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Arguments and Opinions

Waldron Takes Questions

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University Professor Jeremy Waldron published four books in 2012, prompting Senior Writer Atticus Gannaway to have the following exchange with him:

A review of your titles from the last several years suggests you have an insatiable curiosity. Is there a topic you would never write about?

Transactions. Hang on—there is a bit about transactional law in “Partly Laws Common to All Mankind”: Foreign Law in American Courts. But the impression that I write about lots and lots is a bit misleading. I work through the central agenda of a couple of major areas: legal philosophy and the theory of politics, including historical and modern normative political theory. I maintain my interest in every aspect of these disciplines, rather than cutting things off in order to specialize. So one week it is Aristotle, another week it is ethical positivism, and a third week it is the separation of powers. It’s narrower than it seems.

Which ideas from your recent works have prompted the most disagreement?

The Harm in Hate Speech has excited the most disagreement. Actually, it is more denunciation. An anti-Semitic website described the book as a Jewish attempt to cut off our tongues! But there has been good-faith and good-natured disagreement as well from people I greatly respect. I have debated the book with Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School; Professor James Weinstein at Arizona State; and—most important for me—my dear friend and colleague Ronald Dworkin, just recently passed away.

What topics do you hope to explore next?

I’m continuing to write about human dignity, and I lectured last April at UCLA on the topic “What Do Philosophers Have Against Human Dignity?” (See also “Emotional Decisions”) I also want to devote some time to developing and elaborating some of Ronald Dworkin’s latest jurisprudential work, a way of carrying a torch forward after the wonderful start he gave us in resetting and reevaluating analytic legal philosophy. Finally, I have a little volume of essays on institutional political theory—I call it “political political theory”—in the works. There are essays on topics such as separation of powers, representation, loyal opposition, and judicial review.

How often do your own conclusions surprise you?

More and more. Especially when you are engaging with others and responding to their suggestions and criticisms, you find yourself taking your work into places you didn’t expect. Is it possible to say that a person can sometimes be surprised by their own moderation? That’s often the effect of the back-and-forth that scholarly debate embodies. But then there are times when one is surprised by one’s absolutism. I hadn’t expected to end up defending an absolutist position on torture when I began writing what became Torture, Terror, and Trade-offs: Philosophy for the White House 10 years ago, but it was a good place to end up.

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