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Argumentative Essay on Objection to the Natural Law Theory

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If you have ever watched animals in nature, you may have noticed that they tend to behave a little selfishly. That is, they act on their urges without much regard to other creatures. People, on the other hand, are a little different; we care about how our actions influence others. However, we still are a part of the animal kingdom, and thus continue to struggle with animal urges. Fortunately, we have evolved a sense of right and wrong or a sense of morality. This sense has led us to believe in certain values, which in turn have helped us make what we arguably consider ethical decisions. In practice, the matter is not as simple. Being who we are, we have tended to drastically disagree on this sense of right and wrong, and so different ethical theories have tried to propose what right and wrong are, one of which is the natural law theory. According to this theory, every part of the world has a purpose to fulfill, and so, good actions are those that do exactly that; fulfill their purpose. In this paper, I will attempt to prove that the natural law theory is flawed by first explaining its basic tenets, followed by laying out a few of my objections, and finally coming up with a new theory that tries to explain what morality is.

The proponents of the natural law theory look at nature to decide what is right and wrong. They view the world in terms of a teleological worldview; all parts of nature act for the sake of something, and we are at the heart of that something. To provide an example, rain exists for the sake of plants, plants exist for the sake of animals, and animals exist for the sake of us. From there, advocates of the theory take this natural law, and use it to explain our four natural inclinations; to reproduce, to survive, to be social, and to be rational. It seems easy to speak on the behalf of rain, plants, and animals, but what about us? What is our purpose? According the theory, our purpose is to do whatever is compatible with rationality. In other words, the theory uses the two premises: one, natural is good, and two, humans are naturally rational creatures, to reach the following conclusion: humans ought to be rational. Simply put, a good action is one that brings you closer to fulfilling your purpose, and a bad action is one that diverts you away from that purpose.

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To begin with my objections, I would like to take the second premise and decipher it. To me, claiming that “humans are naturally rational creatures” is more so grounded in idealism than in a real-world phenomenon. When we look at everything going on in the world from raging nuclear wars, to unprecedented rates of poverty, I think it’s safe to say that humans and rationality do not really go hand in hand. Just put on a Lebanese news channel right now, and there goes your evidence. Lebanon at the present, is living -although I could just as easily argue deceased- proof that calling humans “naturally rational” is a bit of a stretch. The theory makes a point out of stripping everything that makes us who we are down to rationality. It could have just as easily said that humans are naturally emotional creatures, or even that humans are naturally ignorant creatures. Self-interest, love, emotion, motivation, hate, rage, ignorance, and instinct are just a few of the things that one could just as easily argue come natural to us as well. This is not to say that we are not rational, because obviously we are, or else we’d still be carving figures on rock walls. But that doesn’t mean that we are “naturally” rational or that rationality is the very essence of who we are. The theory sort of picks and chooses what best serves its intentions. That is, saying humans ought to be rational has a better ring to it than saying humans ought to be emotional, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure any of us can recall an instance of choosing to act on our instincts rather than on our rationality, or letting our emotions get in the way of a rational decision. Victims of domestic violence, for example, take a lot of time to come forward with their stories, that is if they ever really do. Why? Simply because they are blinded by their emotions. They keep holding on to that last string of hope, wishing their significant other might change overnight. This is clearly not following our rationality. How about the times you find yourself following your gut rather than the clear evidence visibly presented to you? We ignore all the signs in favor of our intuition. Many black people, for instance, have been wrongfully accused of crimes by investigators or police officers who would rather be guided by a tingling down their spine than on actual facts or evidence, when all that tingling really is, is racial profiling. History itself is witness to our ongoing acts of ignorance as well, from the trial of Galileo who was killed for believing that the earth was not the center of the universe to the intense massacres of Adolf Hitler. These examples and many more, make it clear that we are not “naturally rational” creatures. Instead, we are naturally rational, emotional, ignorant, loving, selfish, and so on. And all of these characteristics sort of complement and tease out each other to give us who we are, so choosing rationality over everything else is a fault the natural law theory should be held accountable for.

A second objection to the natural law theory can be deduced simply by questioning its results. According to the theory, the natural world is the reference to our actions, and so we are all in the same position as we can all look at nature to decide whether an action is right or wrong. Based on what I’ve just said, the theory makes it seem that this is supposed to be something so intuitively obvious that even rain, plants, and nonhuman animals can manage it. Naturally, I have to ask that if this is the case, why is the world so full of people killing for example? In other words, if it’s as easy as the theory makes it out to be, why are we not following these natural laws? The answer cannot be that we’re not acting rationally because according to advocates of the theory we are naturally rational creatures, so there is definitely an inconsistency here. The theory fails to account for the fact that these natural laws do not present themselves to us. Instead, we tease them out of nature, and so two people can look at the very same natural world and come up with very different natural laws. Let’s say you look at nature and observe that animals have very strong survival instincts and thus conclude that survival instincts are good. Similarly, I too look at nature and observe that animals have very strong survival instincts, but this time I conclude that these instincts are bad as they prevent animals from forming societies, and we, as humans, cannot prosper in this sort of lifestyle. Who has the upper hand here? Is it me or you? I think it’s quite clear that people tend to interpret nature very differently because human behavior is as much shaped by the environment as is the environment shaped by human behavior. In other words, it just doesn’t make sense that we can deduce laws of conduct for human behavior in the same way we can deduce laws of conduct for animals such as whales and dogs… so the theory does not adequately stand.

My final objection is rather a simple one; there comes a time when there isn’t really an obvious “natural” or good thing to do. The most representative example of this notion is a pregnant woman who during her pregnancy finds out she has uterine cancer. If she goes through with the pregnancy she will definitely die and if she puts her life first, she would have to remove her uterus and terminate the life of the growing fetus. Therefore, she is faced with a crossroad, and the natural law theory fails to provide guidance to the right choice simply because it is utterly incapable of doing so. If you go back to the theory’s natural inclinations, you would find that both survival and reproduction are amongst them. So, one might ask, which is more important survival or reproduction? Should we even think about it that way? That is, should we view these natural inclinations in terms of proportionality in the first place? If yes, why? And if not, in which light should we view them? The theory makes a point out of keeping these matters vague, which I find very faulty.

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Argumentative Essay on Objection to the Natural Law Theory. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-objection-to-the-natural-law-theory/
“Argumentative Essay on Objection to the Natural Law Theory.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-objection-to-the-natural-law-theory/
Argumentative Essay on Objection to the Natural Law Theory. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-objection-to-the-natural-law-theory/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Argumentative Essay on Objection to the Natural Law Theory [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-objection-to-the-natural-law-theory/
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