Analysis and Commentary on Philosophy and Ethics
Thinking About the Brain

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin responds to Professor Patricia Churchland’s book, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, offering contrasting views on morality. While Griffin recommends reading the book, she offers a differing view from that of the author, arguing that the physical brain can and does give rise to reason-centered moral rules to ethics.

A Critical (Non-Dershowitz) Look at Statutory Rape Laws

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb cautions against using a disgust reaction alone to justify legislation—particularly legislation involving criminal penalties. Colb points out that disgust can sometimes help us determine that something bad is in fact going on, but we should not to allow disgust to power our moral choices without interrogation.

Herman Melville’s Billy Budd: Why this Classic Law and Literature Novel Endures and Is Still Relevant Today

In recognition of the bicentennial of Herman Melville’s birth, Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron discusses the continuing relevance of Melville’s Billy Budd. Citron provides a brief summary of the novel, considers a few conflicting interpretations of it, and explains why it is relevant for legal professionals even today.

What’s Missing in the Alabama Human Life Protection Act?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ideological inconsistencies with the abortion law recently passed in Alabama, which prohibits all abortions except those necessary to protect against a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Colb points out if an embryo or fetus and the woman carrying it are equally entitled to exist, then the exception for the serious health risk to the woman is inconsistent with that perceived equality. Colb also argues that the decision of Alabama lawmakers to penalize the abortion provider but not the abortion seeker similarly requires accepting on some level that a woman and her embryo or fetus are not co-equal occupants, which is inconsistent with the pro-life vision behind Alabama’s law.

A Police Shooting and the Power of Narratives

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different narrative lenses through which one could perceive (and interpret) the shooting of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer: the “Blue Lives Matter” narrative and the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Colb explains how such narratives shape public reactions to such incidents, and she calls upon everyone to pay attention to the facts and feel less wedded to our narratives so that we may be better able to deal with and sometimes even prevent future hardship.

#MeToo: Counting the Collective Harm of Missing Women’s Work

In light of recent revelations about Ryan Adams, a powerful musician and music producer, Illinois law professors Robin B. Kar and Lesley Wexler discuss the collective harm the scourge of sexual harassment inflicts on society, depriving it of countless and invaluable contributions. Kar and Wexler point out that research demonstrates that experiences of sexual harassment cause not only individual harms to women (such as decreases in mental and physical well-being) but also organizational withdrawal, decreases in organizational commitment, and decreases in productivity and job performance. The exact losses due to this withdrawal have yet to be measured, but evidence suggests the magnitude is enormous.

Meat and Marriage: The Menace of Changing Definitions

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the significance in policing “original” meanings of words, such as “meat” and “marriage.” She point out that in both contexts, arguments over the meaning of the word are rooted in strong feelings about status and do not truly reflect a concern with a risk of confusion.

Caravans, Kavanaugh, Law and Order, and Moral Injury

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler discusses the moral injury that results from conflicting fidelity to legal obligations and deeply held moral beliefs. Wexler explains how circumstances giving rise to such conflicts can arise and offers some suggestions of how persons experiencing moral injury might make peace with their value conflict.

Preferences, Norms, and a President Who Can’t Tell the Difference

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains the difference between preferences and norms and argues that when social norms and personal preferences conflict, the norm must win. Margulies laments that President Donald Trump misunderstands the elemental distinction between social norms and personal preferences and accepts the norm as legitimate only to the extent it coincides with his personal views.

Especially After Pittsburgh

In the wake of the tragedy in Pittsburg, which in some ways mirrors the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies draws upon his experience representing Abu Zubaydah—the first person held in the CIA "enhanced interrogation program"—to provide an answer the question of how one can represent someone so many people hate. Margulies argues that the advocate’s highest calling is to insist upon humanity even when society is most determined to deny it.

Girls…Will Not…Replace Us

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb argues that some people's belief in the trivial nature of sexual assault may go hand in hand with the belief that it never happened. Colb examines the relationship between denial and devaluation in other contexts, as well as in the context of gender oppression, and finds consistency in the thinking of people who hate or otherwise persecute others.

A Picnic, A Jew, and the Surrender of Critical Judgment

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb observes that we as a society have become extremely credulous for an era of cynicism and that we as individuals have divested ourselves of critical judgment, preferring instead to defer to people who share our political ideology or qualify for special status for some other reason. Colb considers what might be driving this deference and how we can combat it. She points out that constructive disagreement is healthy and that “viewpoints are not violence, disagreement is not hatred, and no one has a patent on the truth.”

Transitional Justice Lessons Regarding Complex Victims for #MeToo

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the recent allegations that Asia Argento—an alleged victim of Harvey Weinstein and vocal #MeToo advocate—committed statutory rape against then-17-year-old Jimmy Bennett. Wexler argues that if the allegations are true and Argento is what is known as a “complex victim,” society should judge Argento neither more harshly, by virtue of the female perpetrator’s violation of traditional gender roles, nor less harshly, simply because she is also a victim, than other complex victims.

A Law in Austria That Would Have Forced Jews and Muslims to Register for Meat

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains the controversy over a proposed (but failed) law in Austria that would have regulated the consumption of Kosher and Halal meat in Lower Austria, one of nine states in that country. Colb points out that the law could not have achieved its purported purpose, to promote the welfare of animals, because it would have permitted animals to be slaughtered at all. Rather, it would have required that religious Jews and Muslims register with the government—just as they were required to do under Nazi rule. Colb also observes that while the law invidiously targeted religious Jews and Muslims, no one seemed to consider that the intended targets could avoid the law altogether by becoming vegans.

ABA Guidance on Judicial Internet Research: Ethics, Due Process, and the Murky Law of Judicial Notice

Justia editor and attorney Sarah Andropoulos comments on an advisory opinion issued last year by the American Bar Association on the propriety of judges conducting internet research on issues raised by cases pending before them. Andropoulos points out that while the advisory opinion does provide guidance as to when such research is permissible, it is rooted in the nebulous concept of judicial notice, and thus leaves many questions unanswered.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more