Rawlings School of Divinity


Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics (MA)


David Baggett


Morality, Epistemology, Jurisprudence, Theism, Law, Christianity


Christianity | Ethics in Religion | Law | Religion


In this thesis I argue Brian Leiter’s vision for a naturalized jurisprudence stands in problematic tension with critical facets of objective morality presupposed by the American legal system. Leiter makes the case for the naturalization of jurisprudence through adherence to his version of a naturalistic epistemology. Though Leiter explicitly rejects moral realism—and embraces elements of legal positivism—he acquiesces to the notion that judges sometimes utilize non-legal, “moral reasons,” when deciding cases. Leiter suggests that any moral “knowledge” that may influence the process of adjudication should be delivered by the hard sciences. I suggest Leiter’s epistemological naturalism is incapable of providing the normative, prescriptive, and proscriptive moral propositions that are integral to the American legal system. Moreover, Leiter’s denial of objective moral values is inconsistent with a legal framework predicated on securing the life and rights of objectively valuable and equal human beings. Through myriad appeals to God, and contemporary locutions thereof, the American founders constructed an enduring legal framework that presupposed the existence of a transcendent and objective moral law. This moral law is often referred to as the law of nature. The law of nature is commensurate with certain objective moral facts and values—especially those germane to the innate moral value of human life. Moreover, the intrinsic worth of human beings helps explain the focus the founders placed on securing our preexistent rights and duties. These same preexistent values, rights, and duties are pertinent to safeguarding the conditions by which we may flourish. I suggest Christian theism is a reasonable and plausible worldview for providing the ontological grounding and epistemic accessibility required for a robust natural law conception as held by the founders. Moreover, Christian theism helps explain the unique value of human life that is a vitally integral element of contemporary law. I conclude that Leiter’s effort to naturalize jurisprudence stands in tension with a jurisprudence as envisioned by the founders. Moreover, I suggest that a natural law theory of objective moral values—viewed through the lens of Christian theism—better coheres with the American founding and enduring legal system than Leiter’s naturalized jurisprudence.