Law, Liberty, and Virtue
The Annual James Madison Program May Conference
Keynote Address by Hadley P. Arkes, Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions, Department of Political Science, Amherst College
What is the proper relationship among law, liberty, and virtue? This question if of vital importance for the free societies of the modern world. For while those societies have clearly dedicated themselves to these lofty principles, it is not at all clear what, precisely, it means to be dedicated to them. The ambiguity arises in part from the very plurality of the principles. Free societies embrace all of them, but which one is understood to be controlling or fundamental? Are all three equally ends to be sought for their own sake, or are some merely instrumental to another, which is then the ultimate good to which the free society is committed? The difficulty is one not only of the plurality of the principles, but of the ambiguity of the terms. Is law to be understood only as the positive law, enacted by recognized human authorities, or does it also involve a conception of a natural law that is authoritative everywhere and always, irrespective of human legislation? Is liberty to be understood as a freedom to do whatever one wants provided it does not harm another, or as a freedom to do only what is consistent with sound morals? Is virtue to be understood as a complete excellence of character that is choiceworthy for its own sake, or as a sociable conduct that respects the rights of others so that one’s own rights may be respected?
Seeking to foster the careful reflection that these issues deserve, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, and the Bouton Law Lecture Fund are pleased to announce a conference on Law, Liberty, and Virtue. The program for this conference includes distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences participating on panels covering such topics as Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue; John Locke and the meaning of modern individualism; virtue, statesmanship, and political culture in American history; the philosophical and theological foundations of new natural law theory; and the contribution to moral and legal philosophy made by Hadley Arkes’s book First Things. These discussions will aim to clarify a number of questions: What are the role of reason and tradition in guiding our thinking about law, liberty, and virtue? What is the role of the statesman in fostering virtue? What constraints are placed on virtuous statesmanship by American political culture, and to what extent can virtuous statesmanship shape culture? Must the natural law rest upon some fundamental theological foundations, or can it rest on philosophical reasoning that brackets the question of God as the ultimate lawgiver? Can law finally be intelligible as a product of human choice alone, or must it be understood as rooted in moral principles that are themselves grounded in the nature of reason and reality?
See Schedule for Full Panelist Listing and Session Times.