

But even in this system governed by the eternal law, aberrations happen. Because of freedom and intellect, man may refuse the direction planned for him by the Eternal Law. He possesses “consciousness” which allows him to evaluate the course of his actions.

Man’s nature is a hegemony of rationality. This gives him power over the lower parts of his nature (physical). Physical laws for example dictate the body to eat in order to preserve its health, but rationality may push it not to eat in order to reach a higher good. Such movements done out of rational will are called “human acts.” In matter concerning human acts, the Eternal Law is not “necessarily” followed. While other creatures don’t have any choice about this matter, man has the “choice” whether or not to follow it. In other words, the eternal law directs man by suasion and not by necessity. Take note, however, that although man can be a law unto himself, the eternal law is still objectively present and ingrained in his very nature. There is a law which guides him in doing his natural tendencies, namely the natural law, in order for him to achieve the fullness of his nature. The Conscience is the instrument of God to continually guide him despite his power to choose whatever he wants.

III. The Natural Law


There are many definitions given to the concept of “natural law”. Frequently, natural law is equated with the “laws of nature”, meaning the natural order that governs the changes and movements of the physical or material universe. Sometimes, it is meant as the law which designates the instincts and emotions common to man and lower animals, such as instinct of self-preservation, procreation, and love of offspring. Although the idea of “laws of nature” is very near, its strictly ethical application is a rule of conduct prescribed to us by God in the very constitution of our human nature.

According to St. Thomas, the Natural Law is “nothing else that the rational creature’s participation in the Eternal Law.”[6] Although man is master of his own conduct, he cannot simply be a lawless being in an ordered universe. Yes, he can vary his actions as he pleases but as a creature of God he too has a law laid down for him, a law that also participates in the Divine ordination and directive for all things. This law, which God has prescribed for his conduct, is found in his very nature, so that it underlines all his natural tendencies. His compliance to this law will eventually lead him to his destined end. Thus all actions that conform with the law is to be morally right, and those at variance with human nature are immoral or evil.

It is important to note that the moral or natural law is not “necessarily” followed by its human subjects. Unlike in the case of irrational beings wherein the law must necessarily be followed, the natural law is only “ought” to be followed. Meaning to say, it “should” be followed but the moral agent “may not choose” to follow it.

Moreover, the norm of conduct reflects the whole of our nature and not only some part of it. This means that the norm of conduct is so arranged according to the structure of our whole human nature, with its manifold relationships moving towards a special end. There is a rational harmonious subordination of our lower faculties to our higher faculties. Reason as found in the law maintains this hierarchy in case there are conflicts of tendencies and desires. Nourishing our bodies, for example, is good because it satisfies the tendencies of our physical and sensible nature. But it forfeits its authority if it subverts the spiritual well-being of a person. Reading books is good because it develops our rational faculties. But it becomes bad if it disregards all the other parts of human nature which in the end will result to failure of the whole person. Lying in obviously bad because it breaks the very basis of community. Man is a social being, and lying will disrupt the smooth exercise of his social nature.

Now the natural law is also said to be the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law because it is in here that man, in his own finitude, knows and understands the eternal law. (The rational creature’s understanding of the eternal law is the natural law.) Unlike the irrational creatures which only partakes of the eternal law by way of action and passion, man partakes of the eternal law also through knowledge. In short, the natural law, more than just being a Divine medium to rule man, is something pertaining to the Divine gift of human reason; of man’s natural ability to reason and discover truths about his acts and end. It is in this venture that man is said to participate in the image and likeness of God.

So why is the law of human conduct called “natural”? The answer is already evident – it is set up concretely in our very nature and it is manifested to us by the natural medium of reason.

The Natural Law can thus be analyzed now according to its constituent parts: the discriminating norm, the binding norm, and the manifesting norm. The Discriminating Norm as discussed above is the human nature itself. It is the norm laid down by the Divine hands on the basis of which the good and bad are classified. Human nature, however, is only the “proximate” discriminating norm. The ultimate discriminating norm and the supreme ground work of all created work is the Divine Nature. The Binding or Obligatory Norm, which imposes upon the rational creature the obligation of living in conformity with his nature, is the Divine Nature itself. Many scholars argue, as the Kantians did, that only reason as the conscience is the only moral authority which directs human conduct. But looking at it more deeply, what the reason dictates about our nature ultimately conforms with the universal order established by the Creator. Conscience is thus said to be the mouthpiece of the Divine Will. And Lastly, the Manifesting Norm, which determines the moral quality of actions, is reason. As the manifesting norm, reason manifests (lets us perceive) the moral constitution of our nature, what actions it calls for and what actions it abhors.


