CAMDEN —Many legal questions have important philosophical dimensions. For example, what is the constitutional guarantee of equal protection? Of what does criminal and civil responsibility consist? Is there a duty to obey the law? What is law?
They are questions found at the intersection of law and philosophy.
“Law is as ripe a topic as any for the kind of inescapable and basic questions that animate philosophy, making legal philosophy a fertile area of study,” says John Oberdiek, a professor and director of faculty research at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.
At the crossroads of this intersection stands the Rutgers Institute for Law and Philosophy. Founded in 2004, the institute combines the resources of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden and the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers–New Brunswick, both nationally recognized and ranked, to advance knowledge and understanding of philosophically significant legal topics.
The institute serves to educate faculty members and students on the philosophical implications of a variety of legal topics through conferences and roundtable discussions.
“Recognizing the philosophical aspects of legal problems enriches our understanding of those problems,” says Oberdiek, a co-director of the institute. “Due to its focus on the fundamentals, a philosophical approach to the law often can reveal hidden assumptions, overlooked connections, and unanticipated implications of legal doctrines and arguments. Philosophy helps to clarify thinking about legal questions.”
And philosophy, in turn, is enriched by the study of law, Oberdiek says.
“These sorts of interdisciplinary and intercampus collaborations were intended to foster greater connections between New Brunswick and Camden,” says Kimberly Ferzan, a professor of law at Rutgers–Camden and co-founder of the institute. “Creating the institute allowed for the intersection of these related fields and gave the Rutgers–Camden Law School the ability to increase its connections to a world-class philosophy department.”
Ross Mazer, a 2012 graduate of the Rutgers-Camden law school, says the Rutgers Institute for Law and Philosophy’s lectures and conferences also engage students in these important debates.
“Having studied law and philosophy for just a few years, I’m surprised that most people don’t think of them as being related,” Mazer says. “The study of law is more than learning how to file a motion or draft a contract, although that’s important. Law is the study of justice, equality, and pluralism—all philosophical concepts. Law also makes these ideas less abstract, since legislators have to translate them into laws and judges must decide actual cases.”
In 2011, the institute hosted a conference on Nobel Laureate and Harvard philosopher and economist Amartya Sen, which featured original papers by leading philosophers from across the country.
“Under the institute’s auspices, we have partnered with the Rutgers School of Law–Camden to host many excellent conferences and roundtables that have brought acclaim to Rutgers University as a whole,” says Douglas Husak, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers–New Brunswick and co-director of the institute.
This year’s annual Lecture in Law and Ethics, “Apology and Repair,” will feature John Gardner, Professor of Jurisprudence and Fellow of University College at the University of Oxford. An internationally regarded scholar in the philosophy of law, he is the author of the book Offences and Defences: Selected Essays in the Philosophy of Criminal Law and the forthcoming book Law as a Leap of Faith: Essays on Law in General.
The lecture, which is open to the public, will be held at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.
For more information on these events and others sponsored by the institute, visit lawandphil.rutgers.edu/welcome-institute-law-and-philosophy.
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Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse