Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity

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.  Professor 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. BIO: Dr. Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Founder and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.  He is also a Professor of Politics and an associated faculty member of the Department of Philosophy at Princeton.

He is a member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST).  He has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.  He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.

Professor George’s scholarly focus has been on the dignity of the human person and its implications for moral, legal, and political philosophy.  He is author of Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality (1993), In Defense of Natural Law (1999), and The Clash of Orthodoxies (2001).  He is editor of several volumes, including Natural Law Theory:  Contemporary Essays (1992), The Autonomy of Law:  Essays on Legal Positivism (1996), Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality (1996), and Great Cases in Constitutional Law (2000), and co-editor with Jean Bethke Elshtain of The Meaning of Marriage (2005).  He is co-author of two recent books: Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (Doubleday) and Body-Self Dualism and Contemporary Ethical and Political Controversies (Cambridge University Press).

Professor George’s articles and review essays have appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Review of Politics, the Review of Metaphysics, and the American Journal of Jurisprudence.  He is a frequent contributor to First Things, where he is a member of the editorial advisory board, and has also written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement.

A graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School, Professor George also earned a master’s degree in theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford University.  He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Swarthmore, and received a Knox Fellowship from Harvard for graduate study in law and philosophy at Oxford.  He holds honorary doctorates of law, letters, science, ethics, humane letters, civil law, and juridical science.

On December 10, 2008, at a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Professor George received the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors that can be conferred by the United States on a civilian.  Among his other awards and prizes are the Bradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement, the Philip Merrill Award of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Paul Bator Award of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, a Silver Gavel Award of the American Bar Association, and the Stanley Kelley, Jr. Teaching Award in Politics at Princeton.  He was the 2007 John Dewey Lecturer in Philosophy of Law at Harvard, the 2008 Judge Guido Calabresi Lecturer at Yale, and the 2008 Sir Malcolm Knox Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Professor George is general editor of New Forum Books, a Princeton University Press series of interdisciplinary works in law, culture, and politics.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a Distinguished Visiting Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  In addition to his academic and civic work, he is Of Counsel to the law firm of Robinson & McElwee.