HSGL0322-051: “Natural Law:

Reason, Rights, and Justice”

(2 credits)


Fall 2009, Fordham University Law School

Thursdays, 6 pm to 7:50 pm, Room 216


Michael Baur, Ph.D., J.D.

Office at Rose Hill Campus: 718-817-3295

E-mail: mbaur[at]fordham.edu



Brief Course Description:

This course will examine the theoretical foundations and practical implications of natural law theory. Because “natural law theory” is often taken to mean many different things, one of the course’s first aims will be to establish a common vocabulary for identifying and distinguishing the various kinds of natural law theory (e.g., “natural law theory” as a kind of moral theory, as a kind of legal theory, and as a kind of theory about human rights).  Our ensuing discussion will open onto a series of questions that will guide us through the rest of the course: “What is the nature of justice?”  “What are the different kinds of justice and what does it mean to have a right?” “What do rights and justice have to do with one another?”  “What is the nature of law?” “What is the difference between positive law and natural law?”  “Is law reducible to the will of the strongest, or is it the case – as the natural law tradition holds – that unjust law is no law at all?”  “What is meant by ‘the good’ and ‘the common good’?”  “What is the nature, scope, and justification of authority (both legal authority and other kinds of authority)?”  “What is the nature and purpose of punishment?”  “And how are we to make sense of the natural law tradition in light of our contemporary understandings of autonomy, governmental neutrality, and reasonable pluralism?”

The course will not only introduce the classical natural law tradition (based mainly on the thought of Aristotle and Aquinas), but will place this classical tradition in dialogue with contemporary thinkers. The ultimate aim of the course will be to achieve an understanding of the natural law tradition and its relevance for a variety of contemporary legal issues.

The course instructor encourages active participation from students as well as further discussion via the course blog at: http://natlaw.wordpress.com.  Please visit the course web-page for an electronic copy of the syllabus and for links to online texts: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/nl2009.htm

No prior acquaintance with philosophy or jurisprudence is assumed; the relevant concepts will be developed in class.

Take-home exam (with paper option) for law students; term paper for GSAS students.



Required Materials:

— Aquinas, On Law, Morality, and Politics, translated by William P. Baumgarth and Richard J. Regan, S.J. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2nd edition, 2003) [henceforth: OLMP]

— Other reading materials, available online and/or provided by the instructor




(as always, be sure to do the reading before the date for which the reading is assigned)


Aug. 27, 2009  Introduction to the course: Philip Soper, “Some Natural Confusions about Natural Law”

                        (Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/SoperNaturalconfusions.pdf)


Sept. 3, 2009  Justice, Right, and Rights according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 97-129; ST II-II, Q. 57-58 and 61 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Sept. 10, 2009  The Essence of Law according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 10-39; ST I-II, Q. 90-93 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Sept. 17, 2009  Natural Law according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 40-51; ST I-II, Q. 94 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Sept. 24, 2009  Goodness: Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, “Being and Goodness”

                        (Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/StumpBeingandgoodness.pdf)


Oct. 1, 2009  The Common Good: Michael Pakaluk, “Is the Common Good of Political Society Limited…?”

                        (Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/PakalukCommongood.pdf)


Oct. 8, 2009  Human Law according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 51-75; ST I-II, Q. 95-97 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Oct. 15, 2009  Fordham Natural Law Colloquium, 6-8 pm, McNally Amphitheatre of Fordham Law School

                        Speaker: M. Cathleen Kaveny (University of Notre Dame)

Topic: “Seeing and Specifying Basic Rights: Case Studies from the Common Law”

For more information, visit: http://www.fordham.edu/nl

                    To prepare for the Natural Law Colloquium, you may wish to read these articles:
                        (a) M. Cathleen Kaveny, "Imagination, Virtue, and Human Rights" (from Theological Studies)
                        (b) Richard Stith, "The Priority of Respect" (from International Philosophical Quarterly)

Oct. 22, 2009  Some Moral Dilemmas: Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Trolley Problem”

(Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/ThomsonTrolleyproblem.pdf)


Oct. 29, 2009  War, Killing, and Double Effect according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 164-172; ST II-II, Q. 40 and 64 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Nov. 5, 2009  Legal Positivism: Jeffrey D. Goldsworthy, “The Self-Destruction of Legal Positivism”

                        (Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/GoldsworthyLegalpositivism.pdf)


Nov. 12, 2009  Obedience according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 173-189; ST II-II, Q. 104, 60, and 42

(focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Nov. 19, 2009  Private Law and Private Property according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 130-163; ST II-II,

Q. 66, 77-78, and 118 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Nov. 26, 2009  Thanksgiving: University Closed


Dec. 3, 2009  Public Law, Crime, and Punishment: Gerard V. Bradley, “Retribution and the Secondary Aims of Punishment”

(Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/BradleyRetribution.htm)