Emeritus since 2010, John Finnis teaches occasionally in  jurisprudence and political theory. Professor of Law & Legal Philosophy from 1989 to 2010, and a law tutor at University College since 1966 to 2010. From 1972 to 1989 Rhodes Reader in the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States. LL.B. (Adelaide); D.Phil. (Oxford) on the idea of judicial power, with special reference to Australian federal constitutional law, as Rhodes Scholar from South Australia at Univ. College (1962-5). Taught law at Berkeley, California, before returning to Univ. Also taught law at University of Adelaide, University of Malawi (head of law dept., on secondment from Oxford, 1976-78), and Boston College. Fellow of the British Academy. Advised a number of Australian governments on federal-State and UK-Australia constitutional relations; at the English Bar argued appeals in the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal.


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  • J M Finnis, 'Natural Law Theory: Its Past and Its Present' in Andrei Marmor (ed), Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Law (Routledge 2012)
  • J M Finnis, 'Equality and Differences' (2011) American Journal of Jurisprudence 17
  • J M Finnis, Human Rights and Common Good (Oxford University Press 2011)
    Volume 3 of Collected Essays of John Finnis 22 published and unpublished essays with a 16-page Introduction, on the general theory of human rights; justice and punishment; war and justice; autonomy, euthanasia and justice; autonomy, IVF, abortion and justice; and marriage, justice and the common good
  • J M Finnis, Intention and Identity (Oxford University Press 2011)
  • J M Finnis, 'Invoking the Principle of Legality against the Rule of Law' in Richard Ekins (ed), Modern Challenges to the Rule of Law (LexisNexis, Wellington 2011)
    Critique of Lords decision in Purdy and discussion of the Director Public Prosecutions guidelines on prosecution for assisting suicide
  • J M Finnis, 'Invoking the Principle of Legality against the Rule of Law' (2011) New Zealand Law Review [2010] 601-616 601
    Critique of Lords' decision in Purdy and of the prosecutorial guidelines issued in conformity with that decision.
  • J M Finnis, 'Law, Universality, and Social Identity' in John Finnis (ed), Intention and Identity: Collected Essays of John Finnis, volume 2 (Oxford University Press 2011)
    How should we understand Aquinas’s thesis that laws are universal propositions of practical reason? And should we accept the popular modern claim that to prefer one set of forms of human character, relationship, and conduct to certain others, and consequently to restrict the conduct of persons with those other preferences, is wrongfully to deny those persons’ equality of entitlement to concern and respect, and/or to insult them? Answering the first question involves showing how legal norms transcend the intentions of their makers, draw upon considerations of ‘natural reason’, and depend for their subsisting on the subsisting of the community whose norms they are. The conditions for the community’s subsisting turn out to depend, in turn, on aspects of the public good the upholding of which is an intention which absolves those who act upon it from Dworkin’s charges that they are flouting equality of respect and Raz’s charges that they are insulting those whose conduct those actions bear upon. Multiculturalism will often be a menace to public good, justice, and peace.
  • J M Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (2nd edn Oxford University Press, Clarendon Law Series 2011)
    A 65-page Postscript and a 4-page Bibliography of the Author's works cited in the Postscript have been added to the very lightly revised original 1980 edition.
    ISBN: 978-0-19-959913-4
  • J M Finnis, Philosophy of Law (Oxford University Press 2011)
    Volume 4 of The Collected Essays of John Finnis 22 published and unpublished essays plus a 16-page Introduction, on foundations of law's authority; theories and theorists of law; legal reasoning; and the two senses of 'legal system'
  • J M Finnis, Reason in Action (Oxford University Press 2011)
    19 published and unpublished essays with an Introduction of 15 pages on the nature and foundations of practical reason and associated legally relevant topics
    ISBN: 978-0-19-958005=7
  • J M Finnis, 'Law as Idea, Ideal and Duty: A Comment on Simmonds, Law as a Moral Idea' (2010) 1 Jurisprudence 247
  • J M Finnis, 'Does Free Exercise of Religion Deserve Constitutional Mention?' (2009) 54 American Journal of Jurisprudence 41
