Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Arthur Ripstein

University Professor of law and philosophy Arthur Ripstein has been awarded the prestigious Killam Prize for the Humanities, one of five such prizes from the Canada Council. The Killam Prize is awarded to select scholars who have achieved international scholarly eminence in their fields.

The Lawyer's Daily: University of Toronto law prof wins Killam Prize

“The Killam Prize is one of the most distinguished recognitions a Canadian scholar can receive,” said University Professor Jutta Brunnée, Dean of the Faculty of Law. “Professor Ripstein has made innumerable, signal contributions to legal thought and philosophy, and so it is fitting that the Canadian Council for the Arts has chosen to recognize him with this most prestigious honour.”

“Arthur Ripstein is one of the most important legal and political philosophers in the world. The Killam Prize could not have gone to someone more deserving. Over the last 35 years, Arthur has crafted an impressive and hugely influential body of work while at the same time inspiring many students in law as well as in philosophy by his outstanding presence in the classroom. He is an inspiration not only to students, but also to his colleagues,” said Martin Pickavé, Chair of the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Radio Canada: Canada Council announces this year's Killam Prize winners

Ripstein is one of the world’s leading legal and political philosophers. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the author of several influential books, including Equality, Responsibility and the Law (1998) and Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy (2009), both winners of the Canadian Philosophical Association’s book prize. He joined the University of Toronto's Department of Philosophy in 1987 and was jointly appointed to the Faculty of Law in 1999.

Ripstein’s interdisciplinary scholarship spans a wide range of topics, including the history of philosophy, theories of justice, tort law and the law of war.

“One of the features of legal philosophy at U of T is that we engage with philosophical questions about the nature of law and with legal doctrine,” says Ripstein. “We have the strongest group of law and philosophy professors anywhere in North America, and one of the largest in the world. This has made U of T the ideal place for me to have my career.”

Ripstein’s scholarly work has contributed to contemporary discussions about the connections between individual responsibility and social equality, the legitimate use of public power, and the morality and legality of war. He has been at the forefront of renewed scholarly interest in the legal and political philosophy of eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant.

“Kant’s ideas of individual freedom, political equality, and the point of having a legal order are aimed at ensuring that no one is subject to someone else's choice. These ideas, none of which are fully realized in any of our current institutions, are nonetheless organizing principles of modern political life,” says Ripstein.

“I've tried to get Kantian philosophy to engage with questions that are alive for us today, both as engaged citizens and as legal philosophers interested in the structure and development of the law.”

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Ripstein delivered the 2019 Tanner Lectures at UC Berkeley, one of the most prestigious lecture series in philosophy. His lectures will be published this month by Oxford University Press as Rules for Wrongdoers. Later this year, Oxford will publish Ripstein’s monograph Kant and the Law of War, as well as a companion volume of essays by several leading scholars about Ripstein’s work. Ripstein argues that to understand the distinctive moral and legal principles that govern war, you have to understand its distinctive immorality: it is a condition in which force decides.

For two decades Ripstein was a frequent contributor to the CBC radio series Ideas. In this role as public intellectual, he explored such topics as the concept of authority, the legitimacy of coercion, and the complexity of obligation.

“Each of us thinks of ourselves as independent, entitled to decide for ourselves. The law purports to tell you what to do, and to force you to do as you are told. The question of authority is, how can this be justified? Philosophers have given various answers throughout history, some more technical than others. But the questions are accessible to any reflective person. In fact, they occur to many children when they ask their parents ‘why do you get to make the rules?’ ‘Because I said so’ is not a satisfactory answer. Finding a better answer to this familiar question gets you started on the path to philosophy.”

As for authority during a worldwide pandemic?

“The hard question is figuring out when and why authority is legitimate. Some critics of public health measures seem to think that they must be illegitimate because they stop people from doing things that they want to do. That cannot be the right way to think about it; human beings can only live together if they are subject to common rules and those rules sometimes require depending on experts. The philosophical challenge is to articulate its proper limits. This is one example of how philosophy can take on such vital relevance to contemporary questions.”

U of T Celebrates: Arthur Ripstein receives Killam Prize in humanities

Ripstein says his research is deeply intertwined with his teaching.

“One of the great things about both law and philosophy as academic disciplines is that I have been able to spend my career working on material closely connected to the material that I teach to students in core courses in each. That has enabled me to teach courses that are central to both disciplines, rather than limiting my focus to the places where they overlap.

“My thinking about legal philosophy is in part informed by what I need to do to explain the structure of torts to law students. I also teach philosophy courses on Kant’s daunting work of theoretical philosophy, the Critique of Pure Reason. By thinking through these ideas with my students, my teaching feeds back into my research.”

Ripstein says he is grateful for the support he’s consistently received from his colleagues and the university administration. “U of T has supported me at every stage of my career,” notes Ripstein, “and I look forward to many more years of productive work at this great institution.”

“The Killam Prize is such a high honour,” he adds. “To be recognized for an academic career working in two disciplines – I am thrilled and humbled.”

U of T Celebrates: Arthur Ripstein and Douglas Stephan awarded Killam Prizes