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Reason, Morality, and LawThe Philosophy of John Finnis$
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John Keown and Robert P. George

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199675500

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199675500.001.0001

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The Nature of Limited Government

The Nature of Limited Government

(p.186) 12 The Nature of Limited Government
Reason, Morality, and Law

Leslie Green

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the moral limits on state action: their sources, character, and stringency. It explains what is special about the liberal tradition of limited government: individuals and groups must have a protected sphere of action, and governments must respect legality. It argues, against Patrick Devlin, that the possible absence of absolute moral reasons against government intrusion in a sphere is consistent with justified absolute positive limits on intrusion. It argues, against John Finnis, that the fact that some associations (e.g., churches or universities) have intrinsically valuable ‘common goods’ does not entitle them to further immunity from government regulation. It concludes by suggesting why certain ‘natural law’ moralities have been considered unreasonably intrusive, for they neglect the significance of moral fallibility to a theory of limited government.

Keywords:   authority, limited government, liberalism, natural law, rights, legality, Patrick Devlin, John Finnis, Henry David Thoreau

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