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

Fall 2004

GOV 335M • Natural Law Theory - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
37300 TTh
8:00 AM-9:30 AM
ETC 2.132

Course Description

The founders of our republic believed in a "higher" law - in universal and "self-evident" principles of justice and morality that are the foundation for both our duties and our rights. When the Declaration of Independence invoked "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God," it was expressing the local interpretation of a much older philosophical tradition called natural law. For generations, Americans took the reality of natural law for granted. The Declaration of Independence affirmed it; the Constitution presupposed it; Abraham Lincoln appealed to it to explain why slavery was wrong; Martin Luther King appealed to it to explain why Jim Crow laws were wrong. You would hardly guess any of this from today, because natural law has come to be viewed as " politically incorrect." Nevertheless, the tradition of natural law is experiencing a rebirth.

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"? We will begin with an influential popular expression of natural law thinking by C. S. Lewis, back up to the classic statement of the natural law tradition by Thomas Aquinas (supplemented by Yves R. Simon), move up to what Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln thought about natural law (supplemented by John Locke and Harry V. Jaffa), then consider a contemporary reformulation of natural law theory (Robert P. George). My own book on the subject is recommended, but not required. The readings include critiques of the whole idea of natural law. Probably though, most of your liberal arts education has rejected it implicitly. I see the matter this way: You've already had the counterpoint, so you ought to have an opportunity to get the point.

Grading Policy

There will be 4 take-home essay examinations (one for each required author) and sixteen short answer format quizzes. Each student's lowest quiz grade will be dropped, and the average of the remaining 15 quizzes will be curved; a weight of 20% will be given to the curved quiz average and to each of the essay exams. Extra credit is possible by writing an extra essay on an assigned question on my own book which is recommended, but not required. The grade for the extra essay will be averaged in with your other essay grades if it raises your average, but ignored if it doesn't. Analytical outlines are collected and checked; they are not assigned letter grades, but failure to do them properly and on time will affect your semester grade.

Excessive absences hurt grades; good class participation helps grades in borderline cases; and I do report scholastic dishonesty.


REQUIRED TEXTS: C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law: Summa Theologica, Questions 90 - 97. Yves R. Simon, The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections. Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis. Course Packet at Abel's Copies RECOMMENDED: J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide.


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