The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“The Moral Turn”–Hadley Arkes in First Things

We share with you Prof. Arkes’s latest piece in the May 2017 print edition of First Things titled, “The Moral Turn.”

“The argument in the piece is largely drawn from an ongoing topic of discussion in one of our JWI programs, our biannual Senior Seminar. A year ago, our core attendees of judges and law professors contrasted the dissent from conservative justices Rehnquist and White in Roe v. Wade with the briefs from the Texas lawyers upholding state laws against abortion.

“Revisiting the briefs proved to be the occasion for recognitions clicking in, and it provided a breakthrough or the “turning of a corner” in the seminar. Many judges had come into the seminar with the notion of natural law as a “theory” that could be invoked at different times, or a lofty set of abstract sentiments hovering in the sky. However, the dramatic differences between the brief and the dissents showed at once the flaws that have afflicted “conservative jurisprudence.” The lawyers working on the brief for Texas offered the most compelling argument as they drew on the findings of embryology about the child in the womb, woven with principled reasoning. They set about, in the most “natural” way, to explain why the laws in Texas were “justified” in casting protections over the child in the womb. In doing that, they showed how primary and strainless it was to do a jurisprudence of natural law.”

We invite you to read the piece in its entirety here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790