Archive of special events


2014 /15

Scott J. Shapiro
Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy
Yale Law School, Yale University

The Monstrous Birth of Liberalism and Just War Theory

Thursday, 19 March 2015, 11:00
Swire Seminar Room, University College

Contemporary lawyers, diplomats and human rights advocates today regard Hugo Grotius (1586-1645) as something of a secular saint. To these men and women of influence, he is known as the “Father of International Law.”  His authority is further bolstered by his reputation as the first great humanitarian.  Repulsed by the religious bloodshed of the Thirty Years War, we are told, Grotius heroically devoted himself to devising a new set of rules to curb the horrors of war.

The only problem with this inspirational story about the acclaimed father of international law is that it is completely false.  Grotius was no saint, and curbing war was the furthest thing from his mind.  He was a lawyer for the Dutch East India Company, one of the greatest trading conglomerates the world has ever seen.   The Company retained him to defend one of their employees, the famed explorer and merchant Jacob van Heemskerck.  Heemskerck (who also happened to be Grotius’s cousin) had attacked a Portuguese great-ship, the Santa Catarina, off the coast of Singapore.  The Company needed a savvy lawyer to prove that Heemskerck wasn’t simply a pirate  and that the Company was therefore entitled to  keep the immense wealth he had seized from the Santa Catarina—3.5 million guilders worth of booty, an unimaginably vast sum.  At the time, Grotius was an ambitious and famously precocious 21-year-old scholar, already known as “the Miracle of Holland.”  He agreed to represent Heemskerck and the proceeded to write a 500 page tome, entitled “The Law of Prize and Booty.”

Far from defending the victims of war, Grotius defended his powerful client by arguing that war was the only means for righting wrongs in a world that lacked a supreme sovereign or common judge.  When one state (or a corporation operating on the high seas) claimed an injury against another, these victims had every right to satisfy that claim by force.  Going to war was like going to court— just without the court. As Grotius put it, “When judicial settlement ends, war begins.”   With no Supreme Court of the World to hear their disputes, sovereigns have no choice but to take the law into their own hands and to play judge, jury and executioner.  Heemskerck was justified in going to war with the Portuguese, Grotius explained, because he was merely redressing the wrongs which the Portuguese had committed against his fellow countrymen.

Thus, in order to justify the capture of the Santa Catarina and, more importantly for the Dutch East India Company, to legitimize the new corporate strategy of militant trade in the Indies, Grotius had to invent a new moral and political philosophy.   He did not have a name for his new ideas, but later writers would coin two.  They would call them “liberalism” and "just war theory."



Panel Discussion on The Force of Law 
Frederick Schauer
University of Virginia School of Law

Thurs 7 November 2013 
5.00 pm (preceded by tea and coffee outside the Law Cube from 4:45pm) 

Law Cube, St Cross Building

John Gardner
Grant Lamond

“That the law can force people to do things they do not want to do, and which are sometimes against their own interests or their own best (and not necessarily self-interested) judgment, might seem far too obvious to justify thinking or writing much about it. But here, as elsewhere, things are often not what they seem. For more than half a century, legal philosophers, drawing their inspiration from H.L.A. Hart, have questioned whether force, coercion, and sanctions are as important to understanding the nature of law as the ordinary person – the man on the Clapham omnibus, as the English quaintly put it – believes. […] …although the present examination of the role of coercion in explaining the character and distinctiveness of law will at times be philosophical or conceptual in style and method, it will, unashamedly, often break out of those boundaries defined by the discipline of philosophy, or accepted, rather more narrowly, by many contemporary practitioners of the philosophy of law. Some of what follows will be sociological, in the broadest sense, and more than some will draw on experimental psychological research. Some will make use of empirical and analytical conclusions from economics and political science. And none of what is to come will be a theory of law, or for that matter a theory of anything else. […] This book is thus an exploration of various aspects of law’s coercive dimension, pursued largely philosophically and analytically, but with some empirical assistance. It is an account and not a theory. It is certainly not a system. But perhaps a mere account can have some value.”

** The draft of the first five chapters of Professor Schauer's new book The Force of Law is available here: draft is only for the purposes of the JDG discussion, and is not for citation. Professor Schauer would like to concentrate on the methodological issues in 3.4 and 3.5, and the analysis in Chapter 4, with a bit on the empirical conclusions in Chapter 5.


Oxford Graduate Legal Philosophy Colloquium

DPhil and SJD Candidates in Law from Edinburgh, Oxford and Harvard

Thursday 28-29 November 2013.

