Finnis’s prefaces

Let’s begin our review of John Finnis’s treatise on “Natural Law and Natural Rights,” and let’s start with the preface. In fact, Finnis wrote two separate prefaces, one for the original edition of the book (published in 1980), and another for the second edition (2011). In the 2011 preface, Finnis identifies the image that appears on the cover of the second edition of his book (pictured below). It is an oil painting called White Saltbush that was painted in 1891 by Edward White. According to Finnis, this painting “depicts results of human purpose and action, to ‘subdue the earth’, in vast areas of marginal land in South Australia that are neither as near-desert as Lake Torrens nor as hospitable and fertile as Adelaide or the Barossa Valley ….” In other words, Finnis is using a work of art to dramatize and visualize his abstract theory of law.

In the preface to the first edition, Professor Finnis reveals two things of note. One is that he wrote most of his book in Africa. Specifically, he states that “the book was mainly written in Africa, in Chancellor College at the University of Malawi, in an environment at once congenial and conducive to contemplation of the problems of justice, law, authority, and rights.” This revelation thus poses an intriguing question: to what extent do Finnis’s travels in Africa influence his theory of law? The other revelation of note is Finnis’s recommendation to some of this readers to turn first to Chapter XII of his book, the chapter devoted to unjust laws: “And those who want to see, in advance, how [Finnis’s theory of law] yields an understanding very different from the accounts of ‘natural law’ in their textbooks of jurisprudence and philosophy might turn first to Chapter XII, and then perhaps to Chapter II.” We shall follow Finnis’s recommendation and proceed directly to Chapter XII in our next post …

Image result for finnis natural law and natural rights

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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