    Surveys a number of influential constitutional provisions about freedom of religion, and argues that the recent literature (Dworkin; Eisgruber and Sager) contending that there is intrinsically nothing relevantly special about religion is mistaken.
  • J M Finnis, 'Endorsing Discrimination between Faiths: A Case of Extreme Speech?' in Ivan Hare, James Weinstein (ed), Extreme Speech and Democracy (Oxford University Press 2009)
    An examination of the House of Lords decision in Begum's Case and its roots in Sahin v Turkey in the unanimous Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights; and of the wider significance of the factual premise of the later decision.
  • J M Finnis, 'HLA Hart: A Twentieth Century Oxford Political Philosopher' (2009) 54 American Journal of Jurisprudence 161
    Discusses Hart's Life, his contribution to the philosophy of law and social science and descriptive/explanatory political theory, and argues that his theory of the proper functions of law, in Law, Liberty and Morality, is misconceived (like Devlin's) because attending only to positive morality, which is substantially irrelevant to the issue.
  • J M Finnis, 'On Hart\'s Ways: Law as Reason and as Fact' in Matthew Kramer, Claire Grant (ed), The Legacy of HLA Hart: Legal, Political and Moral Philosophy (Oxford University Press 2009)
  • J M Finnis, 'Common Law Constraints: Whose Common Good Counts?' (2008) Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper 10/2008
    Examines the history and meaning of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 as it bears on the issues in Bancoult (No.2); critiques the constitutional theory deployed in Quark Fishing.
  • J M Finnis, 'Grounds of Law and Legal Theory: A Response' (2008) 13 Legal Theory 315
  • J M Finnis, 'Marriage: A Basic and Exigent Good' (2008) 91 The Monist 396
  • J M Finnis, 'Nationality, Alienage and Constitutional Principle' (2007) 123 Law Quarterly Review 418
    After brief discussion of (1) the nature of constitutional principles and (2) the development and developed state of the law about the rights of aliens, the article argues extensively that A v Home Secretary [2004] UKHL 56, [2005] 2 AC 68 was wrongly decided and, indeed, per incuriam since all nine judges in the Lords overlooked their duty to interpet the statutory provision so far as possible as compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 before declaring it incompatible.Even apart from that duty under HRA s. 3, there was available but unconsidered a reasonable interpretation such that the power to detain alien terrorist suspects had as its ongoing precondition a purpose, manifested in bona fide efforts, to deport them and to secure whatever arrangements with foreign governments might be necessary to make deportation lawful under the Chahal doctrine about real risk of torture or degrading treatment.The judgments all overlook also the constitutional principle that risk to the public good which must be accepted from the presence of a national need not be accepted from the presence of an alien and may be obviated by the alien's exclusion or expulsion.The majority's arguments from irrationality and discrimination are manifestly unsound once the statute is interpreted as it should have been.
  • J M Finnis, 'Religion and State: Some Main Issues and Sources' (2007) 51 American Journal of Jurisprudence 107
    This philosophical, non-theological article argues that the default position for public reason in a just political community is that some religion may be true and it matters substantially for individual wellbeing and that community's common good that individuals be both (i) free from coercion in their inquiries about what is true about the transcendent source and point of everything, and in putting into practice what they believe they have discovered through such inquiries, and (ii) encouraged in such inquiries and religious practice.Coercion and/or discouragament by government and law or by private individuals or groups, is justifiable only when required for public order, that is, the rights of others, public peace and public morality.Religions which do not accept that there is such a right to religious liberty are a standing threat to public order and can, in principle, be justly discriminated against and their faithful adherents kept at a distance from our territory.Existing UK laws and judgments which discriminate in this way are in principle justified.
    ISBN: 0658995
  • J M Finnis, 'Natural Law Theories' (2007) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    ISBN: 1095-5054
