On March 27, 2019, I'll be directing an invited seminar for PhD researchers at Ghent University in Belgium. The seminar is called "Law and Ecology: Literary and Philosophical Perspectives." Here's what we'll be thinking about:
The Anglo-American legal tradition is fundamentally anthropocentric and individualist. As the legal philosopher Desmond Manderson observes, criminal law, contract law, property law, and even constitutional law all start “with the assumed primacy of ‘I’,” the “I” which is independent and autonomous, born with a set of natural, unassailable rights to life, liberty, and property. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke believed that humans were by nature independent and self-governing and that the first and most basic duty of any legal system should be to protect this primary freedom. This basic acceptance of the primacy of the “I” persists in the most influential legal thought of our own time, too, linking together the otherwise very different work of theorists from John Rawls to Robert Nozick and Ernst Weinrib. In this seminar, we will push back against this tradition by considering how legal experience might be described in terms that don’t depend on the grammar of the “I” and the “me.” On the philosophical level, this will involve rethinking key legal concepts such as judgment, consent, responsibility, property, and personhood by placing them in a material and interspecies frame. On the political level, it will involve addressing how this philosophical re-orientation translates into new possibilities for environmental justice, including animal sovereignty, natural resource politics, sustainable citizenship, and indigenous rights. Our thinking will be guided by a selection of literary and philosophical writings.