TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 7: Natural Law and the Fundamental Principles of Morality


We saw in chapter three that judgments of conscience are based on principles which the Church calls “natural law.” Scholastic natural-law theory was criticized in chapter four; one of its faults is its failure to ground moral norms in human goods. Proportionalism was criticized in chapter six; while it tries to base moral judgments on human goods, it provides no workable method for doing so.

In chapter five human fulfillment was clarified by examining the goods which fulfill us. With the present chapter, we begin to see what natural law is and how it directs choices toward these goods. Since this account is a product of theological reflection, it commences by considering what the Church teaches concerning natural law. The intent is both to point out the data to be understood and to avoid confusing what is essential to the Church’s teaching with what belongs to theological reflection.

The Church teaches that natural law is the basis for judgments of conscience. As the Church understands natural law, it includes human goods as principles. The first principle of morality directs choices toward integral human fulfillment. The general determinations of this principle—“modes of responsibility”—exclude voluntary limitations of this fulfillment. Choices in accord with these modes are the core of the virtuous character.