  • J M Finnis, Observations for the Austral Conference to mark the 25th anniverary of Natural Law & Natural Rights, paper presented at Cuardernos de Extension Juridica, Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de los Andes
    Reflections on the genesis and deficiencies of Natural Law and Natural Rights* (1980)
    ISBN: 9789567160464
  • J M Finnis, 'Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited' (2006) 50 American Journal of Jurisprudence 109
    ISBN: 0065-8995
  • J M Finnis, 'A vote decisive for,,,a more restrictive law' in Helen Watt (ed), Cooperation, Complicity and Consent (Linacre Centre 2005)
    Defend and rearticulates the position elaborated in the previous chapter of the book.
    ISBN: 906561108
  • J M Finnis and Patrick H. Martin, 'Benedicam Dominum: Ben Jonson\\\'s Strange 1605 Inscription' (2005) Times Literary Supplement, 4 November 2005 12
    Examination of the evidence relating to Ben Jonson's search and summons warrant from the Privy Council in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Treason, in the light of other contemporary manuscripts and records.
    ISBN: 00307661
  • J M Finnis, 'Helping Enact Unjust Laws Without Complicity in Injustice' (2005) 49 American Journal of Jurisprudence 15646
    Deploys an analysis of the relation between legal materials such as statutes and the propositions of law that those materials make true in order to show what are and are not the implications of moral teaching against supporting legislative proposals to permit acts that a state cannot justly permit.
    ISBN: 0065-8995
  • J M Finnis, O Racji Publicznej [On 'Public Reason'] (Ius et Lex, Warsaw 2005)
    Texts in Polish (translated) and English of public lecture, contrasting sound with Rawlsian senses of "public reason".
    ISBN: 83p60077-07-X
  • J M Finnis, 'Restricting legalised abortion is not intrinsically unjust' in Helen Watt (ed), Cooperation, Complicity and Consent, (Linacre Centre, London 2005)
    Employs a jurisprudential analysis of laws (or rules of law) as propositions distinct from the legislative or other statements by which they are enacted or otherwise laid down, in order to show that laws creating new legal restrictions on the permissibility of abortion do not involve their makers or supporters in approval of or complicity in making the law of the state permit the abortions left unprohibited by the new restrictions,
    ISBN: 906561108
  • J M Finnis, 'Self-referential (or Peformative) Inconsistency: its significance for truth' (2005) 78 Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 13
    Performatively inconsistent, self-refuting propositions are not logically incoherent, or meaningless in themselves, or semantically paradoxical (such as “This sentence is false.”). Rather, because they have a definite reference, they are false because they are inconsistent with the facts that are given in and by any assertionof them. Thus they are not in themselves self-refuting, but to try to assert any of them is self-refuting. To show why this is so, one must show that performative inconsistency depends on the “implicit commitments” of the interlocutor. For example, what is entailed by “someone asserts that p” depends on what is meant by “assert.” As the concept of “implicit commitment” suggests, an assertion can beperformatively inconsistent only if it is located in a universe of rational discourse and is treated as an authentic contribution to such discourse. Thus sceptical arguments that aim to deny that knowledge is not a good are performatively self-refuting,for in asserting that p, one also asserts that one accepts (believes) that p is true. Itis absurd and self-contradictory to assert “p” if the assertion could imply “p, butin asserting this, I don’t care whether p is true or not.”
  • J M Finnis, 'The Thing I am': Personal Identity in Aquinas & Shakespeare' in Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller & Jeffrey Paul (ed), Personal Identity (Cambridge UP, Cambridge & New York 2005)
    Analyses, with illustrative reference to Aquinas and Shakespeare, the four irreducibly distinct kinds of explanation of personal identity, which yield four basic senses of "personal identity" and kinds of way in which one is or can be the same though partly different. Special topics include marriage, humiliation, repentance, and decay.
    ISBN: 521617677
  • J M Finnis, 'The Thing I am': Personal Identity in Aquinas and Shakespeare' (2005) 22 Social Philosophy & Policy 250
    Analyses, with illustrative reference to Aquinas and Shakespeare, the four irreducibly distinct kinds of explanation of personal identity, which yield four basic senses of "personal identity" and kinds of way in which one is or can be the same though partly different. Special topics include marriage, humiliation, repentance, and decay.
    ISBN: 02650525
  • J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'An Oxford Play Festival in February 1582' (2003) 50 Notes and Queries 391
    A University Sermon preached by the President of Magdalen on 28 February 1582 discloses that eight plays were staged in the university during the last two weeks of February, and identifies something of the theme of each of them. Central themes of three of these eight, as well as of a ninth play staged at Trinity College Oxford in January, were later employed by Shakespeare, who also echoed elements in another of the February eight.
    ISBN: 0029-3970
  • J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'Caesar, Succession, and the Chastisement of Rulers' (2003) 78 Notre Dame Law Review 101
    Study of the convergence between the political theory of succession of governments and chastisement of rulers in A Conference about the Next Succession (1593-5) and in Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece (The Argument), Titus Andronicus, and Julius Caesar.
    ISBN: 07453515
  • J M Finnis, 'Commonwealth and Dependencies' in (ed), Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th edn. (Lexis Nexis UK 2003)
    Title in Halsbury's Laws of England, vol. 6 reissue.
    ISBN: 406961662
  • J M Finnis, 'Natural Law and the Re-making of Boundaries' in Allen Buchanan and Margaret Moore (eds), States, Nations, and Boundaries (Cambridge University Press 2003)
    essay on the justice of making and maintaining boundaries, and of forcibly overthrowing unjust (e.g. some pre-"colonial", "native") rulers.
    ISBN: 521819717
  • J M Finnis, 'Nature and Natural Law in Contemporary Philosophical and Theological Debates: Some Observations' in Juan de Dios Vial Correa and Elio Sgreccia (eds), The Nature and Dignity of the Human Person as the Foundation of the Right to Life: the Challenges of the Contemporary Cultural Context. Proceedings of the Eighth Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. 2003)
    see title
    ISBN: 8820974290
  • J M Finnis, 'Secularism, Morality and Politics' (2003) 37650 L'Osservatore Romano, English edition 9
    Commentary on CDF Doctrinal Note dated 24 November 2002 and John Rawls (deceased 24 November 2002)
    ISBN: 0391-688X
  • J M Finnis and Patrick Martin, 'Thomas Thorpe, 'W.S', and the Catholic Intelligencers' (2003) 38 English Literary Renaissance 3
    First publication of and extended commentary on letters patent of an entry in the Court of Exchequer memorandum roll for Easter Term 1597, showing hitherto unsuspected connections between the publisher of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Catholic traitors overseas and at court.
    ISBN: 0138312
  • J M Finnis, 'Law and What I Truly Should Decide' (2003) 48 The American Journal of Jurisprudence 107
    ISBN: 0065-8995
  • J M Finnis, 'Aquinas on jus and Hart on Rights: A Response to Tierney' (2002) 64 The Review of Politics 407
    see title
    ISBN: 0346705
  • J M Finnis, 'Some Fundamental Evils in Generating Human Embryos by Cloning' in Cosimo Marco Mazzoni, (ed), Ethics and Law in Biological Research (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and Kluwer Law International 2002)
    see title
    ISBN: 9041117423
  • J M Finnis, 'Natural Law: the Classical Tradition' in Jules Coleman and Scott Shapiro (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (OUP 2002)
    ISBN: 0198298242
  • J M Finnis, Germain Grisez and Joseph Boyle, 'Direct' and 'Indirect': A Reply to Critics of our Action Theory' (2001) 65 The Thomist 1
    Essay (with many examples) on the fundamental theory of Intention
    ISBN: 0040-6325
  • J M Finnis, 'Retribution: Punishment’s Formative Aim' (2001) 44 The American Journal of Jurisprudence 91
    see title
    ISBN: 0065-8995
  • J M Finnis, 'Virtue and the Constitution of the United States' (2001) 69 Fordham Law Review 1595
    Civic virtues are moral virtues, and include respect for and appreciation of persons however diverse.Projects for inculcating them should critique practices denying just liberty and authentic equality. The US Constitution permits governmental encouragement of virtue, but the role of governments in inculcating civic virtue is subsidiary.
    ISBN: 0015704X

Research programmes

Research Interests

General Theory of Law, Constitutional Law in the Commonwealth

Options taught

Administrative Law, Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law (Senior Status)

Research projects