Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
The 9th Annual Prophetic Voices Lecture
Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
Location: Higgins Hall, Room 300
Professor George will argue that there are irreducible aspects of human well-being and fulfillment that can be understood and affirmed on the basis of rational (if ordinarily informal and even casual) reflection on data provided by our experiences of such activities as friendship, knowledge, and aesthetic appreciation. These “basic human goods” are the referents of what Aquinas called the first principles of practical reason and basic precepts of natural law. By attending to the integral directiveness of these principles, it is possible to identify norms of morality distinguishing fully practically reasonable choices (i.e., those compatible with a will towards integral human fulfillment, and thus in line with human dignity) from those that fall short of what reason demands and must, therefore, be judged to be morally deficient. George will consider the skeptical (non-cognitivist) challenge to this understanding of morality advanced by advocates of instrumentalist accounts of practical reason, and he will also explore some significant respects in which his neo-Aristotelian (eudaimonistic) approach to moral judgment is both like and unlike utilitarian and other consequentialist approaches, on the one side, and Kantian or purely “deontological” approaches, on the other. In the course of the lecture, he will address the question of religious faith and revealed moral truth in relation to natural law theory and the place of virtues in a comprehensive account of natural law.
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. from Oxford University and his J.D. from Harvard University. George specializes in constitutional law, philosophy of law and political philosophy. He has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the United States Supreme Court and currently serves on UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. George’s writings include In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford University Press, 2001), Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality (Oxford University Press, 1995), and The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002). George is a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal and many other honors, including the Stanley Kelley, Jr. Teaching Award from Princeton's Department of Politics. He was also the 2007 John Dewey Lecturer in Philosophy of Law at Harvard University and the 2008 Judge Guido Calabresi Lecturer at Yale University.