So what is the “content” of the Natural Law? This must necessarily reflect the eternal Divine ordination. Radically, the natural law consists of only one supreme and universal principle from which all our different moral obligations and duties are derived. Catholic moralists, though agreeing with its underlying substance, gave their own fundamental formula for the natural law.[7] Among these formula are: “Love God as the end and everything on account of Him”; “Live conformably to human nature considered in all its essential respects”; “Observe the rational order established and sanctioned by God”; “Manifest in your life the image of God impressed on your rational nature.” However we can take Aquinas’ formula for the reason that it is the simplest and most philosophical. According to him, the first principle, from which all other principles and precepts are derived, is that good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided.[8] This is based on the fact that the good is the central object of practical reason, that is, of reason acting as the dictator of conduct.

The problem is that the “good” is so elusive. No one can by acting simply pursue “good”; he can only pursue it in particular instances. Thus the good is experienced as an individual good and not as the good in general towards which all are destined. And Aquinas holds that there are a variety of things that we know immediately, by inclination, to be good and thus to be pursued. This included life, procreation, knowledge, society, and reasonable conduct.[9] On the basis of these immediately knowable goods, “primary principles” (in contrast to “secondary” ones) are identified. Primary principles include precepts like “Thou shall not kill,” “ Thou shall not commit adultery,” “Adore God,” “Take care of your offspring,” “Commit yourself to the truth,” “Love your neighbor,” etc.[10] Those under the category of secondary principles are conclusions and precepts which are only reached through more or less complex course of inference. Because there is uncertainty in knowing these precepts, positive laws (Human and Divine) are supplemented.

The precepts could also be classified according to its vigor and binding force. Primary precepts, on the one hand, are those whose observance is “necessary” in “maintaining” the moral order, both in the individual and in the society. The second class precepts, on the other hand, are those whose observance adds to the “perfection” of the moral order, but is not absolutely necessary to the rationality of conduct. For example, the precept that prohibits killing is a primary precept because its observance is necessary in maintaining the social moral order. Many Human positive laws (laws of the state), on the other, are examples of secondary precepts.

According to St. Thomas, the good is prior to the right. This means that a right action is logically posterior to the good that is primarily intended by practical reason. If an action leads us to the good, then it is right, but if it diverts us, then it is evil. But this is not to say as long as the action leads to the good then it is right (as the utilitarians propose). For Aquinas, a right action should be spotless (not “intrinsically flawed” as St. Thomas states) because it is “the” path towards the good. Aquinas however did not give a master list of all the intrinsically spotless actions man should take. But he gave us criteria to evaluate the rightness of the action. This includes objects of our actions, their ends, the circumstances surrounding them, and the intension of the agent. [11] Every individual act must conform to these criteria for it to be right. A single flaw in the action will render it at once wrong.


We could highlight two important qualities of the natural law: first, it is “universal”, and, second, it is “immutable.” The natural law is universal because it applies to the whole human race, and is itself the same for all. By virtue of our human nature, we are all the same despite our differences. Since natural law, as was said, is our human nature, and human nature is universal, then the natural law is universal as it applies to each and every man.

The Natural law is immutable because it is founded in the very nature of man and his destination to his end, which in themselves are grounded in the immutable nature of the eternal law. As long as man persists, the natural law will never stop governing him.[12] The natural law maintains its authority everywhere and always.

We must remember, however, that the law can be expressed in different formulae but in the condition that the legislator retains the essential meaning of the law. The immutability of the natural law is not relinquished by the multiplicity of the formulas expressing it. Its essence remains despite the “accidental” changes in its formulation.

The law “Thou shall not lie” is one way of expressing a primary moral precept that forbids the concealment of truth from duly concerned individuals. But sometime we are justified to “lie” to people for safety purposes. We didn’t break the law “Thou shall not lie” in here because we did not conceal the truth from a “duly concerned individual.”

So far, what we have been discussing is the “Paradigmatic” Natural Law theory. It has a definite list of views that, if incomplete, renders the natural law theory “Non-Paradigmatic.” By way also of summarizing our previous discussions, we will now enumerate the list of views taken by the paradigmatic theory:

(1) the natural law is given by God; (2) it is naturally authoritative over all human beings; and (3) it is naturally knowable by all human beings. Further, it holds that (4) the good is prior to the right, that (5) right action is action that responds nondefectively to the good, that (6) there are a variety of ways in which action can be defective with respect to the good, and that (7) some of these ways can be captured and formulated as general rules.

