Mitchell Berman (Pennsylvania)

Principled Positivism: How Practices Make Principles, and How Principles Make Rules

14 September 2020 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 BST

The most fundamental question in general jurisprudence concerns what makes it the case that the law has the content that it does.  This paper offers a novel answer.  In brief: legal practices ground legal principles, and legal principles ground legal rules.  I call this two-level account of the determination of legal content “principled positivism.”  It differs from Hart’s celebrated theory in two essential respects: in relaxing Hart’s requirement that fundamental legal notions depend for their existence on judicial consensus; and in assigning weighted contributory legal norms—“principles”—an essential role in the determination of legal rights, duties, powers, and permissions.  Drawing on concrete legal examples, the paper shows how the version of positivism that it introduces betters Hart’s in meeting the most formidable challenges to positivism that Dworkin marshaled.

Attendance is free but numbers are limited. Registration will be available from 31 August 2020.

Previous seminars

Kimberley Brownlee (UBC)

What a Home Does, co-authored with David Jenkins

3 August 2020

Analytic philosophy has largely neglected the topic of homelessness. The few notable exceptions, including work by Jeremy Waldron and Christopher Essert, focus on our interests in shelter, housing, and property rights, but ignore the key social functions that a home performs as a place in which we are welcomed, accepted, and respected. This paper identifies a ladder of home-related concepts which begins with the minimal notion of temporary shelter, then moves to persistent shelter and housing, and finally to the rich notion of a home which focuses on meeting our social needs including, specifically, our needs to belong and to have meaningful control over our social environment. This concept-ladder enables us to distinguish the shelterless from the sheltered; the unhoused from the housed; and the unhomed from the homed. It also enables us to decouple the concept of a home from property rights, which reveals potential complications in people’s living arrangements. For instance, a person could be sheltered but unhoused, housed but homeless, or, indeed, unhoused but homed. We show that we should reserve the concept of home to capture the rich idea of a place of belonging in which our core social needs are met.

Victor Tadros (Warwick)

Fairness, Avoidability and Sanctions

6 July 2020

A familiar view of responsibility is that a person is responsible, in a certain sense, for conduct if that conduct is attributable to her. However, it might be argued, the fact that wrongful conduct can be attributed to the wrongdoer is insufficient to make the infliction of sanctions for that conduct fair. Something more is required – something to do with the opportunity to avoid either the sanctions, or the conduct on which the sanctions are based. I argue that the fairness of the imposition of a sanction on a person does not depend on the opportunity that the person had to avoid having that sanction inflicted on her. I also raise doubts about the idea that the infliction of sanctions is made fair by a person having a compatibilist-friendly opportunity to avoid the basis of those sanctions being inflicted on the person. Determinism thus continues to pose serious challenges for the fair infliction of sanctions, and indeterminism doesn’t help. We need less conventional theories of the justification of sanctions to meet these challenges.