Sunday, July 02, 2006

Conference in Dublin

I have just returned from a 3-day trip to Dublin for the Association for Legal and Social Philosophy Conference on "Social Justice in Practice". I enjoyed the conference very much. There were a variety of presentations on topics linking theory to issues of practice. It was encouraging to see so many political philosophers engage in a sustained methodological debate about the aims of the discipline.

I presented my paper on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and deliberative democracy and received some very useful feedback. That is the fourth time in as many weeks that I have presented this paper to conferences so I have lots to think about as I re-work that paper.

I also attended a number of interesting sessions on global justice and the family. Russell Hardin gave the Austin Lecture on "The Legal Order As an Unintended Consequence" and as always Hardin's talk was amazing. He argued that David Hume has an important (though neglected) contribution to make to legal theory concerning the evolution of law. The idea is that the legal order evolves in unintended ways that are mutually advantageous. This lecture is part of a new book that Hardin will soon publish on Hume's political theory. I look forward to reading that book when it comes out.

I raised a question for Russell during the Q&A period in which I attempted to compare Hume's explanatory theory with Karl Marx's (with the subtle suggestion that, of the two explanatory theories, Marx's explanation sounded a bit more convincing than Hume's). For Marx, the evolution of legal orders is also "unintended" in the sense that they do not evolve as a result of the conscious decisions of particular individuals. But what drives their evolution is the way they respond to the evolution of the "productive forces". And rather than claiming that the consequence of this is mutually advantageous, Marx believed that this produced both winners and losers (in the form of "classes"). I blogged about my thoughts on this issue here. I look forward to reading Hardin's new book to see how Hume's explanatory theory fares when compared to Marx's.