John Finnis

photo of John Finnis

Emeritus Professor

John Finnis teaches in jurisprudence, jurisprudence and political theory, and constitutional Law. Professor of Law & Legal Philosophy since 1989, and a law tutor at University College since 1966. From 1972 to 1989 Rhodes Reader in the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States. LL.B. (Adelaide); D.Phil. (Oxford) on the idea of judicial power, with special reference to Australian federal constitutional law, as Rhodes Scholar from South Australia at Univ. College (1962-5). Taught law at Berkeley, California, before returning to Univ. Also taught law at University of Adelaide, University of Malawi (head of law dept., on secondment from Oxford, 1976-78), and Boston College. Fellow of the British Academy. Advised a number of Australian governments on federal-State and UK-Australia constitutional relations; at the English Bar argued appeals in the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal.


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J M Finnis, O Racji Publicznej [On 'Public Reason'] (Ius et Lex, Warsaw 2005)

Abstract/note: Texts in Polish (translated) and English of public lecture, contrasting sound with Rawlsian senses of "public reason".

ISBN: 83p60077-07-X


J M Finnis, 'The Thing I am': Personal Identity in Aquinas & Shakespeare' in Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller & Jeffrey Paul (eds), Personal Identity (Cambridge UP, Cambridge & New York 2005)

Abstract/note: Analyses, with illustrative reference to Aquinas and Shakespeare, the four irreducibly distinct kinds of explanation of personal identity, which yield four basic senses of "personal identity" and kinds of way in which one is or can be the same though partly different. Special topics include marriage, humiliation, repentance, and decay.

ISBN: 521617677

J M Finnis, 'A vote decisive for,,,a more restrictive law' in Helen Watt (ed), Cooperation, Complicity and Consent (Linacre Centre 2005)

Abstract/note: Defend and rearticulates the position elaborated in the previous chapter of the book.

ISBN: 906561108

J M Finnis, 'Restricting legalised abortion is not intrinsically unjust' in Helen Watt (ed), Cooperation, Complicity and Consent, (Linacre Centre, London 2005)

Abstract/note: Employs a jurisprudential analysis of laws (or rules of law) as propositions distinct from the legislative or other statements by which they are enacted or otherwise laid down, in order to show that laws creating new legal restrictions on the permissibility of abortion do not involve their makers or supporters in approval of or complicity in making the law of the state permit the abortions left unprohibited by the new restrictions,

ISBN: 906561108

J M Finnis, 'Commonwealth and Dependencies' in Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th edn. (Lexis Nexis UK 2003)

Abstract/note: Title in Halsbury's Laws of England, vol. 6 reissue.

ISBN: 406961662

J M Finnis, 'Natural Law and the Re-making of Boundaries' in Allen Buchanan and Margaret Moore (eds), States, Nations, and Boundaries (Cambridge University Press 2003)

Abstract/note: essay on the justice of making and maintaining boundaries, and of forcibly overthrowing unjust (e.g. some pre-"colonial", "native") rulers.

ISBN: 521819717

J M Finnis, 'Nature and Natural Law in Contemporary Philosophical and Theological Debates: Some Observations' in Juan de Dios Vial Correa and Elio Sgreccia (eds), The Nature and Dignity of the Human Person as the Foundation of the Right to Life: the Challenges of the Contemporary Cultural Context. Proceedings of the Eighth Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. 2003)

Abstract/note: see title

ISBN: 8820974290

J M Finnis, 'Natural Law: the Classical Tradition' in Jules Coleman and Scott Shapiro (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (OUP 2002)

J M Finnis, 'Some Fundamental Evils in Generating Human Embryos by Cloning' in Cosimo Marco Mazzoni, (eds), Ethics and Law in Biological Research (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and Kluwer Law International 2002)

Abstract/note: see title

ISBN: 9041117423

Internet Publications

J M Finnis, Natural Law Theories (2007) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (e-pub)

J M Finnis, Aquinas' Moral, Political and Legal Theory (2005) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (e-pub)

Abstract/note: 17,000-word article on many aspects of Aquinas's moral, political and legal theory.

Journal Articles

J M Finnis, 'Nationality, Alienage and Constitutional Principle' (2007) 123 Law Quarterly Review 418-445

Abstract/note: After brief discussion of (1) the nature of constitutional principles and (2) the development and developed state of the law about the rights of aliens, the article argues extensively that A v Home Secretary [2004] UKHL 56, [2005] 2 AC 68 was wrongly decided and, indeed, per incuriam since all nine judges in the Lords overlooked their duty to interpet the statutory provision so far as possible as compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 before declaring it incompatible.Even apart from that duty under HRA s. 3, there was available but unconsidered a reasonable interpretation such that the power to detain alien terrorist suspects had as its ongoing precondition a purpose, manifested in bona fide efforts, to deport them and to secure whatever arrangements with foreign governments might be necessary to make deportation lawful under the Chahal doctrine about real risk of torture or degrading treatment.The judgments all overlook also the constitutional principle that risk to the public good which must be accepted from the presence of a national need not be accepted from the presence of an alien and may be obviated by the alien's exclusion or expulsion.The majority's arguments from irrationality and discrimination are manifestly unsound once the statute is interpreted as it should have been.

J M Finnis, 'Religion and State: Some Main Issues and Sources' (2007) 51 American Journal of Jurisprudence 107-130

Abstract/note: This philosophical, non-theological article argues that the default position for public reason in a just political community is that some religion may be true and it matters substantially for individual wellbeing and that community's common good that individuals be both (i) free from coercion in their inquiries about what is true about the transcendent source and point of everything, and in putting into practice what they believe they have discovered through such inquiries, and (ii) encouraged in such inquiries and religious practice.Coercion and/or discouragament by government and law or by private individuals or groups, is justifiable only when required for public order, that is, the rights of others, public peace and public morality.Religions which do not accept that there is such a right to religious liberty are a standing threat to public order and can, in principle, be justly discriminated against and their faithful adherents kept at a distance from our territory.Existing UK laws and judgments which discriminate in this way are in principle justified.

ISBN: 0658995

J M Finnis, 'Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited' (2006) 50 American Journal of Jurisprudence 109-131

J M Finnis, 'The Thing I am': Personal Identity in Aquinas and Shakespeare' (2005) 22 Social Philosophy & Policy 250-282

Abstract/note: Analyses, with illustrative reference to Aquinas and Shakespeare, the four irreducibly distinct kinds of explanation of personal identity, which yield four basic senses of "personal identity" and kinds of way in which one is or can be the same though partly different. Special topics include marriage, humiliation, repentance, and decay.

ISBN: 02650525

J M Finnis and Patrick H. Martin, 'Benedicam Dominum: Ben Jonson's Strange 1605 Inscription' (2005) Times Literary Supplement, 4 November 2005 12-13

Abstract/note: Examination of the evidence relating to Ben Jonson's search and summons warrant from the Privy Council in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Treason, in the light of other contemporary manuscripts and records.

ISBN: 00307661

J M Finnis, 'Helping Enact Unjust Laws Without Complicity in Injustice' (2005) 49 American Journal of Jurisprudence 15646

Abstract/note: Deploys an analysis of the relation between legal materials such as statutes and the propositions of law that those materials make true in order to show what are and are not the implications of moral teaching against supporting legislative proposals to permit acts that a state cannot justly permit.

ISBN: 0065-8995

J M Finnis, 'Self-referential (or Peformative) Inconsistency: its significance for truth' (2005) 78 Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 13-22

Abstract/note: Performatively inconsistent, self-refuting propositions are not logically incoherent, or meaningless in themselves, or semantically paradoxical (such as “This sentence is false.”). Rather, because they have a definite reference, they are false because they are inconsistent with the facts that are given in and by any assertionof them. Thus they are not in themselves self-refuting, but to try to assert any of them is self-refuting. To show why this is so, one must show that performative inconsistency depends on the “implicit commitments” of the interlocutor. For example, what is entailed by “someone asserts that p” depends on what is meant by “assert.” As the concept of “implicit commitment” suggests, an assertion can beperformatively inconsistent only if it is located in a universe of rational discourse and is treated as an authentic contribution to such discourse. Thus sceptical arguments that aim to deny that knowledge is not a good are performatively self-refuting,for in asserting that p, one also asserts that one accepts (believes) that p is true. Itis absurd and self-contradictory to assert “p” if the assertion could imply “p, butin asserting this, I don’t care whether p is true or not.”

J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'An Oxford Play Festival in February 1582' (2003) 50 Notes and Queries 391-4

Abstract/note: A University Sermon preached by the President of Magdalen on 28 February 1582 discloses that eight plays were staged in the university during the last two weeks of February, and identifies something of the theme of each of them. Central themes of three of these eight, as well as of a ninth play staged at Trinity College Oxford in January, were later employed by Shakespeare, who also echoed elements in another of the February eight.

ISBN: 0029-3970

J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, Another Turn for the Turtle: Shakespeare's Intercession for Love's Martyr (2003) 5220 Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 2003 12-14

Abstract/note: Entirely new reading of Shakespeare's most enigmatic poem, showing the presence in it of Sir John Popham CJ and other persons living and lately dead in 1601.

ISBN: 00307661

J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'Caesar, Succession, and the Chastisement of Rulers' (2003) 78 Notre Dame Law Review 101-129

Abstract/note: Study of the convergence between the political theory of succession of governments and chastisement of rulers in A Conference about the Next Succession (1593-5) and in Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece (The Argument), Titus Andronicus, and Julius Caesar.

ISBN: 07453515

J M Finnis, 'Law and What I Truly Should Decide' (2003) 48 The American Journal of Jurisprudence 107-129

J M Finnis, 'Secularism, Morality and Politics' (2003) 37650 L'Osservatore Romano, English edition 9

Abstract/note: Commentary on CDF Doctrinal Note dated 24 November 2002 and John Rawls (deceased 24 November 2002)

ISBN: 0391-688X

J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'Thomas Thorpe, 'W.S', and the Catholic Intelligencers' (2003) 38 English Literary Renaissance 3-43

Abstract/note: First publication of and extended commentary on letters patent of an entry in the Court of Exchequer memorandum roll for Easter Term 1597, showing hitherto unsuspected connections between the publisher of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Catholic traitors overseas and at court.

ISBN: 0138312

J M Finnis, 'Aquinas on jus and Hart on Rights: A Response to Tierney' (2002) 64 The Review of Politics 407-10

Abstract/note: see title

ISBN: 0346705

J M Finnis, Germain Grisez and Joseph Boyle, 'Direct' and 'Indirect': A Reply to Critics of our Action Theory' (2001) 65 The Thomist 1-44

Abstract/note: Essay (with many examples) on the fundamental theory of Intention

ISBN: 0040-6325

J M Finnis, 'Retribution: Punishment’s Formative Aim' (2001) 44 The American Journal of Jurisprudence 91-103

Abstract/note: see title

ISBN: 0065-8995

J M Finnis, 'Virtue and the Constitution of the United States' (2001) 69 Fordham Law Review 1595-1602

Abstract/note: Civic virtues are moral virtues, and include respect for and appreciation of persons however diverse.Projects for inculcating them should critique practices denying just liberty and authentic equality. The US Constitution permits governmental encouragement of virtue, but the role of governments in inculcating civic virtue is subsidiary.

ISBN: 0015704X

Presentation/Conference contributions

J M Finnis, 'Observations for the Austral Conference to mark the 25th anniverary of Natural Law & Natural Rights' 13 , paper presented at Cuardernos de Extension Juridica, Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de los Andes 27-30

Abstract/note: Reflections on the genesis and deficiencies of Natural Law and Natural Rights* (1980)

ISBN: 9789567160464


Teaching: Constitutional and Administrative Law; Philosophy of Law

Research: General Theory of Law, Constitutional Law in the Commonwealth

Other details

Correspondence address:
Oxford Law Faculty
St. Cross Building,
St. Cross Road
Oxford OX1 3UL

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