Agent Centeredness and Natural Law

Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl

in Reason, Religion, and Natural Law

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199767175
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979592 | DOI:
Agent Centeredness and Natural Law

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If an agent-centered ethics is one tied to human nature in a way such that (a) the individual has inherent tendencies towards fulfilling natural potentialities and (b) the completion of that process marks the perfection of the agent and the measure of right conduct, then is there a necessary connection between agent-centeredness and Thomistic classic natural law theory? In addition, is the modern era characterized by the abandonment of this agent-centered focus? We examine the ethical thought of Aquinas and Spinoza and show that the answer to each of these two questions is "no." Agent-centeredness has little, if anything, to do with the ultimate foundation of natural law for Aquinas. In addition, despite his attacks on final causality and hylomorphism, Spinoza's thought includes his own strong form of agent-centeredness. We hope to call into question the easy association of agent-centered ethical frameworks with natural law in the hope of better understanding the role of the agent and the concept of the ‘natural’ in natural law theory.

Keywords: agent-centeredness; Aquinas; conatus; eternal law; immanence; natural law; perfectionism; prudence; Spinoza; transcendence

Chapter.  20655 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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