Location: Swire Seminar Room, University College

Current Schedule for Oxford Graduate Legal Philosophy Colloquium

Day 1 Thursday 28th November 

Session 1: Challenges to Exclusive Legal Positivism

10:30 – 11:15
Gustavo Ribeiro                      Is Law a Social Plan? Reconstructing Scott Shapiro's Legality
Commentator: John Gardner

Sam Kukathas                         Why Law Fails to Solve the Problem of Assurance
Commentator: Pavlos Eleftheriadis


Session 2: Constitutional Theory

Mikolaj Barczentewicz            Who made the U.S. Constitution?
Commentator: Nick Barber

Alex Latham                            Static or Dynamic? Waldron on Democracy and Judicial Review
Commentator: Aileen Kavanagh


Session 3: Rights and Duties    

David Frydrych                      Are Hohfeldian Claims Exercisable?
Commentator: Robert Stevens
Yotam Kaplan                         Inefficient Breach and an Optimal Alternative
Commentator: Hugh Collins

4:30pm Drinks reception

7:15pm Formal Dinner at University College

Day 2  Friday 29th November

Session 1: Legal Decision Making

Luiz Silviera                            Objectivity in Law: A Collective Endeavour

Konstantin Tretyakov            Uncertainty And Justice: Regulating Physician-Assisted Suicide       

Session 2: Legal Disagreement

Robert Mullins                        Assessment Relativism, Centered Worlds, and Legal Disagreement

Tom Adams                             Disagreement in Law
Commentator: Nicos Stavropoulos

Coffee Break

Session 3:          
Paolo Sandro                           Rule of Law vis-à-vis Legality: Matryoshka Dolls or Competing Principles?
Commentator: Richard Ekins

Felipe Oliveira de Sousa         Is Giving Reasons Always a Good Thing to Do? The Case of the Liberal Ironist
Commentator: Leslie Green

4:45pm            Drinks reception



Reason, Morality and Law
Festschrift for John Finnis

A panel discussion featuring:
John Finnis
Jeremy Waldron
Timothy Endicott
Maris Kopcke Tinture
John Keown
Thursday, 20th June 4.30pm
Gulbenkian Theatre, St Cross Building



Thursday 7th June 2012
5:30pm, Law Faculty SCR 

A Panel Discussion of

The Ends of Harm
by Victor Tadros

With :

Victor Tadros, University of Warwick
James Edwards, University of Cambridge
Malcolm Thorburn, Queen's University


Thurs 20 October 2011  
Senior Common Room, Law Faculty St.Cross Building 
4.45 -7.00 pm

JDG Special Panel

"The status of the human embryo in UK law and public policy: Gradualist language but instrumental use"

David Jones
Director, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford

With respondents:
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideal and Institutions, Princeton University
Imogen Goold
Lecturer, Faculty of law, University of Oxford



Tue, 14 June 2011
4pm-6pm (followed by wine and nibbles)
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

A Special Panel on John Finnis' philosophy of law
on the occasion of the publication of the second edition of Natural Law and Natural Rights

Speakers: Matthew Kramer (Cambridge), Hillel Steiner (Manchester), and John Finnis (Oxford)
Chair: Cecile Fabre (Oxford)

Matthew Kramer will present a paper entitled “Positivism and the Separability of Law and Morality”.

Hillel Steiner will present a paper entitled “Value Pluralism and the Nature of Rights”. 

The two presentations will be followed by a response from John Finnis, and by general discussion.

After the talks wine and nibbles will be provided. All welcome!

This event is kindly supported by Oxford University Press.



Wed, 9 Feb 2011
5.30pm (preceded by drinks at 5pm)
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Special Panel:

Resituating Fuller
Speaker: Kristen Rundle (LSE)
Respondents: Nicola Lacey (Oxford) and Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Oxford)
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Two draft Chapters of Forms Liberate are available for download: Chapter 6, on which this special panel will focus, and (for the purpose of outlining the project) the introductory Chapter 1.


Thu, 27 Jan 2011
Lecture Room, Faculty of Philosophy, 10 Merton Street

The Torture Debate:
Does morality, and should the law, ever permit torture?
A discussion panel with Uwe Steinhoff (Hong Kong), David Rodin (Oxford) and Jeremy Waldron (Oxford)

Torture has been the subject of intense debate in recent years in political, legal and philosophical circles around the world. In this discussion panel, three leading philosophers discuss some of the questions which feature in, and lie behind, these debates. Is torture, as Jeremy Waldron recently claimed in Torture, Terror, and Trade-Offs, a moral abomination: something which is, morally speaking, out of the question in all circumstances? Should torture become, or remain, a legal abomination: something which is, as Waldron puts it, utterly forbidden by law? Should torturers always face legal sanctions for violating the prohibition on torture (assuming there is such a prohibition to violate), or can the circumstances sometimes be such that a torturer ought to be excused? Though some have claimed that even discussing such questions is a danger to be avoided, we warmly invite you to join our panellists’ exploration of this terrain.


Thu, 25 Nov 2010
7pm (preceded by drinks at 6.30pm)
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Special Panel
The Wrong, the Bad, and the Wayward: Liberalism's Mala in Se
with Alan Brudner (speaker) and responses from John Gardner (Oxford) and Victor Tadros (Warwick).

Click here to download Alan Brudner's paper.



Mon, 24 May 2010
Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
To whom Is Criminal Responsibility Owed and Why?
Antony Duff, Victor Tadros, and John Gardner

In 'Answering for Crime' (Hart Publishing, 2009) Prof Antony Duff argues that theorists of criminal law should take more seriously the relational dimensions of responsibility. We must ask not just what people are responsible for, but to whom they are responsible; in the context of criminal law, we must ask 'Who is [or should be] criminally responsible for what, to whom?' To be responsible is to be answerable, but to be answerable requires the existence of a party with standing to demand an answer. Thus, it seems, criminal theorists must concern themselves with the question: who has that standing with respect to criminal responsibility and on what terms, or subject to what conditions or limitations, do they have it?


Fri, 5 March 2010
Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

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?


Thu, 3 December 2009
Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel on N.E. Simmond’s 2007 book Law as a Moral Idea (OUP 2007)
Timothy Endicott, John Finnis, John Gardner, and Nigel Simmonds (Chair: John Tasioulas)

In his book Simmonds pursued a novel and powerful argument about the value of law and the nature of legal theory. This panel discussion brings together the author with three leading legal and political philosophers, who will present and engage critically with the book's main arguments.

Organized by the Law Faculty.



Wed, 24 June 2009
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
Interpretation: Pluralism and Innovation
A panel with Joseph Raz, Timothy Edincott, Roger Scruton and Nicos Stavropoulos, focusing on Joseph Raz's recent book (OUP 2009)

This event was co-sponsored by Oxford University Press.


Thu, 21 May 2009
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
Causation and Responsibility
A discussion panel with Michael Moore, John Gardner, Jonathan Schaffer, and Jane Stapleton, based on Michael Moore's recent book (OUP 2009)

This event was co-sponsored by Oxford University Press.


Mon, 2 March 2009
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
The Hart-Fuller Debate: 50 Years On
Leslie Green, Nicola Lacey, Ruti Teitel

The debate was based on the speakers' contributions to the then forthcoming volume The Hart-Fuller Debate in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Peter Cane (Hart Publishing, 2010).

Drafts of the speakers' contributions (not for quotation) can be found here (L Green), here (N Lacey) and here (R Teitel).

This event was kindly sponsored by Hart Publishing. It was also part of a project on "Civil Society and the Rule of Law" supported by the Mellon Foundation.


Wed, 25 February 2009
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
The Morality of War (vs?) The Laws of War
Allen Buchanan, Jeff McMahan, and Jeremy Waldron

This event was part of a project on "Civil Society and the Rule of Law" supported by the Mellon Foundation.


Tue, 2 December 2008
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion panel
Positive Law and Moral Autonomy:
Themes from MacCormick's 'Institutions of Law'
John Finnis, John Gardner, Nicos Stavropoulos, and Jeremy Waldron on Neil MacCormick's Institutions of Law (OUP 2007).

The book Institutions of Law is the third book in the quartet 'Law, State, and Practical Reason'. The other books are Questioning Sovereignty (OUP 1999), Rhetoric and the Rule of Law (OUP 2005) and Practical Reason in Law and Morality (OUP 2009).

Discussion materials for download:

Short synopsis of the book, by Neil MacCormick

Photos: click here to open a slideshow.

This event was kindly co-sponsored by Oxford University Press. It was also part of a project on "Civil Society and the Rule of Law" supported by the Mellon Foundation.


2007/8 (10th Anniversary Special Events)

Wed, 4 June 2008
Lecture Theatre II, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
Punishing for Bad Luck: Should the Consequences of a Crime Affect the Punishment?
Andrew Ashworth, John Gardner, Jeremy Horder

Photos: click here to open a slideshow
Video: click here to watch videos of the session

This event was kindly co-sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Wed, 5 March 2008
Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Law Faculty, St Cross Building

Discussion Panel
The Rule of Law
Joseph Raz, Leslie Green, and Nigel Simmonds

This session was part of a project on “Civil Society and the Rule of Law”, supported by the Mellon Foundation.

Pictures available here [taken by Maris Köpcke Tinturé, Raquel van der Wijk, Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco, Paddy Law and Senwung Luk (thank you all!)].


Wed, 28 November 2007
90HS Lecture Room, University College

Discussion panel
Is there a positivist theory of law?
John Finnis, John Gardner, and Matthew Kramer

Video: click here to watch videos of the session.


Thu, 11 October 2007
Allington Room, University College

Special opening session
Oxford Legal Philosophy — Past, Present, and Future
Timothy Endicott, John Gardner, and Tony Honoré

Video: click here to watch videos of the session


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