This Article, in honor of John Finnis, evaluates the persuasiveness of one central element of natural law theory – its claim to an objective moral truth discoverable by reason. Although I stand outside the tradition, my interest in natural law theory goes back to my college days. John Finnis, especially in his work Natural Law and Natural Rights, has much enriched my understanding of moral, political, and legal philosophy. Prior to that book, natural lawyers and analytic jurists had little to say to each other; by and large, the members of each group had scant respect for the scholarly endeavors of the other. Finnis made a major contribution to bridging the gap. He drew carefully from the work of his colleagues at Oxford: H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, and Joseph Raz. His challenges to their positions appreciated what they were trying to say, rather than settling for the misleading and superficial sallies that too often mark the critical enterprise. But Finnis did not back off from developing a full-bodied, traditionally rooted, comprehensive natural law theory. In this respect, his endeavor differed sharply from some other modem challenges to legal positivism. Lon Fuller's claims about an internal morality of law, or procedural natural law, and Ronald Dworkin's “naturalism” went only a slight distance
toward the major tenets of natural law as conceived over the centuries. In his book, Finnis defended those tenets, drawing heavily from Aristotle and Aquinas, while relating their basic insights to modem understanding. From the publication in 1980 of Natural Law and Natural Rights, Finnis has been deservedly recognized as the leading proponent of natural law theory within the Anglo-American legal academy. Many legal scholars continue to reject that approach out of hand; but insofar as natural law commands the attention of scholars Who are not themselves natural lawyers, it is largely thanks to Finnis. That is a major contribution to jurisprudential and moral thought.
Law | Natural Law
How Persuasive Is Natural Law Theory?,
Notre Dame L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/3500