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Law's Virtues

Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society

Cathleen Kaveny

Publication Year: 2012

Can the law promote moral values even in pluralistic societies such as the United States? Drawing upon important federal legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, legal scholar and moral theologian Cathleen Kaveny argues that it can. In conversation with thinkers as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II, and Joseph Raz, she argues that the law rightly promotes the values of autonomy and solidarity. At the same time, she cautions that wise lawmakers will not enact mandates that are too far out of step with the lived moral values of the actual community.

According to Kaveny, the law is best understood as a moral teacher encouraging people to act virtuously, rather than a police officer requiring them to do so. In Law’s Virtues Kaveny expertly applies this theoretical framework to the controversial moral-legal issues of abortion, genetics, and euthanasia. In addition, she proposes a moral analysis of the act of voting, in dialogue with the election guides issued by the US bishops. Moving beyond the culture wars, this bold and provocative volume proposes a vision of the relationship of law and morality that is realistic without being relativistic and optimistic without being utopian.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

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pp. ix-x

The publication of any book is the fruit not only of the author’s autonomy but also of the solidarity and support extended to her by students, colleagues, friends, and family. The University of Notre Dame has offered me an unparalleled environment in which to consider questions...

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pp. xi-xii

The title of this book is Law’s Virtues. It has a dual reference. On the one hand, I contend that law functions as a moral teacher, as a teacher of virtue, even in pluralistic Western democracies like the United States. In such societies, I think it is particularly important that the law strive to...

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pp. 1-12

In this book I sketch a new framework through which to view the relationship between troubling “life issues” and the realm of law in pluralistic liberal democracies such as the United States. At present, many people who oppose practices such as abortion and euthanasia, including many...

Part I: Law as a Moral Teacher

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1. Autonomy, Solidarity, and Law’s Pedagogy

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pp. 15-43

A woman with an obvious disability making her way along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in December 1970 would not have been simply enjoying the spectacle of one of the nation’s busiest commercial venues at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Whether she knew it or not, she also would...

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2. Law and Morality: Understanding the Relationship

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pp. 45-70

It seems as if every complicated moral issue sooner or later becomes a legal issue, at least in the United States. Consider, for example, the recent tobacco litigation in which persons harmed by smoking and the states responsible for paying their costs sued tobacco companies for monetary damages...

Part II: Life Issues and the Law

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3. The Pro-Life Movement and the Purpose of Law

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pp. 73-96

Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for about forty years, or about the average length of a woman’s reproductive span. For an individual, forty years is the age of mature adulthood, of continued vigor combined with good judgment. Perhaps that is true of political movements as well. Perhaps...

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4. Bad Pedagogy, Bad Law: What FOCA Is—and Isn’t

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pp. 97-110

In chapter I argued that, even in a pluralistic liberal democracy such as ours, accounting for the function of law as a moral teacher is an important aspect of both theorizing about law and law-making itself. At the same time, the moral message of a law is not the only thing that matters. The law’s...

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5. Genetic Information and Razian Autonomy

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pp. 111-140

At a White House press conference held in June 2000, President Bill Clinton announced that the first draft of the sequencing of the entire human genome had been completed two years ahead of schedule. His announcement marked a major milestone of the Human Genome Project...

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6. Dying Gracefully

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pp. 141-162

In November 1996, just two weeks before he died, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin finished his book The Gift of Peace, in which he offers his meditations on three widely publicized events that punctuated the last years of his life: the false accusation of sexual abuse and his eventual reconciliation with...

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7. Dying Well, Assisted Suicide, and Constitutional Law

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pp. 163-186

Each year June 26 comes and goes peaceably and uneventfully at the Supreme Court of the United States. Tourists pose for photographs on the imposing marble steps while political reporters wait impatiently for the last decisions of the Court’s current term. The Capitol police and US marshals...

Part III: Voting, Morality, and the Law

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8. Voting and Faithful Citizenship

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pp. 189-218

In 2007 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a guide for American Catholics to use in discerning their political responsibilities in the face of the upcoming 2008 national elections. In 2011 the bishops reissued...

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9. Intrinsic Evil and Political Responsibility

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pp. 219-242

In Chapter 8 I argue that, in our American representative democracy, any moral analysis undertaken by voters must center on the candidates, whom voters need to evaluate in terms of their competence, character, collaborative potential, and political connections. This is not to say that issues...

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10. Voting and Complicity in Wrongdoing

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pp. 243-269

In Chapter 8 I sketch a moral account of the act of voting in the context of the American political system. In my view, the crucial aspect of most American elections is that they present voters with choices about candidates, not choices about issues. Consequently, the voters’ main task is to evaluate...

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Concluding Reflections

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pp. 271-277

In writing this book, I was motivated not only by specific intellectual questions but also by more diffuse goals, concerns, and worries. As I bring this work to a close, I want to summarize the former and articulate the latter more explicitly. I want to situate, in other words, my reflections on...


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pp. 279-292

E-ISBN-13: 9781589019331
E-ISBN-10: 1589019334
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589019324
Print-ISBN-10: 1589019326

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012