John Finnis

John Finnis

Biolchini Family Emeritus Professor of Law

Staff Assistant: Debbie Sumption
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John Finnis moved to emeritus status after the 2019-2020 academic year.

Known for his work in moral, political and legal theory, as well as in constitutional law, John Finnis joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1995. He earned his LL.B. in 1961 from Adelaide University (Australia) and his doctorate in 1965 from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar at University College Oxford. He was lecturer, then reader and then a chaired professor in law in the University of Oxford for over four decades until 2010, while also a tutorial fellow of University College Oxford. He was associate in law at the University of California at Berkeley (1965-66), the professor of law at the University of Malawi (Africa) (1976-78), and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Boston College Law School (1993-94). A barrister of Gray’s Inn, he practiced from 1979 to 1995 and was appointed Queen's Counsel [QC] (honoris causa) in 2017. 

He is a Fellow of the British Academy (Law and Philosophy sections), was a member of the Philosophy sub-faculty at Oxford, and was an adjunct professor in the Notre Dame Department of Philosophy. He was a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See 1986-91, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace (1990-95), and the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita (2001-2016).

Courses Taught

LAW73807, Social, Political and Legal Thought of Shakespeare

LAW73809, Social, Political and Legal Thought of Thomas Aquinas

London program: Jurisprudence


Books include:

Judicial Power and the Balance of Our Constitution (London: Policy Exchange, 2018)                               

Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford University Press, 1980, 2nd ed. 2011)

Collected Essays of John Finnis (Oxford University Press, 2011):

  I Reason in Action

  II Intention and Identity

  III Human Rights and Common Good

  IV Philosophy of Law

  V  Religion and Public Reasons

Aquinas: Moral, Political and Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Moral Absolutes (CUA Press, 1991)

Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford University Press; Georgetown University Press, 1983)


Recent publications include: 

“Unborn Human Life and Fundamental Rights: Concluding Reflections”, in Pilar Zambrano and William L. Saunders (eds.), Unborn Human Life and Fundamental Rights: Leading Constitutional Cases under Scrutiny, (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2019), 255-264

“Royal Assent– a Reply to Mark Elliott”, UK Constitutional Law Association, 8 April 19

“Where the Pell Judgment [of the Court of Appeal of Victoria] Went Fatally Wrong”, Quadrant 8 September 2019  

The Unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court’s Prorogation Judgment, (London: Policy Exchange, Judicial Power Project: 29 September 2019)  

“The Unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court’s Prorogation Judgment, with Supplementary Notes." 

“The Dual Foundation of Humanae vitae”, Anthropotes 34 (2018) 251-284 

“Intentional Killing is Always Wrong: the development initiated by Pius XII, made by John Paul II and repeated by Francis”, Public Discourse 22 & 23 August 2018

“Intentional Killing is a Usurpation of God’s Lordship over Human Life: a Reply to Edward Feser”, Public Discourse 15 December 2018 

“Foreword” to Dietrich Hildebrand, Morality & Situation Ethics (Steubenville: Hildebrand Press, 2019), xxi-xxvi

“On the Origins of the Concept of Social Justice and a Misunderstanding of Aquinas” in Christopher Wolfe (ed.), The Concept of Social Justice (South Bend: St Augustine’s Press, 2019), 51-58

Judicial Power and the Balance of Our Constitution (London: Policy Exchange, 2018), including “Judicial Power: Past, Present and Future” (26-61), “Rejoinder [to Comments]” (111-32), “Brexit and the Balance of Our Constitution” (134-56), “Postscript” (157-64)

“Aquinas and Natural Law Jurisprudence”, in Robert P. George and George Duke (eds.), Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Jurisprudence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 1- 56

“Germain Grisez, Christian Philosopher”, Public Discourse 7 February 2018

“Grounding Human Rights in Natural Law” American Journal of Jurisprudence 60/2 (2015) 199-233; also in Daniel Philpott and Ryan Anderson (eds.), A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? (University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 194- 233

“Subsidiarity’s Roots and History: Some Observations”, American Journal of Jurisprudence 61/1 (2016) 133-41

“Judicial Law-Making and the ‘Living’ Instrumentalisation of the ECHR” in NJ Barber, Richard Ekins and Paul Yowell (eds), Lord Sumption and the Limits of the Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2016), 73-120

“Equality and Religious Liberty: Oppressing Conscientious Diversity in England”, in Timothy Shah. Thomas Farr and Jack Friedmann (eds), Religious Freedom and Gay Rights: Emerging Conflicts in the United States and Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 21-40.

“On Anscombe’s ‘Royal Road’ to True Belief”, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 90/2 (2016) 347-68; =  “Body, Soul and Information: on Anscombe’s ‘Royal Road’ to True Belief”, in Luke Gormally, David Jones and Roger Teichman (eds.), The Moral Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe (St Andrews Studies in Philosophy: Imprint Academic, 2016) 263-88.

“Absolute Rights: Some Problems Illustrated”, American Journal of Jurisprudence 61/2 (2016) 195-215

“Truth and Complexity: Notes on Music and Liberalism”, American Journal of Jurisprudence 62/1 (2017) 119-24

“On Moyn’s Christian Human Rights (2015)”, King’s Law Journal 28/1 (2017) 12-20

“Towards Vatican II’s Centenary: Your Next 50 Years” Ave Maria Law Review 14 (2016) 1-18

“On Realizing the Last Things in Shakespeare” in Elizabeth C Shaw (ed.), Eschatology (Proceedings, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars 17th Annual Convention) (2016), 33-74

“The Misuse of Amoris Laetitia to Support Errors against the Catholic Faith” (with Germain Grisez),