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13 - Eternal Law, Natural Law, Natural Rights

Freedom and Power in Aquinas

from Part II - Natural Law Foundations of Human Rights Obligations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2022

Tom Angier
Affiliation:
University of Cape Town
Iain T. Benson
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Australia
Mark D. Retter
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

This chapter argues that Aquinas’ conception of eternal law implies a particular way of understanding human freedom, reflected in his treatment of natural rights. To make this argument plausible, it is necessary to show that Aquinas does endorse some notion of subjective natural rights. While he does not have a theory of natural rights, he does have a working knowledge of the legal norms of his time, including practices of claiming and vindicating natural rights. He accepts, seemingly without question, that individuals can, under certain circumstances, claim something or resist the claim of another on the basis of a natural or divine jus, or right, including most notably a right to material necessities of life, and a right to make decisions for one’s young children. Importantly, these are not just asserted as objective duties; he defends the power of individuals to assert these rights without fear of punishment or coercion, even in cases in which one asserts a right to do something wrong. These aspects of Aquinas’ thought raise illuminating connections between the theological conception of eternal law and an account of natural rights, taking Aquinas’ remarks as a starting point.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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