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Module Specifications..

Current Academic Year 2023 - 2024

Please note that this information is subject to change.

Module Title Natural Law Theory
Module Code TP528
School 59
Module Co-ordinatorSemester 1: John Murray
Semester 2: John Murray
Autumn: John Murray
Module TeachersJohn Murray
NFQ level 9 Credit Rating 10
Pre-requisite None
Co-requisite None
Compatibles None
Incompatibles None
Coursework Only

This Christian Ethics module aims to introduce students to the natural law and natural law theory. It explores how natural law theories of ethics have developed over the centuries beginning with Ancient Greek and Roman writers. In particular, it considers the work of St Thomas Aquinas and his various interpreters on natural law ethics, with detailed attention to the ‘new natural law’ theorists Germain Grisez and John Finnis and their critics. It explores how the natural law approach is related to other philosophical and theological approaches to ethics, such as hedonism, utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, divine command theory and proportionalism, as well as non-cognitive approaches to ethics. It explores how a natural law understanding of ethics, which is philosophical, can be specified and developed in the light of divine revelation and grace, and thus become a theological ethics, giving particular attention to the place of God and Christ in natural law theory for Christians. It examines natural law theory also in Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic perspectives. It asks the question of whether a natural law approach to morality, law and politics is still valid in the modern and post-modern world. In consultation with students, it applies a natural law approach to selected specific moral issues in some detail.

Learning Outcomes

1. 1. Outline how and why natural law theory has developed over the centuries and identify who were the main thinkers in this development and how they contributed to it.
2. 2. Demonstrate detailed knowledge and critical understanding of natural law theory in itself as well as in comparison with other philosophical and theological ethical theories
3. 3. Argue clearly an ethical point of view drawing on the insights of a number of natural law thinkers and apply coherently a natural law approach to specific moral issues.
4. 4. Critically evaluate the place of natural law theory in the world today.

Workload Full-time hours per semester
Type Hours Description
Lecture24No Description
Assignment Completion100No Description
Independent Study126No Description
Total Workload: 250

All module information is indicative and subject to change. For further information,students are advised to refer to the University's Marks and Standards and Programme Specific Regulations at: http://www.dcu.ie/registry/examinations/index.shtml

Indicative Content and Learning Activities

Natural law and natural law theory/theories. What is ethics? What is ethical theory?

The beginnings of natural law theory in ancient Greek and Roman writings.

The Bible and the natural law – the Fathers of the Church and natural law theory.

St Thomas Aquinas and Thomism.

Natural law and other ethical theories (hedonism, utilitarianism, deontology, etc.).

Recent developments – the ‘new natural law’ theory of Grisez, Boyle and Finnis.

Natural law and theology: God, Christology, grace and nature, Christian virtue ethics.

Protestant approaches to natural law theory.

Jewish and Islamic approaches to natural law theory.

Applying natural law theory to specific issues.

What place is there for a natural law approach to ethics today?

Assessment Breakdown
Continuous Assessment100% Examination Weight0%
Course Work Breakdown
TypeDescription% of totalAssessment Date
Essay5000 word essay100%n/a
Reassessment Requirement Type
Resit arrangements are explained by the following categories;
1 = A resit is available for all components of the module
2 = No resit is available for 100% continuous assessment module
3 = No resit is available for the continuous assessment component
This module is category 1
Indicative Reading List

  • Charles, J. Daryl: 2008, Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. USA,
  • Cunningham, Lawrence S.(ed.): 2009, Intractable Disputes about the Natural Law: Alasdair McIntyre and His Critics, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IND, USA,
  • Doe, Norman (ed.): 2017, Christianity and Natural Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK,
  • Emon, Anver M.: 2010, Islamic Natural Law Theories, OUP, Oxford, UK,
  • Finnis, John: 2011, Natural Law and Natural Rights, 2nd, OUP, Oxford, UK,
  • George, Robert P. and George Duke (eds.): 2017, The Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Jurisprudence, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK,
  • Lewis, C.S.: 1987, The Abolition of Man [1943], Collins/Fount, London,
  • McDonagh, Enda and Vincent McNamara (eds.): 2009, An Irish Reader in Moral Theology, Vol. 1: Foundations, Columba, Dublin,
  • Novak, David: 2008, Natural Law in Judaism, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK,
  • Pinckaers, Servais: 1995, The Sources of Christian Ethics, 3rd, Catholic Univ. of America Press, Washington, DC,
  • Zaborowski, Holgar (ed.): 2010, Natural Moral Law in Contemporary Society, Catholic Univ. of America Press, Washington, DC,
Other Resources

Programme or List of Programmes
MATHWRMA in Theology & World Religions
MPTPMPhil (Theology, Philosophy & Music)
TPPMMaster of Arts

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