The Jackman Law Building from Philosopher's Walk

The University of Toronto will host the first annual Oxford-UCLA-Toronto Colloquium in Legal, Political and Moral Philosophy on June 22 and 23, 2017 in Toronto. The Colloquium is a forum for emerging and leading scholars in law and philosophy at these institutions to present works in progress. The aim of the Colloquium is to foster ongoing conversations among scholars in law and philosophy at these institutions.

Information about location, program, papers and further details will be posted as it becomes available.

Please contact Professors Larissa Katz and Sophia Moreau for more information.


(Listed in order of presentation in the program)

Disentangling Religion in Human Rights Law

Tarunabh Khaitan, Wadham College, Oxford

Jane Norton, University of Auckland

In this paper, we argue that freedom of religion and freedom from religious discrimination are distinct human rights, geared towards protecting distinct human interests in religion-as-belief and religion-as-group-membership respectively. While the distinction itself has been pointed out before, this paper will set it out in conceptually clear(er) terms, outline the normative and doctrinal implications that follow, and warn against the dangers of confusing the two sets of rights and interests.

Standpoints and Freedom

Pamela Hieronymi, UCLA

I begin by briefly motivating the thought that the source of the recalcitrant problem of free will and moral responsibility lies in explanation, or by what is sometimes called “the theoretical standpoint.”  This thought is sometimes voiced by contemporary neo-Kantians.  I then briefly consider what is sometimes called “Kantian,” or “two-standpoints” compatibilism, and briefly sketch the sources of my dissatisfaction with it.  I then present a replacement: rather than focusing on “standpoints” or “points of view,” I will suggest we should think about questions: answering a predictive question is not the same as, and will not reduce to, answering a practical question (i.e., making a decision).  Once we see this, we can also see that a maximally confident prediction of your future action does not, in itself, interfere with your freedom.  Freedom is interfered with only in cases in which what you predict you will do and what you would have yourself to do part ways.  In those cases, the difficulty is not located in the prediction itself, but rather in some defect of, interference with, or hinderance to your agency.

Chance and Compensation

Sandy Steel - Wadham College, Oxford

This paper considers two questions: (1) whether the deprivation of an epistemic chance of a good should ever give rise to (moral or legal) duties to pay substantial compensation (in virtue of the deprivation); (2) whether there is a moral case for compensatory liability in proportion to the probability that liability-relevant facts hold. It answers in the negative to both questions. The case for a negative answer to (1) is made out largely by consideration of cases where it seems highly counterintuitive to hold that the conferral or deprivation of such a chance is itself a setback to a person’s interests and by showing that we can explain why we may be morally required to provide a chance without relying upon the idea that an epistemic chance of a good is itself inherently valuable. Part of the case for a negative answer to (2) is based upon the idea that the law ought to aim to track our moral duties and that it fails to do so in applying a proportional liability rule. The paper briefly, by way of conclusion, considers whether substantial compensatory liability can be justified by other routes (i.e. without relying upon a positive answer to (1) or (2)) where there is only a small probability that the defendant has been a wrongful cause of harm to the claimant. .

Fundamental Anarchism

C.G. Normore

At root Anarchism is characterized by an attitude – that obedience in politics is a vice not a virtue. From acceptance of this attitude anarchists derive the conclusion that modern states are unjustified.  I argue that the while that derivation is invalid the question whether there is an obligation to preserve any modern state or to obey its law is an empirical one and that the prospects for such an obligation are dim. 

Government Mercy

Adam Perry

Can the government act mercifully? The government can certainly act in a way that the law labels as “mercy”, for example, by exercising the prerogative of mercy to pardon someone. But can the government show true or genuine mercy? Seneca thought that mercy is the part of justice concerned with tailoring general laws to fit the demands of particular cases, in the direction of leniency. Mercy is therefore a type of equity, as Aristotle used the term. Because the government can act equitably, it can act mercifully.  

Philosophers these days – and here Jeffrie Murphy is the best example – tend to take a different view. They say that justice (including equity) is a duty, at least for government. That makes it non-optional. Mercy, by contrast, is discretionary. It is optional. The ‘quality of mercy is not strain’d’, as Portia said. Because an act cannot be both non-optional and optional, an act cannot be both just and merciful. If the government acts “mercifully”, it acts unjustly. To act unjustly is to violate a duty, which deserves blame. But mercy is a virtue, meaning it deserves praise. So, while the government might try to show mercy, it can never succeed.    

In this article, I defend an equity-based account of mercy, and with it the possibility of governmental mercy. I argue, first, that equity is in tension with the rule of law. Acting equitably in one case does not imperil the rule of law, but acting equitably in every case does. In between these extremes is a threshold. Below that threshold, the law rules, but too harshly. There is too little equity. Above that threshold, the law does not rule enough. There is too much equity. At that threshold is the optimal level of equity. We cannot identify that level exactly, but we can approximate it, a point I make with reference to Jeffrey Brand-Ballard’s recent work on judicial nullification.  

Second, if some but not all cases should be treated equitably, the crucial question becomes: which cases should be treated equitably, and which not? One of Brand-Ballard’s insights is that the answer is often: “within limits, it does not much matter”. When it does not matter which cases are treated equitably, as long as enough cases are, then equity in any particular case is discretionary. So it is possible for the government to act equitably, without it being required to act equitably. In these circumstances, governmental mercy is possible.  

After defending the possibility of governmental mercy, I apply my account to some actual governmental decisions. My main example is President Obama’s decision in early 2016 to grant clemency to 42 prisoners serving long sentences for minor drug offences. The President granted clemency because the sentences were “unjust”. But there are thousands of prisoners serving similar sentences for similar offences. If harsh sentences for minor drug offences are unjust, they are unjust in all these cases. Were equity the only thing that mattered, the President should have granted clemency in thousands of cases. But the rule of law matters, too. To preserve the rule of law, equity could only be shown in some cases. Which cases those are was discretionary. It was up to the President, legally and morally. That makes it plausible that President Obama’s acts of clemency were acts of mercy. 

Examining Circumcision

Stephen R. Munzer, UCLA School of Law

This article states and examines arguments against the moral permissibility of circumcising male minors without medical indication.  These arguments support an anticipatory right-in-trust for male minors not to be circumcised.   

The general form of my argument rests on a norm of bodily integrity.  Under this norm I deploy three specific arguments – from the loss of nonrenewable functional tissue, from genital salience, and from permanent bodily modification – that make a provisional case against non-medically-indicated circumcision of male minors.  These arguments are fact-sensitive and apply to both secular and ritual circumcisions in the absence of a medical indication.  Next I consider some counter-arguments: reparability, net benefits that arguably outweigh a right not to be circumcised, tolerance and the freedom of religion, and especially the longevity and social meaning of the practice of circumcision in Judaism and Islam.  Lastly, I do not say that medically-non-indicated circumcisions, if they are morally impermissible, should be prohibited by law or subjected to social sanctions.  I am aware that some religious persons believe that moral impermissibility is irrelevant and that God has made a supra-rational law that some male minors be circumcised.