Universitas Officers with Mr. Luis Tellez at Whelan Hall of Witherspoon Institute

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY–After meeting various institutes in New York, New Haven and Washington D.C., Universitas President, Atty. Oliver M. Tuazon, and CFO, Dardecs Villanueva, took the Amtrak train straight to Princeton Junction in New Jersey to attend the Moral Foundations of Law summer course offered by the Witherspoon Institute, an independent research center that works to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies. The course was held from July 29 to August 4, 2018.

The seminar was designed as an intensive program investigating the relationship between sound norms of critical morality and civil law. The faculty was composed of prominent law professors, namely, Prof. John M. Finnis (University of Oxford and Notre Dame Law School), Prof. Gerard V. Bradley (University of Notre Dame Law School), Prof. Adam MacLeod (Faulkner University, Jones School of Law), Prof. Robert P. George (Princeton University), Dr. Matthew J. Franck (The Witherspoon Institute) and Judge Thomas Michael Hardiman (US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit).

The participants of the summer course (all standing) with some of the professors (seated, L-R): Prof. Gerard Bradley, Prof. Robert George, Judge Thomas Michael Hardiman and Dr. Matthew Franck (photo courtesy of Dr. Franck)

The participants come from various law schools around the world, representing the different continents:  two from South America (André from the UNIVEL Centro Universitario and Rodrigo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul), three from Europe (Ana Maria from the University of Navarra, Roger from the ESADE School of Law and Maurits from the Erasmus School of Law), seven from various parts of the United States of America (Dominic and Maryssa from the University of Notre Dame Law School, Elizabeth from the University of Iowa College of Law, Weston from Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, Matthew from the University of Virginia School of Law, Michael from the University of Kansas School of Law and Kathleen from the Ave Maria School of Law), and Oliver and Dardecs representing Asia,  both from the UST Faculty of Civil Law. It is interesting to note that UST’s date of foundation (Sept. 2, 1734), is even earlier than that of Princeton University whose charter was granted only in 1746.

Maurits, Oliver, Matt, Lacrosse (Matt’s dog) and Roger during one of the breaks in between lectures.

Most of the lectures and discussions centered around the scholarly articles written by the professors themselves and other prominent legal scholars. In fact, the title of this article is a reference to the book “Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality” which was published by one of the professors in the seminar, Dr. Robert P. George, a McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

These reading materials were sent ahead of time to the students for their personal study so that they would come to the course well-prepared to discuss and even engage in a healthy debate about pertinent issues, such as the relevance of natural law, the meaning and identity of the person, religious freedom, property rights, life issues, same-sex marriage, retribution and punishment, judicial supremacy and due process, among others.

What is unique in this summer course is the accessibility of the professors and the healthy interchange of ideas that they foster among the students.  They make an effort to understand even apparently irrelevant questions that students may pose from time and time, and they channel these questions towards a deeper analysis of the foundational issues that make them up, and on which they should stand, if they have to be firm and stable ideas that will help build societies and nations.

Some students admitted they decided to join the course owing to the prestige of its faculty, whom they read in print way before they met them in person during the actual course.  Note, however, that the students had to undergo the rigorous selection process of the Witherspoon Institute, which was made in order to limit the number of participants, thus, making a more conducive environment for student-faculty exchange of ideas.   

For the first two days of the seminar, Prof. John Finnis went through the articles he wrote.  He first tackled the article, “The Nature of Law”, which is yet to be printed next year in the Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of law, and where he discussed the four domains used by Aquinas in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics. In the afternoon, he discussed “Aquinas and Natural Law Jurisprudence” [Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Jurisprudence (2017)], where he tackled among others the “bonum rationis”, that is, the good of reasonableness or being reasonable in one’s judgment.  

Oliver asking Prof. John Finnis some questions during one of the coffee breaks (photo courtesy of Rod Ribeiro)

The next day, he discussed his article published at the American Journal of Jurisprudence 58 (2013) entitled “The Priority of Persons Revisited” where he emphasised that the purpose of the law is for the well-being of persons, that it is for the sake of persons, their maintenance, sustaining and flourishing.  He then discussed various articles related to religious freedom, among which are his introduction to the book Religion and Public Reasons [Collected Essays, vol. V (2011)], “Does Free Exercise of Religion Deserve Constitutional Mention?” [American Journal of Jurisprudence 54 (2009)], and “Discrimination Between Religions: Some Thoughts on Reading Greenawalt’s Religion and the Constitution: Establishment and Fairness” [Constitutional Commentary 25 (2009)].  Prof. Finnis also discussed in detail the Hohfeldian scheme to help the students analyse fallacious arguments when “claims of right” are raised in debates concerning law, morals and politics.

On the third day, Prof. Adam J. MacLeod of the Jones School of Law, Faulker University discussed the chapter on “The Nature of Property Rights”  that appeared in his book, “Propery and Practical Reason” (2015). He discussed the foundations of private law as opposed to public law, the dimensions of private rights, and Joseph Raz’s exclusionary reasons for action, among others. In the afternoon, he was joined by his former professor at Notre Dame Law school, Prof. Gerard V. Bradley, who was obviously proud of the achievements of his former student, and how the latter boldly made a stand against same-sex marriage. They jointly discussed the issue of same-sex marriage using the article of Prof. Helen Alvare entitled “Same-sex marriage and the “reconceiving” of children” [Case Western Reserve Law Review (2014)], as well as Prof. Mac Leod’s “Tempering civil rights conflicts: common law for the moral marketplace” [Michigan State Law Review (2016)].

The fourth day was a series of lectures and discussions with Prof. Robert George, with an intermission lecture by Judge Thomas Michael Hardiman of the US Court of Appeals Third Circuit.  Professor George made a critical analysis of the classic article of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. which appeared at the Harvard Law Review way back in 1897 entitled “The Path of the Law.”  He appeared to be amused with Holmes’ statement that “every lawyer ought to seek an understanding of economics” so that they avoid falling into the “pitfall of antiquarianism”. He does not seem to agree with Holmes’ denial of the objectivity of the law. In the afternoon, Professor George discussed the key ideas in two chapters of his book “Making Men Moral”, the first on social cohesion and the legal enforcement of morals (a reconsideration of the Hart-Devlin debate) and the second on the pluralistic perfectionist theory of civil liberties.

Part of the tradition in Witherspoon Institute during the past decade of giving this seminar is to invite a practicing judge to deliver a lecture. This year’s speaker, Judge Hardiman, was recently shortlisted to the Supreme Court of the United States.  After listening to his talk and having some personal exchanges with him, one could not help but pray that he one day joins the ranks of the Justices of the highest tribunal of the land. Judge Hardiman spoke about the art and science of judging. He compared Holmes’ belief that law is experience and not logic, with Aldisert’s opposing view that logic being the lifeblood of American law.  He argued that law should not be defined in a unitarian way as there are different approaches in studying it.

On the last day, Prof. Gerard Bradley opened the session on the revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which deals with the death penalty, which was released by the Vatican at the time of the seminar.  There was a long discussion on whether the revision is a change on Catholic doctrine. Given the lack of time, one of the participants just shared in their e-group an article from CatholicCulture.Org saying that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an “authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”  Professor Bradley also discussed his article “Retribution and the Morality of Punishment”, which appeared in the book “Essays on Law, Religion and Morality” (2014). In the afternoon, Dr. Matthew Franck tackled two of his scholarly articles: the first on “The Problem of Judicial Supremacy” [National Affairs 27 (Spring 2016)], and the second on “What Happened to the Due Process in the Dred Scott Case?” [American Political Thought 4 (2015)], which are good ways to end the lectures as they tackled the significance and questionability of judicial legislation.

Oliver and Decs (Philippines) with Michael (USA) and Andre and Rod (Brasil) in the dining room which shows the flags of their respective countries at the background.

After dinnertime, the participants would often hang out on local restaurants and bars to continue their discussions, mainly with Professor Bradley, and stroll around the beautiful campus of Princeton University.  Joe Perez-Benzo, a Princetonian and one of the staff of Witherspoon Institute, went through significant art works at the Princeton University Art Museum while reading selected poems related to the said art works on Thursday night. That was a truly wonderful experience that lifts up the human spirit–a deeper level of appreciating art.

Joe delivering a poem before a Renaissance painting at the Princeton University Art Museum

The Universitas officers in attendance also met with the President of Witherspoon Institute, Mr. Luis Tellez, who gave them valuable advice on how to run the foundation and raise funds.  He encouraged them to continue with the good work they are doing and that they convince more Filipinos to help build lives of young people by supporting Universitas.  He said that his own Institute will help Universitas in the best way they can, which gave the officers more push, encouragement and enthusiasm in doing more good when they return to their home country.

The seminar began on Sunday night with some cocktails where Professors George and Bradley, Dr. Franck and Witherspoon staff Felix Miller gave an overview of the entire seminar.  It was capped by a sumptuous dinner on Friday night where both professors and students exchanged anecdotes and some amusing stories that made everyone laugh at the point of blushing. One professor was caught in the middle of that awesome night saying, who says philosophy is not fun?

Ana, Dardecs, Roger and Dominic during the final dinner

NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.

Be our partner in forming principled leaders!

Universitas is a non-stock, non-profit organization relying heavily on the financial support of donors like you. Donations of any amount are very much appreciated, and would form part of the funds to be used for education, research, social welfare and outreach, and other endeavors aimed ultimately at the formation of future leaders who are competent, with the right character and a well-formed conscience.

Support Universitas today, and it only takes a minute!