Recent Discussions in Legal Theory at the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group

In this post, the Co-Convenors of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group for 2017-18, Richard Latta and Joaquin Reyes, report on their recent Winter/Spring seminar series and the topics discussed.

The Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group is very grateful for the support of the Global Justice Academy for the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group’s Seminar Series of Spring 2018. This semester we hosted speakers from all over the world to discuss issues in legal theory and beyond legal theory.Our seminar series was well attended by the local research community – for example, a pair of professors from St. Andrews have become regular attendees. While most of our attendees were from our own Edinburgh Law School, we also drew attendees from other departments of our university as well as drawing attendees from outside of our university.  Interest in our seminar series and events has allowed us to maintain a mailing list of over 250 individuals.

Our semester began with an economist from Duke University, Mike Munger.  He spoke with us about the sharing economy and changes in the economy that will result from monetising the goods that we already own. We are seeing this already with services like Airbnb, but he argues that this phenomenon will continue, and we discussed potential implications for policy and the law.

We heard from Kevin Walton on political authority, with an interesting focus on the international. Kevin Walton’s paper and presentation focused on the relationship between an institution’s authority and the duty its subjects have to obey its norms. The paper and argument were structural. It was not an argument that anyone does have a duty to obey the norms of any institution. Nor did he argue that any institution does have authority.  Rather, the argument was interested in the circumstances that would need to be present for one to have a duty to obey and for an institution to have authority.

Next, we heard from Michele Bocchiola on whistleblowing. Michele argued for whistleblowing as a distinctive moral duty. This is to say that we have a duty to blow the whistle even when the law and other moral duties do not require us to. This argument takes on the common conception of whistleblowing as supererogatory. This is the idea that blowing the whistle on something happening around you is to go above and beyond what is required, to have done something in some sense heroic. Michele instead argued that whistleblowing is morally required.

We hosted a workshop on rules and the rule of law. For this workshop we heard from both Jeff King and Katharina Stevens. Jeff King argued for an understanding of the rule of law that extended the concept to the private sphere and interpersonal relationships.  Katharina Stevens talked to us about courts creating precedents without creating explicit rules.  She began with the example of the reasonable foreseeability requirement of intentional infliction of emotional distress law.

Mary Newhouse gave a wonderful talk on Kant and the law in which she argued that we should understand law as a form of rational requirement. This argument pulled from Kant’s non-ideal theory and laid out what could be the beginnings for a Kantian theory of legal interpretation.

Raff Donelson’s seminar lecture was unfortunately cancelled completely due to snow, after hastily moving to a following day only to have school closed again due to weather.  However, we were able to host Raff for dinner, with all invited to attend as well. It was a smaller crew than normal, given the weather, but those who were able to attend had a wonderful time discussing Raff’s argument for preferring a pragmatist over a descriptivist account of the law.

Next, we heard from James Edwards, who is also the MacCormick Fellow this semester in the law school.  James provided a thought provoking and wonderful presentation defending what he terms ‘argument by example’ against objections raised by Feinberg. This is all in the context of criminal law.

Our final two seminars were rescheduled from earlier in the semester to work around the industrial action that took place this semester. First, we heard form Ezequiel Monti on triggering accounts of robust reason giving. Next, we heard from George Pavlakos and Sam Chilovi, who provided a defence for a grounding framework for jurisprudence.

We are proud to be associated with the GJA and we are deeply indebted for the sponsorship of a seminar series that provides the Group’s members, as well as the wider academic community, with such fantastic opportunities to discuss and consider the very best that legal theory has to offer.