James Bernard Murphy

Academic Appointments
  • Professor of Government

  • Director, Daniel Webster Project

The focus of my scholarship has always been to elaborate Aristotle’s nested hierarchy of development. According to Aristotle, to become a good and excellent person, we need to inherit the right natural endowment, acquire the right habits, and reflectively adjust those habits through right reason. In this nested hierarchy, our habits rest upon our biological nature while our reason rests upon our habits. Aristotle also extended this hierarchy to political development in which we begin with natural resources, develop social customs, and then revise those customs through rational law. In my first book, The Moral Economy of Labor: Aristotelian Themes in Economic Theory, I explored the nested hierarchy of the natural, customary, and stipulated division of labor. Specialization in work begins with natural aptitudes; these natural aptitudes lead to various customary divisions of labor; finally, legislators and managers create deliberately-stipulated divisions of labor within a society or firm. I then turned to the development of law, from natural law to customary law to positive law in my books, The Philosophy of Positive Law and The Philosophy of Customary Law. By natural reason human beings grasp, inchoately, rules of conduct; these rules are then fleshed out through particular social customs; finally, reflection upon these customs leads to the deliberate stipulation of positive law. In Your Whole Life, I elaborate a nested hierarchy of human development from biological growth, to psychological awareness, to autobiographical narrative.


(603) 646-2862
Silsby 206
HB 6108


  • B.A. Yale University
  • M.C.P. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ph.D. Yale University

Selected Publications

  • A Geneaology of Violence and Religion: René Girard in Dialogue  (Sussex Academic Press, 2018).

  • "Does religion give rise to violence--or the other way around?," The Washington Post, November 16, 2015.

  • The Philosophy of Customary Law  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  • Op-Ed: In Defense of Being a Kid : Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9, 2011.

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Works In Progress

  • How to Think About Politics (with Graeme Garrard), Bloomsbury Publishers, 2019.

  • Your Whole Life: Childhood and Adulthood in Dialogue

  • The Utopian Bible: Divine Ideals and Human Realities