Introducing the Online Symposium on Professor Robin West’s Normative Jurisprudence
This week, Concurring Opinions is hosting an online symposium on Professor Robin West’s important book Normative Jurisprudence (Cambridge University Press 2012). In the book, West argues that legal academics ought to study, debate, and teach the “nature of justice in a systematic way.” They should criticize law and suggest reforms on the basis of moral norms drawn from philosophical traditions. West takes to task contemporary trends of jurisprudence that suggest otherwise, notably the “positivist movement towards the purely analytic or descriptive study of law, the absence of a secular and progressive natural law movement, and the neutering, in effect, of the critical legal academy.” In West’s view, law professors should talk about the content of our normative legal commitments. They should ask whether “law is unjust or fails to promote the common good, as natural lawyers have long argued, or that it fails to serve the happiness of the greatest number, or leads to more pain than pleasure, more suffering than welfare, or that its array of rights and liberties legitimates subordination, or ill serves the downtrodden or so on.” West’s “hope, or plea, of this book is simply that legal scholars can and should contribute to the criticism of law, to its reform, and to its formulation, in ways that extend well beyond shadow brief writing, and well beyond the study of law’s culture, economy, and history.” West urges legal scholars to contribute to legislative and administrative initiatives by “providing a sound understanding of the nature of the good toward which law should aim.” West notes: “To do so in a systematic and responsible way would require a reorientation — not a revolution of the academy’s self-understanding and of its mission.” This is an auspicious time to discuss West’s book as we head into faculty hiring season when aspiring law professors will be talking to law faculties about their research agendas and their approach to teaching. But of course these sorts of questions ought not just be on the minds of our newer colleagues: the legal academy should question the value of its scholarship and pedagogy and the role that justice has in it. As West laments–and rightly so, the demands of justice and concerns of the common good should not be reserved for law school commencement speeches, prime-time television, and law school applicants’ essays.
We have a fantastic line-up of scholars joining Professor Robin West and the CoOp bloggers to discuss the book, including: