Persons Pursuing Goods

45 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2007


John Finnis's powerfully and deservedly influential modern classic, "Natural Law and Natural Rights," expounds a theory of law and morality that is based on a picture of "persons" using practical reason to pursue certain "basic goods." While devoting much attention to practical reason and to the goods, however, Finnis says little about the nature of personhood. This relative inattention to what "persons" are creates a risk - one that Finnis himself notices - of assuming or importing an inadequate anthropology. This essay suggests that the "new natural law" developed by Finnis suffers in places from the inadvertent adoption of (or, more likely, acquiescence in) a flawed anthropology - an anthropology under the thrall of modern individualistic commitments. To explain this suspicion, the essay discusses three difficulties (or so they seem to me) in Finnis's natural law theory - difficulties in accounting for the basic good of friendship, for obligations we owe to others, and for legal authority. These difficulties may seem disconnected, but the essay suggests that they may all reflect an inadequate anthropology - one that Finnis does not embrace, exactly (in fact, I suspect that he would reject it) but that is pervasive today and that in places may affect his theorizing.

Keywords: natural law, goods, personhood, friendship, legal authority, obligation

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Persons Pursuing Goods. Legal Theory, Forthcoming; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-112. Available at SSRN:

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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