HSGL0322-051: “Natural Law:

Reason, Rights, and Justice”

(2 credits)


Fall 2010, 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@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.

Feel free to visit the course web-page for an electronic copy of the syllabus and for links to online texts: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/nl2010.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)


Sept. 2, 2010  Introduction to the course: Philip Soper, “Some Natural Confusions about Natural Law”

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


Sept. 9, 2010  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. 16, 2010  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. 23, 2010  Natural Law according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 40-51; ST I-II, Q. 94 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Sept. 30, 2010  Human Law according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 51-75; ST I-II, Q. 95-97 (focusing on Aquinas’s “I answer that…”)


Oct. 7, 2010  Overview of Natural Law in Aquinas: Michael Baur, from Oxford Companion to Aquinas

                        (Available online: http://www.lawandphilosophy.org/BaurOxfordHandbook.doc)


Oct. 14, 2010  Some Moral Dilemmas: Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Trolley Problem”

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


Oct. 21, 2010  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…”)


Oct. 28, 2010  Natural Rights and Substantive Due Process in U.S. Law: James F. Ross, “A Natural Rights Basis for Substantive Due Process of Law in U.S. Jurisprudence”

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


Nov. 4, 2010  Legal Positivism: Jeffrey D. Goldsworthy, “The Self-Destruction of Legal Positivism”

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


Nov. 11, 2010  Obedience according to Aquinas: OLMP, pp. 173-189; ST II-II, Q. 104, 60, and 42

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


Nov. 17, 2010  Fordham Natural Law Colloquium, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

                        Title of Lecture: “The Natural Law in the American Tradition”

                        (For details, see: http://www.fordham.edu/nl)


Nov. 18, 2010  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. 25, 2010  Thanksgiving: University Closed


Dec. 2, 2010  Public Law, Crime, and Punishment: Gerard V. Bradley, “Retribution and the Secondary Aims of Punishment”

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