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Richard Epstein: Natural Law in Ancient and Modern Guise

As good an introduction as any to Prof. Richard A. Epstein, who has latterly called himself a Classic Liberal, having moved along that spectrum from “pretty libertarian” (and who was and largely still is known as a libertarian) to “pretty Utilitiarian, depending on just what’s meant by that”). He taught for some 30 years at the University of Chicago Law School, and has now moved to the NYU Law School, while retaining a position as Lecturer at UC.

This is a rather unusual take on Natural Law, I think. I imagine few will agree with all his points, but just when you think he’s strayed so far from any reasonably libertarian position (his are basically Chicago School economics, for instance, with lots of stuff about Pareto improvements), he hits you (by “you” I mean me *g*) with a new and intriguing point. You also get to see him in the full range from Serious Lecturer to Comedian Making a Serious Point (at the end, where he discusses animal “rights”). He is electric with intelligence and enthusiasm.

The talk, by the way, refers a great deal to Roman Law. Prof. Epstein chose to start college at Oxford, where his first courses were in that field.

The event is introduced by libertarian Prof. Randy Barnett, Professor of Legal Theory at Georgetown Law School.

1:20 min. at


Natural Law In Ancient and Modern Guise
4-1-10 — TheFederalistSociety

The Federalist Society’s Georgetown Student Chapter presented its Seventh Annual Lifetime Service Award to Professor Richard A. Epstein on April 1, 2010. Prof. Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law Center opened the event and Prof. Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz also of the Georgetown University Law Center introduced Prof. Epstein. Prof. Epstein’s address was titled “Natural Law in Ancient and Modern Guise”.


  1. Mr Ed says:

    This one is cryng out for an epistle from the Sage of Kettering.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    Mr. Ed, I quite agree! I think the Gentleman, having proven lax in his duties, should be sot down forthwith with quill and well-filled well in hand, plus plenty of parchment, so as to treat us to one of his inimitable verbal blasts whether pro or con; the degree of his atonement and redemption for said laxity being in direct proportion to the length (and dramatic action, of course) of the epistle.

  3. Mr Ed says:

    @ Julie: it’s either one of those, or ‘Yes’.

  4. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Julie –

    Thank you for posting this. Epstein is not someone I’d come across before. I will look out his work.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you – have you come across another U of C chap named Mortimer Adler? I’ve three of his books. There are both strengths and weaknesses in his work.* But he has, by and large, been majorly instrumental in shaping my own philosopy.

    *He was the guy, more than any of my lecturers, who put me on the path of Thomism.

  5. Julie near Chicago says:


    I expect it’s perfectly natural for a Thomas to be a Thomist. :)

    Mortimer Adler! Indeed, How to Read a Book. We’ve had our copy for a hundred years, but never got around to reading it. And the Great Books. He was one of the real intellectual heavyweights of the mid-20th century.

    If you mean, have I run across any videos, no I hadn’t–so I went looking. He did an interview with Brian Lamb for C-Span in 1990, the first part of which is at

    (and of course the other two parts follow from there).

    Also, the YouTube search results are at…0.0…1ac.1.FA536CL4d38

    One of them is the link to a 1970 discussion with William F. Buckley, Jr. entitled “The Idea of the Great Ideas.”

    Hope that helps…. :>))

  6. Gene says:

    Usually when listening to an interview we are gratified to hear from a person who thinks in complete sentences. With Epstein, happily, we hear from a man who thinks in complete paragraphs

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