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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Spring 2008

GOV 335M • Natural Law Theory-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39280 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
GAR 0.132

Course Description

Don't let the title scare you off. "Natural law" means moral law -- fundamental moral principles that are built into the design of human nature and lie at the roots of conscience. Historically, natural law thinking provided the basis for talking about all those things that have become 'hot button' issues in the contemporary culture wars. If you wanted to talk about the relations between men and women, you talked about natural law. If you wanted to talk about marriage, you talked about natural law. If you wanted to talk about abortion, you talked about the natural law. Natural law thinking starts from what the mind can know about these things by reasoning alone, not from the authority of revelation. The founders of our own republic believed in the natural law -- in universal and "self-evident" principles of justice and morality that the Declaration of Independence called "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God." For generations, Americans took the reality of natural law for granted. The Constitution presupposed it; Abraham Lincoln appealed to it to explain why slavery was wrong; Martin Luther King appealed to it to explain why racial discrimination was wrong. You would hardly guess any of this from the present day, because belief in natural law has come to be viewed as "politically incorrect." Nevertheless, the tradition of natural law is experiencing a sort of renaissance, and books about it are pouring off the presses. Is there really a natural law? What difference does it make to society and politics if there is? Is it really "natural"? Is it really "law"? To consider these questions, we will read a variety of influential works on natural law from the middle ages to the present. The readings do include critiques of natural law. Probably, though, most of your liberal arts education has implicitly rejected the whole idea. In this course you have an opportunity to hear the other side for a change.

Grading Policy

Short-answer quizzes (25%). Three take-home essays (75%). Extra credit for analytical outlines.


1) C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. (2) Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law. (3) Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies. (4) Russell Hittinger, The First Grace. (5) Short readings packet available from the UT Copy Center, McCombs 3.136, phone: 471-8281."


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