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Classical Jurisprudence

Why should a modern person bother learning about ancient or medieval jurisprudence? Professor Robert George explores the timeless questions about law that were pondered by great thinkers across different times and cultures. The questions are still relevant today for those who want to understand the nature of law and its implications. https://youtube.com/watch?v=ZvNt7--BeVQ


Laws provide people with certain sorts of reasons for action. We make laws for reasons, we don't make them just arbitrarily. And the laws that we make, provide officials and citizens with reasons for doing this rather than that. Law is ubiquitous. We humans seem to not be able to get along without it. Anarchy is not an option for us. The consequences of anarchy are too dreadful, too unthinkable. So we opt for law. In part, we govern ourselves, we govern our affairs in part by law, and that raises all sorts of questions and they are properly philosophical questions. Those questions have been asked from the earliest days of philosophy. Plato gives us in his dialogues, in which of course Socrates features as the gadfly going around Athens, raising hard questions, philosophical questions. Some of those dialogues raise questions about law. The nature of law. The binding-ness of law. The relationship of law to morality, what makes law just or unjust. Plato's last dialogue is called The Laws. And of course, Aristotle, for example, in the Nicomachean Ethics and The Politics, is very interested in the question of law. Philosophical questions about law. The great Roman jurists are obviously interested in law and they're asking philosophical questions, some of the same questions that the Greeks were asking. Cicero, for example, the great Roman thinker, is asking philosophical questions about law. If we move forward to the Christian period, we see Saint Augustine talking about exploring among many, many other things, questions of law. And of course, preeminently in the late Middle Ages, the high Middle Ages, you have Saint Thomas Aquinas, very, very focused on questions of the nature of law. How is the law made? How should it be made? What is the relationship of law to other normative systems, to other concerns? What makes a law just, or unjust? What do we do, what should we do, in the face of unjust laws? Are we entitled simply to break unjust laws? Do unjust laws have no binding-ness for us? Do they not bind in conscience ever, or do they bind sometimes, but not other times? Is conscientious objection legitimate? Under what circumstances, is it legitimate? How about civil disobedience? Is it legitimate or under some circumstance? So law raises all sorts of questions. And look at the great religious traditions in which law figures very centrally. For example, in the Jewish tradition. Much of the great body of debate that is produced by the Jewish tradition is about the law. About how law applies, where it applies, are there exceptions, under what circumstances are there exceptions. The rabbis, and even before the rabbinic period, Jewish authorities are wrestling with philosophical questions about law. The same is true in the Islamic tradition, to cite another example. To the student today - please take this as a point of departure. It doesn’t mean that the ancient and medieval thinkers were right about everything. They weren't right about everything. They were wrong about some things. And of course, since they disagreed amongst themselves, they couldn't be right about everything. But they were asking many, many, many of the right questions and that's 99% of the battle getting the questions right. We won’t reach the right answers if we don’t ask the right questions. And those are questions that illuminate the landscape.

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