Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hilary Term 2010


Week 1
Wed, 20 Jan

The Limits of Equality: A Political Account [download paper]
Enrico Biale
Post-doctoral Fellow, Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium

Which inequalities can be considered just within an egalitarian society and why? According to Rawls, once guaranteed fair equality of opportunity (FEO), inequalities due to talents are justified if they improve the prospects of life of the least advantaged (DP). In the last years G.A. Cohen challenged such perspective arguing that it does not actually guarantee equality among members of a just society. Cohen deeply criticized the Difference Principle suggesting to substitute it with a luck-egalitarian account of fairness, according to which any inequality people cannot be held responsible for are unjust, and adding that to guarantee justice it is necessary to develop an egalitarian ethos which constrains people’s daily lives. In this talk I would like to focus my attention on the egalitarian ethos trying to suggest that it is appealing because it maximizes the welfare of the worst off without justifying any inequality but it is incompatible with some egalitarian ground values (self-respect, toleration). I then try to suggest a political account of equality which can include these values limiting the scope of principles of justice and justifying some economic inequalities.


Week 2
Wed, 27 Jan

A Critique of Raz on Law and Morality [download paper]
Sherif Girgis
BPhil student, Merton College, Oxford

I argue that there can be moral criteria of legal validity. First, I flesh out two legal-positivist positions on this question (inclusive and exclusive) and briefly discuss methodology for adjudicating between them. I also address four common arguments for exclusive legal positivism before turning to Raz's more powerful argument that unless a directive's content and existence can be identified without resort to moral principles, it cannot do what law characteristically does: namely, purport to offer pre-emptive reasons for action. Finally, I respond to four objections to my argument, the most powerful of which would be incompatible with Raz's own views of practical reason, and another of which shows only that certain kinds of moral principles cannot be so incorporated into the law.


Week 3
Wed, 3 Feb

Challenging Contemporary Legal Positivism:
The Puzzle of Illegitimate Legal Practice [download paper]
Matthew Grellette
Ph.D. Student in Philosophy of Law, McMaster University, Canada, and Recognised Student at the Oxford Law Faculty

The problem to be addressed in this paper regards the idea that, by relying upon the rule of recognition to explain the criteria of legality, contemporary positivism improperly captures the ideas of legal existence and validity. More specifically, it will be argued that by resting those notions upon the current attitudes of officials, the rule of recognition too roughly parses out the relationship between the de facto practice of law and the norms that support it. On these grounds, another manner of identifying the terms of legal practice will be suggested; one that I think better accomplishes this delicate task.


Week 4
Fri, 12 Feb

Straw Men and Strange Preoccupations [download paper]
Matthew Kramer
Professor of Legal and Political Philosophy, Churchill College, Cambridge

At a panel in early December 2009, John Finnis declared that the debate between Matthew Kramer and Nigel Simmonds over the merits of legal positivism had been won by Simmonds. This talk will first impugn the grounds adduced by Finnis in support of his pronouncement, and will then more lengthily contest the latest arguments by Simmonds against the separability of law and morality.


Week 5
Wed, 17 Feb

International Justice and Uncertainty [download paper]
William Crouch
BPhil student, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford

When considering extreme global poverty, uncertainty abounds. It is often noted that we are empirically uncertain: that we aren’t 100% certain, for example, about what the causes of extreme poverty are. But we are also morally uncertain: we aren’t 100% certain, for example, about the strength or nature of our obligations to the global poor. I consider just one way in which basic decision-theoretic reasoning can clarify our thinking regarding international justice. I consider a Poggean argument to the conclusion that there should be sizeable redistribution of wealth from at least some richer nations to poorer nations and show how decision-theoretic considerations strengthen the argument. I then suggest a heuristic that should guide our response to global poverty in the face of moral uncertainty.


Week 6
Wed, 24 Feb

Justice Denied: The Criminal Law and the Ouster of the Courts [download paper]
James Edwards
DPhil student in Law, University College, Oxford

The character of contemporary criminal law is changing. This paper examines one aspect of that change: a type of criminal offence which, it is argued, effectively ousts the criminal courts. These ‘ouster offences’ are first distinguished from more conventional offences by virtue of their distinctive structure. The paper then argues that to create an ouster offence is to oust the criminal courts by depriving them of the ability to adjudicate on whatever wrongdoing the offence-creator takes to justify prosecuting potential defendants. The paper further argues that creating such an ouster is objectionable on a number of grounds. It deprives the courts of the ability to adjudicate independently, and undermines their ability to deliver procedural justice in both pure and imperfect form. While the ouster in question is by no means express, the paper argues that it is nonetheless of the first importance.


Week 7
Fri, 5 Mar
Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Special Event: Discussion Panel
Legal Indeterminacy and the Nature of Adjudication
Fred Schauer, Stephen Guest, and Timothy Endicott

It is often said that judges have a duty to do justice according to law. This view is supported by various accounts of the legal reasoning which judges employ. Many argue, however, that legal indeterminacy is an unavoidable and significant source of judicial discretion. Yet, if the law significantly underdetermines the outcome of judicial decisions, the idea of a general duty to do justice according to law becomes problematic. This special panel considers whether it is possible to simultaneously recognise the judicial duty to do justice according to law and the phenomenon of legal indeterminacy, or must one of these ideas be jettisoned?


Week 8
Wed, 10 Mar

Religion and the Foundation of Modern Constitutional Orders:
The Case of Interwar Authoritarian-Totalitarian Regimes [download paper]
Pedro Velez
Ph.D. student, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

The following paper examines a few issues pertaining to the question of the relations between ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’ in modern political and constitutional orders. The supposed non-religious nature of the modern Political will be debated. It will be argued that: (i) a few true Christian-Catholic orders have emerged in a modern political context (ii) the modern Political has not simply “left” the “religious form” but is now concretely the locus of new mundane/immanent Supreme Goods/Supreme Values – of a Summum Bonum that sometimes may even be imagined as the unique, exclusive and unlimited source of all value and ethicity (iii) the separation between the Political and the traditional religious universe cannot be regarded as something destined to occur “naturally” in modern political and constitutional orders. The new interwar regimes often categorized as authoritarian-totalitarian-fascist will be taken as a main empirical gateway to this thus revamped characterization of the “essence” of the modern Political. A similar fundamental panorama will also be shown to be present in the liberal-democratic constitutional world.