IV. The Conscience


We usually see the conscience as an intrinsic element in the human soul that continually guides and pushes us to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, and praises or condemns us after the action. For this reason, we call the conscience the mouthpiece or voice of God in us. If we are to situate conscience in our discussion of natural law, it is the instrument used by God to persistently persuade man to be what he planned him to be, as a part of the Divine ordination. Conscience guides the free will of man; without this guide man is just a bohemian roaming aimlessly in the universe.

The popular culture depicts this religious view very well. It portrays the conscience as the angel standing on the right shoulder of the moral agent that persuades him to do the right thing. Not following the command of the “angel” means agreeing with the “devil,” who stands on the left shoulder of the moral agent. Following the angel means acquiescing with the “voice of God”, and disobeying the angel means disrupting the Divine order that is sanctioned by the devil.

There are differing views about the meaning of conscience among the various scholars and thinkers. It is no longer an exclusive topic for ethics and religion. It has also been a topic of interest for disciplines like ethology, neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary psychology. For the latter group of disciplines, conscience is just a function of the brain that evolved to facilitate reciprocal altruism within societies. Segmund Freud, one of the great minds in psychology, proposed that conscience is a human phenomenon that originated from the superego through early childhood rearing. These views may look very plausible but they are nonetheless insufficient in explaining the phenomenon. The empirical sciences reduced conscience into a mere coping mechanism of humans, and in a way, the same with human instinct. This reduces man into just a highly evolved animal whose conscience is not really an instrument for “moral” order but only for the “physical” order. Freud’s account, on the other hand, although very much akin with the Christian notion of conscience, reduces consciences into a human faculty whose existence is grounded in the society’s standards (environmental influences) and therefore arbitrary and conditioned.


In Moral Philosophy, we usually adopt St. Thomas’ definition of conscience. This is due to the simplicity, clarity, and philosophical worth of his definition.[13] For him, conscience (conscientia) is the application of moral principles from synderesis or synteresis to our individual human activities.[14] Or simply, it is acting out what is laid down by synderesis. The notion of synderesis is very important in the discussion of conscience not only for St. Thomas but also for the thinkers who preceded him.

The Latin word synderesis came from the Greek term suneidesis, which is indefinitely related to phronesis (prudence). These two concepts (suneidesis and phronesis) explain the reality of conscience. In the early stages of Christianity, synderesis was view as a “supernatural phenomenon,” a Spirit Who groans in man,[15] the Spirit who alone knows what is in man,[16] a power in the soul that lets us soar like an “eagle”.[17] However, it was Alexander of Hales who leveled synderesis into something which is innate in the human soul, thus, not something which is “supernatural” as a Spirit who dwells inside man. He says that synteresis is a “potential habitualis”, that is, something innate, essential, indestructible in the soul, but also liable to obstruction and bafflement. It is an innate light (lumen innatum) of the intellect that helps the will to achieve its universal goal, which is the good. It is a faculty in the soul that knows the moral “principles”[18] of action. These principles are the basis for evaluating what to do in individual instances. Although it is more on the side of intellect, synderesis is still akin to the human will, inasmuch as it identifies the good to be “willed.” For Hales, conscience and synteresis are the same. The difference is only that the former is more on particular deliberations (Don’t lie to your mother in this situation) while the latter is on wholly general principles (Do not lie).

St. Bonaventure, Hale’s pupil, clarified this distinction by saying that “conscience not only consists in the universal but also descends to deliberative particulars,”[19] meaning to say synderesis is the universal part of conscience. The general principles (synderesis) in the conscience are innate, while particular applications of these principles are acquired.[20] It may even be helpful if we look at synderesis as the instrument for knowing the principles of the natural law (moral law), and the conscience the enactment of these moral principles in individual acts. St. Bonaventure in here adapts St. Jerome’s idea of synderesis as scintilla conscientia (handmaid of conscience) only that it is no longer a supernatural reality in man but an innate faculty in his soul.

But it was St. Thomas who made a very sharp distinction between synderesis and conscience. He places synderesis not in the will but in the intellect, and he applies the term conscience to concrete determinations of the general principles which synteresis furnishes. For him, both conscience and synderesis is a practical judgment, that is, a judgment in reference to something to be done. Both refer to an evaluation of an action whether it be an obligatory, permissible, prohibited or prudent act. These two judgments form a practical inference. The principles of synderesis comprise a part of the premise and the conscience comprises the conclusion. Thus we have the following example:

One should not steal (synderesis)

This situation of getting band papers without permission suggests itself to me as stealing

Therefore, I should not get the band papers. (conscience)

But unlike the logical inference, which is composed of “speculative” judgments, our example in here is composed of practical judgments. The expressed sentences are not “propositional” but, rather, they are “imperatives” or “dictates.” While synderesis is the practical judgment of a “category” of action (Do not steal, Do not kill, or Do not lie), conscience is the practical judgment of our individual acts using the moral principles from synderesis (I should not get the band paper, I should not kill Juan, etc.). Before the action, the conscience, grounding on synderesis, persuades or dissuades us, while after the action, it praises or admonishes us.[21]


Aquinas defines prudence as the ability to judge what is good and bad in a given time and place. For him, it is the most important among the virtues. He adopted Aristotle’s view that prudence (phronesis) is the uniting bond between the intellectual and practical virtues. This is why he also associated prudence with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. This virtue obviously requires a continuous development of our intellect (necessary for developing our intellectual virtues) and at the same time the continuous exercise and application of knowledge in specific circumstances. Prudence then is our means to have a good discretion and decision about our state of affairs.

Prudence sharpens our conscience. It serves in increasing our treasuries of principles in synteresis and in intensifying our zeal and precision in applying these principles. In other words, prudence is the knot that binds together synteresis and conscientia. The lack of prudence may lead into the breakdown of synderesis and conscientia. If we are to refer to the example above about stealing, the middle judgment that unites the first and last is a product of prudent judgment.

Moreover, prudence pushes us to educate our conscience, to act well and align our actions towards the highest good. Remember that although our conscience always leads us to the “good”, this good may only be an “apparent” good. Thus, if it haven’t acquired enough of the virtue of prudence, the conscience may become “erroneous”. This will be discussed subsequently.


There are many states of the conscience. According to Glenn, if the conscience is a judgment in accordance with the fact, that is, when it judges as good that which is really good, and as evil that which is really evil, then it is correct or true.[22] And the conscience that is not true is erroneous. As seen earlier, a true conscience is achieved only through our acquisition of enough virtue of prudence. Moreover, we can classify the erroneous conscience according to the knowledge or fault of the agent as invincibly or inculpably erroneous and culpably erroneous conscience. On the one hand, the conscience is invisibly or inculpably erroneous if it is without the knowledge or fault of the agent. On the other hand, the conscience is culpably erroneous if its error is through the agent’s fault.

Moreover, when the conscience is an altogether firm and assured judgment, in which the agent has no fear whatever of being in error, it is called certain conscience.[23] However, when the conscience is not certain or hesitant because it is aware that there is a possibility of error, the conscience is called doubtful or dubious. In addition, when the conscience is doubtful, but grounded upon solid reason, it is called probable conscience.[24]


According to Catechism of the Catholic Church, man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.[25] Conscience in this sense is the ultimate authority guiding human conduct. If one will be asked to choose between two different acts, he must follow what his conscience dictates. Take note however that the conscience we are talking in here is a “certain” conscience, regardless of whether it is invincibly erroneous or correct.

How about in the case of a culpably erroneous conscience which is certain? This is somehow a dilemma. However, we can give a possible solution in here. Although there is no fault in following a certain conscience in itself, it becomes wrong when the moral agent irresponsibly disregarded the education of his conscience. The teachings of the Church and its authority must therefore be recognized and followed to avoid developing an erroneous conscience. The virtue of prudence is once again highlighted in here.

Moreover, it is not permissible to act while in the state of practical doubt. This is because we are allowing the possibility that an evil act may happen. Practical reason tells us that only a good act is performed and that evil should be positively avoided. Thus we must first remove all our doubts before proceeding in making the act.

V. Summary

The mind insists rationality and order in the cosmos. It insists that there are laws that govern this order; laws that guide each being to fulfill the destined end of its nature. According to St. Thomas, the ultimate law that governs everything from its beginning to its end is the Eternal Law. The eternal law is the Divine Ordination and directive for all creation. God, the ultimate authority, promulgated these laws as part of the nature of each creature. The laws for non-sentient beings, as discovered in the physical sciences, direct all physical movements to maintain balance and natural order. But unlike these non-sentient beings, man has freedom and reason. This makes the laws guiding their natures not necessarily followed. It is only an “ought” and not a “necessity.” This law, which is ingrained in man’s nature, serves as a guide for their action and comprises all the natural tendencies of man towards the good. This law is the Natural Law.

Although he has freedom to choose the course of his actions, Man is not a creature wondering pointlessly in the ordered universe. There is still a beacon that continually pushes him to follow the natural (moral) law which is so patterned after the eternal law. This natural light implanted in his nature is the conscience. It is a moral authority which is ultimately grounded in God.

This traditional view has always been challenged by the relativistic and skeptic view. Relativism and skepticism make everything variable and arbitrary. Under these views, truth is an arbitrary or even illusionary thing that emanates from the mind of men. We must always safeguard ourselves from succumbing to these tendencies of thought. We must preserve the universality of laws, of what is right and wrong. These are not just arbitrary products of the human minds. They are real; they are as real as our flesh and blood.

[1] Jean Paul Sartre could have challenged this proposition. For him, freedom makes life absurd. We are continuously making ourselves into what we are not (things-in-themselves). The universe is not as we think it is. It is just this One undifferentiated whole beyond the categories assembled by the mind. To hold this is to commit ourselves into an atheistic mind-view. Nevertheless, we will only discuss in here the more popular tradition that descended in the Philippine mind set, which is the teleological and theistic view.

[2] The end here is understood, not as the termination or last stage of a thing, but the “purpose” of the thing.

[3] Summa Theologica, IaIIae Q. 90, Art. 4.

[4] Cf. Fr. Raul Glenn, Ethics: A Class Manual in Moral Philosophy (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1968), p. 74. Henceforth, Ethics.

[5] ST IaIIae Q. 91, Art. 1

[6] ST IaIIae, Q.91, Art. 2.

[7] Note that “law” can be expressed in different “formulas” while expressing one and the same meaning.

[8] ST IaIIae Q. 94, Art. 2

[9] ST IaIIae Q. 94, Art. 2; Q. 94, Art. 3

[10] Cf. ST IaIIae Q. 94,Art. 2. The list given by Aquinas is not exhaustive.

[11] ST IaIIae Q. 18, Art. 2-4

[12] Another way of looking at this is that the natural law is part of the eternal law. And in being part of the eternal law, the natural law also becomes immutable.

[13] Although his work inclines towards Aristotelian philosophy, Aquinas’ account gives a more balanced epistemological explanation on conscience as a practical judgment. Unlike the Platonist accounts about conscience, Aquinas did not disregard the importance of sense perception in knowledge acquisition. Moreover, he also clearly delineates the concepts surrounding the idea of conscience that were so convoluted during his time.

[14] De Veritatae, Q. XVII, a. 2.; Cf. ST, Q. Ixxix, a. B; III Sent., dist. Xiv, a. 1, Q. ii; Contra Gentiles, II, 59.

[15] Romans 8: 26

[16] 1 Corinthians 2:11

[17] This is an allusion to St. Jerome’s commentary in Ezech., 1, Bk. 1, ch. 1

[18] By “principle” we mean a knowledge which is apriori, self-evident, and in need of no proof. Using the language of Geometry, Principles are the “postulates” of thinking. From them, we derive the other precepts (theorems) in evaluating individual instances. Synderesis is only concerned with the principles.

[19] II Sentences, dist. Xxxix, ant. I, O: ii

[20] Ibid.

[21] Many thinkers argue about the real nature of the conscience. John Newman and Green, for example, emphasizes on the admonishing or reproving office of conscience. Supporting this is Caryle’s assertion that we should have not observed that we have a conscience if we had never offended.

[22] Ethics, pp. 86-87.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 88.

[25] CCC, paragraph 1782

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This entry was posted on August 22, 2008 by in Ethics.




Tuguegarao City, Cagayan Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. He is currently starting his private law practice. Contact:; Tel. No. 09353343739. PROFILE: Atty. Tamayao is currently teaching law, philosophy and social sciences at the Cagayan State University. He finished his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy degree at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas and graduated in 2005, garnering the highest academic honors in that Academic Year. He pursued Licentiate in Philosophy and Master of Arts in Philosophy degrees at the same university, completing them both in 2007. In 2009, he took up Bachelor of Laws and Letter at the Cagayan State University, where he also teaches. He passed the 2013 bar exams, and now currently taking up Master of Laws and Letters at the San Beda Graduate School of Law.

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