Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Moral Traditions series)

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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.

3 thoughts on “Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Moral Traditions series)

  1. Julie Balamut
    1
    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Even-handed argument of how law in a pluralist society can lead us to human flourishing, February 20, 2013
    By 
    Julie Balamut (St. Paul, MN United States) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    This review is from: Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Moral Traditions series) (Paperback)

    Dr. Kaveny’s book is a welcome addition to the discussion of how Americans have viewed and interpreted civil law mostly as prevention from doing wrong, “law as policemen,” a view argued recently by Joel Feinberg. Unlike the “law as policeman” model, she suggests that we look at our current way of making and interpreting our laws as “law leading to virtue.” Instead of punishing doing wrong and viewing law as strictly puntative, she uses the model that Aquinas offers where the pursuit of the virtue of justice, promoting the common good should be considered in creating and interpreting our laws. Her argument is compelling, practical, and positive, as we continue to face the absolute deadlock we have reached as a society regarding such continuing hot button issues as abortion laws and euthanasia. Dr. Kaveny offers solid expertise both as a leading attorney and as a well-regarded theologian. She also weighs equally the importance of the legal and ethical issues of autonomy and nicely, I think, brings in John Paul II’s proclamation on solidary; the idea that as humans we need to work together to see the unjustices placed on the marginalized and work together as people of faith and as Americans to solve these unjustices, while not infringing on equally compelling individual rights.

    Like the clear, concise thinker she is, she presents the history and arguments for the ways we have dealt with our laws in the past and in many ways the present, and intelligently points out her views of the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments. Then she offers her suggestions on how they could be accomplished in our pluralistic society, points out the challenges, and empowers us, not as liberals and conservatives, but as good people who want to make this country better for all Americans, to consider her proposals. I never thought I would want to read another essay about abortion as I’m weary about how the issue has divided people of good will for too many years. Dr. Kaveny addresses it head on and offers a way for all of us to consider this issue as we move forward in a way that may not be so hateful and devisive.

    Even though this book is in the very fine Ethics in Modern Life academic series, Dr. Kaveny writes so clearly, offers such illustrative examples, and presents others’ work in clear, non-judgemental language. And don’t be afraid of her discussions of moral theology, especially her discussions on Aquinas. As an Aquinas fan, who knows first-hand how difficult he can be, it is great to see his work explained so well and his ideas considered in our present day struggles in coming to terms with very hot contemporary issues that continue to divide us. I’d strongly suggest this book for those interested in how theology (not just Catholic or Christian) is used in considering the impact of how our civil laws can help us listen to each other instead of scream and denigrate each other. I thought it was a great book and can’t wait for Dr. Kaveny’s next discussion on the issues she presents so intelligently and convincingly in Law’s Virtues.

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  2. 2
    2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Interesting read, October 30, 2012
    By 
    Homer

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    This review is from: Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Moral Traditions series) (Paperback)

    I had to pick this up for a class I’m taking this semester, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised by how thought provoking it is. I went into it thinking I’d read about some crazy religious ideas regarding to how we should live moral lives, but it takes a very realistic and down to earth approach. If you want to learn about all sides of different issues, whether you agree with them or not, this is worth the read.

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  3. Peter P. Fuchs ""The Meta-Reviewer""
    3
    0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Good Tone!, February 25, 2013
    By 

    This review is from: Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Moral Traditions series) (Paperback)

    This book, to judge from what I can read here, has a better tone than most moral/legal theory books produced by Catholics nowadays. That is no small thing, and worth commenting on. But I always wonder how anyone is really supposed to take seriously the contention that the author is somehow not putting forth a view that is, as she writes, “endorsed by a religious…authority.” It is in the very nature of the rational tradition like that Of Isidore of Seville and Thomas Aquinas, who are the lodestars of this effort from the start, to be based in the authority of Catholic revelation. This is not an optional or detachable part of the tradition. Catholic theorists have a right to believe that it is in someway useable in a more generic sense, even by those who do not share those ideas on revelation. Yet they do NOT have the right to require that others should accept as coherent that a legal tradition that was and is heavily belief-based should be accepted for more general use. And also note that had the election gone the other way that is precisely what might be happening right now, with nicely-toned works of studied inoffensiveness used as grids for a more didactic morality of their choice. Please note, even if they happen to agree with some or even most of the arguments, which some might, There is the essential wrench for Catholic views on this matter, and it seems essentially insuperable for many who do not accept the parameters. The author seems to think it is just about explaining differing “premises” No, it is more basic than that, and devolves to a matter of what counts as coherent. One might agree with plenty in such a book, and still find the basic Thomstic base incoherent for this society. Period. The simpler way of putting this is that author’s like this, though well intentioned and probably quite decent people to judge from the tone, really just want their cake and to eat it too. They want to have their own beliefs grounded in their faith become the guide for society, and yet believe that they embrace pluralism. Concomitant with that is the only thing I found offensive about the book. Namely the predictable contention that any other view is necessarily “atomistic”. A huge jump, and one that Catholics love to make. Therefore, the clarity which the author seeks in legal understanding is made essentially vague from the start, at least for non-adherents of Catholicism.. And that is OK, because some level of vagueness is a frequent companion of democratic and/or pluralistic praxis. It is not surprising that quoters of Isidore of Seville may be discomfited by such realities. Still, however the author got to her better tone, it is a good thing.

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