The Anchoring Truth that Still Comes as News: The Pervasive Moral Logic of the Law

Oct 15, 2017, 4:30 pm6:30 pm
Arthur Lewis Auditorium in Robertson Hall


Event Description

Hadley ArkesEdward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions, Emeritus, Amherst College; Director, James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding


It seems to come as a surprise for lawyers, as well as judges, to discover that the “logic of morals” is engaged at every turn in the law, from its formal properties to that task, never ending, to test the “justifications” that are offered for any law. The question may be posed then: How have we come to a state of affairs in which most lawyers continue to regard “moral issues” and moral judgments as peripheral to the main business of law, rather than matters that stand at the heart of the law? The problem may be traced back even earlier than Justice Holmes and his hope that “every word of moral significance could be banished from the law altogether.” But if we come to see again the logic of moral judgment that pervades the law, we may then ask in turn: What might come into sight that we hadn’t seen earlier, when the problem is seen through this lens? Or what might we come to see anew, with implications that were always in sight, but never quite noticed?

Hadley Arkes is Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions, Emeritus at Amherst College. He is also the Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding in Washington, D.C., which teaches to lawyers, judges, and students those principles of law that furnished the guide to the American Founders as they set about framing a Constitution. Dr. Arkes was the main advocate and architect of the bill that became known as the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act (2002). He has written seven books, five of them with Princeton University Press: Bureaucracy, the Marshall Plan, and the National Interest (1972), The Philosopher in the City (1981), First Things (1986), Beyond the Constitution (1990), and The Return of George Sutherland (1994). His most recent books have been with Cambridge University Press, including Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (2002), and Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law (2010). His writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, National Review, Crisis, The Catholic Thing, and First Things, a journal that took its name from his book of that title. Dr. Arkes received his B.A. from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Endowed by the late Herbert "Wiley" Vaughan, founding member of the Madison Program's Advisory Council, the Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles is an endowed Princeton University lecture that is hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in the Department of Politics.  Its purpose is to promote and advance understanding of the founding principles and core doctrines of American constitutionalism. 


Lecture Series
The Annual Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles