ND Law holds London conference to celebrate the work of Professor John Finnis

Author: Denise Wager

John Finnis

A conference marking the 25-year career at Notre Dame Law School of Biolchini Family Emeritus Professor of Law John Finnis was held October 16 at the University of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway. Finnis, a world-renowned legal scholar and philosopher, moved to emeritus status last year.

The conference, “The Legacy of John Finnis: Contemporary Engagements and Developments,” was organized by Professor Jeffrey Pojanowski.

“We wanted to celebrate the legacy of John Finnis not by offering a retrospective tribute, but rather by looking at the impact his work will have moving forward,” said Pojanowski.

Several scholars presented papers that built off, or responded to, the wide variety of work that was influenced by Finnis. The papers will be published in the American Journal of Jurisprudence, previously co-edited by Finnis and fellow Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley. Pojanowski and Richard Ekins, professor of law and constitutional government at the University of Oxford, are the journal’s current editors.

Finnis came to Notre Dame in 1995 from the University of Oxford, where he was a chaired professor of law and legal philosophy and a member of the philosophy sub-faculty. At Notre Dame, Finnis taught courses on jurisprudence and the social, political, and legal thought of Shakespeare and Thomas Aquinas. He was a concurrent professor in the Notre Dame Department of Philosophy and is a Permanent Senior Distinguished Research Fellow of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Finnis has published hundreds of works on moral, political, and legal theory, as well as in constitutional law. Oxford University Press, known for publishing books by scholars of the highest standing, published a five-volume collection of essays by Finnis and a second edition of Finnis’s book, Natural Law and Natural Rights.

“John Finnis is one of greatest legal minds of all time. His book, Natural Law and Natural Rights, was one of the most influential things I have ever read, and inspired my own decision to study law,”  said G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.

“It is only fitting that Notre Dame Law School arranged this tribute to one of the most distinguished members of our faculty,” said Cole, who attended the conference in London. “It is a testament to the power of John Finnis’s work that so many giants of jurisprudence agreed to participate in honoring him.”

Several of the presenters and participants were former students of Finnis, either at Notre Dame Law School or at the University of Oxford, and came to the conference from around the world to celebrate him.

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The presentations were:

  • “The Internal Point of View in Private Law Theory,” by Jeffrey Pojanowski, professor of law, and Paul Miller, associate dean for international and graduate programs and professor of law, Notre Dame Law School
  • “Ways to Inhabit the Deliberative-Aspirational Point of View,” by Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco, professor of law, University of Surrey
  • “Friendship as the Primary Purpose of Law,” by Michael Moreland, university professor of law and religion, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
  • “The Finnis-Fortin Debate Over Rights and Duties,” by Erika Bachiochi, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center
  • “The Hart-Radbruch Debate Revisited,” by Paul Yowell, associate professor of law, University of Oxford Faculty of Law
  • “The Jurisprudence of Permission,” by Christoph Kletzer, reader in law, King’s College London
  • “The Balance of the Constitution,” by Richard Ekins, professor of law and constitutional government, University of Oxford Faculty of Law
  • “Traversing the Natural Law and Common Law Traditions (with John Finnis as our Guide),” by Mark Walters, dean and professor of law, Queen’s University, Ontario

“I am very grateful to Jeff Pojanowski for master-minding this little jewel of a conference, in league with Dean Cole and to all who came and contributed from Notre Dame, Canada and the UK,” Finnis said. “I am also grateful to Notre Dame Law School for 25 years of opportunity to teach and reflect on St. Thomas and on Shakespeare, and work collegially on much else, with an exceptional set of colleagues. And very specially to Gerry Bradley for initiating my whole engagement with Notre Dame, and letting me help him resuscitate and redirect the American Journal of Jurisprudence so fruitfully. Deo Gratias.”

You can read more about Finnis’s career here.