SMNR: Politics, Law, and Moral Character

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
WED 12:30 - 3:30 pm BAT 1.104


We will consider the ethical foundations of law and politics, focusing on the moral virtues. These are questions not just of law and political science in the narrow sense, but of political philosophy. The approach is partly historical, partly contemporary. Most of our ancestors took for granted that it was impossible to organize a decent political order without a certain kind of character on the part of the citizens and the rulers. Some thought we inevitably get the government we deserve; others thought that certain constitutional devices could ‘stretch’ virtue, so that it might be possible to get a somewhat better government than we deserve (for example, with the help of checks and balances). Not until Hume did it became common to suppose that a well-designed regime is not particularly reliant on virtue at all. On this view, arguably, it should have been easier than it has been to promote republican government in countries that are not accustomed to it. I am primarily an ethical and political theorist, rather than a jurisprude, a historian, or a number cruncher. However, I invite students who identify with a variety of approaches.