Advanced Topics in Philosophy, Law, and Rhetoric
167 | CCN: 24931
The Law of Morality
Instructor: Nancy Weston
Mon. 2:00pm-5:00pm, Dwinelle 223 ///
This course in advanced topics in philosophy, law, and rhetoric proceeds as a philosophical seminar, taking, each term, a different path of inquiry into the philosophy of law as it reveals itself in diverse ways and places. This term, we shall undertake to think on the nature of law by way of inquiring into its relation to right – a question going to the core of law’s essence and possibility.
Yet to do so we must look away from the prevailing contemporary understandings of law, asking instead after right as such: to morality, in its capacity to obligate apart from considerations of legal compulsion. For it has become an unquestioned truism of modern legal thought that law and morality are distinctly separate, and not to be “confused”; this, indeed, is the bedrock premise of the widely prevailing modern account of law.
And yet law’s relation to right has historically been understood as essential to law, even synonymous with its lawfulness. It is in modernity that law, right, and their relation have undergone increasing scrutiny, strain, and change, such that law has come to be understood as a matter of power and its force and effect, while the idea of right has evanesced, remaining only as subsumed and conflated with rights: claims advanced for law’s enforcement. Thus folded, already, into the understanding of law as a matter of compulsion and constraint, even ‘right’ – in this modern sense, as rights – has, like law, become detached from obligation as such.
But, without this nexus, the question becomes acute:
What is law? How is it lawful? How does it – how can it – obligate us?
The nature of law in its relation to right – the question of its lawfulness, as distinct from its efficacy – thus comes into starkest focus when we attend to right, not straightaway as rights, but as the realm of morality, or obligation.
Accordingly, we will not attempt, in this philosophical seminar, to resurrect the bygone debate in legal theory over the sense and warrant of its account of law – a debate, and a theory, now taken as settled, closed to essential questioning. Instead, we shall devote our attention this term to taking up, and giving sustained thought to, that account’s excluded other:
What is the nature of morality? How is it obligatory? That is:
How does it command our obedience – as distinct from our mere compliance with force?
Attending to morality in its lawfulness – in its standing as moral law – we shall come to contemplate lawfulness as such, as it reveals its essence in the warrant and capacity to command. Correlatively, in contemplating its command of obedience, we shall be brought to reflect upon our own capacity to be so bound and commanded: to abide in, with, and under the law – that is, to reflect upon our own lawfulness. And, perhaps, we may yet thereby be brought, as well, to wonder afresh at the nature and essence of law itself: at its lawfulness, its warrant as law.
Prior exposure to philosophy is not required; an openness to its challenges is.
Please note: All students interested in taking this class — whether pre-enrolled, wait-listed, or neither — are to attend the first class meeting, 2-5 p.m. on Monday, September 9.
The course is an intensive seminar; prepared, participatory attendance is obligatory. Students are advised to plan their schedules accordingly.
In addition, students should be aware that wide-ranging collective discussions, often lasting an hour or more, will generally occur weekly during the instructor’s designated office hours. In past classes, students have found these informal but intense discussions to be of substantial help in coming to terms with difficult material encountered in the course. Students are strongly encouraged to plan their schedules so as to be able to attend these sessions.
Readings will include selections from works of Hobbes, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Plato, Aristotle, Mill, and Kant.