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3 U. St. Thomas L. J. 6 (2005-2006)


For some two decades since I entered law school, the connection between the philosophy of the human person and law has been of comparative interest to me. My interest was stimulated in no small part by the late Pope John Paul II, who urged that canon law reflect the essential elements of what it means to be human. Comparative legal study of the canon law of the Catholic Church with the law of the liberal state has convinced me of the importance of the understanding of the human person that underpins the law. Canon law and the Catholic intellectual tradition of which it is a part reflect a metaphysical conception of the human person and justice. In comparison, law rooted in liberal theory tends to be more restricted to a political conception of the person and justice.

My focus in this brief paper is neither on comparative law nor canon law per se. Rather, I have been asked to reflect on the ideas of sacrifice and the common good in relation to legal ethics. Specifically, I shall consider the contribution that the classical conception of the person, which forms the bedrock of the Catholic intellectual tradition, offers to the practice of law. The paper discusses the ideas of sacrifice and the common good as essential elements of the understanding of what it means to be human in the Catholic intellectual tradition. It then suggests that the tradition has much to contribute to the practice of the Catholic lawyer in the United States.

The paper consists of two parts. The first part considers the ideas of sacrifice and the common good from philosophical and theological perspectives. This is not intended as a systematic presentation about the ideas, but as prolegomena. The second part considers three examples of how these ideas from the Catholic tradition apply to the practice of law. Each of the examples is posed as a question and again not as a comprehensive analysis.



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