Grounding Normative Assertions: Arthur Leff's Still Irrefutable, But Incomplete, Sez Who Critique

66 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2004

See all articles by Samuel Wolfe Calhoun

Samuel Wolfe Calhoun

Washington and Lee University - School of Law


The late Professor Arthur Leff believed that standard methods for grounding normative assertions fail to provide a solid foundation for moral judgment because none provides a satisfactory answer to what Leff called the grand 'sez who?' - a universal taunt by which a skeptic may challenge the standing/competency of the speaker to make authoritative moral assessments. Leff argued that as a matter of logic no system of morals premised in mankind alone ever could withstand the taunt. His provocative conclusion was that the only unchallengeable response to the grand 'sez who?' is God sez.

This Article demonstrates the continued relevance and validity of Leff's critique by evaluating three contemporary discussions of morality: (1) Judge Richard Posner's attack on academic moralism; (2) Professor Edward Wilson's assertion that morality has a biological basis; and (3) Professor Steven Pinker's attempt to distinguish between morality and our innate human nature. Although Leff did not discuss the practical possibility of a God-based moral system, this Article examines the practical question, focusing on three critical presuppositions implicit in seeking God's help to discern the right: (1) God actually exists; (2) one looks to the God who actually exists; and (3) this true God communicates what is "right" in understandable ways. While not providing any final answers, this Article honestly grapples with the three key issues, refuting some common objections to a God-premised morality, while acknowledging the existence of some genuine difficulties.

Suggested Citation

Calhoun, Samuel Wolfe, Grounding Normative Assertions: Arthur Leff's Still Irrefutable, But Incomplete, Sez Who Critique. Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 04-17, Available at SSRN:

Samuel Wolfe Calhoun (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics