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law and ethics

Interview by Richard Marshall.

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Matthew Kramer is a legal philosopher who thinks about where law and morality meet, about the different varieties of legal positivism, about rights, about objectivity and the law, about HLA Hart, about the ethics of capital punishment, about Achan and the purgative rationale, about why ‘evil’ still has traction, about torture and moral integrity, about moral realism as a moral doctrine, about freedom and moral responsibility. Take your time with this one…

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

Matthew Kramer: I’ve been fascinated by philosophical issues since my early boyhood. I remember that, at the age of 7, I initiated a conversation with my mother about the nature of time. She had studied Philosophy as an undergraduate, and she supplied me with a few of the books that she had retained (anthologies of extracts from philosophers over the centuries). I first became familiar with legal philosophy at the age of 11, when I read some excerpts from H.L.A. Hart in an anthology lent to me by my oldest brother. Around that same time, I also became familiar with moral philosophy through some of Bernard Williams’ writings. Not too long thereafter, I became interested in Stoicism; I’ve retained that interest, which has indeed shaped my highly regimented lifestyle as well as my intellectual orientation. I continued to read philosophical works intermittently during the years leading up to my undergraduate studies. Hence, the decision to major in Philosophy was pretty straightforward ─ though I did also major in Government (Political Theory) and History (Intellectual History), and I naturally took courses in quite a few other subjects as well. Similarly straightforward was my resolve to carry on with philosophical work at the postgraduate and professional levels. I’ve always felt most comfortable in thinking at high levels of abstraction, and I’m grateful to be able to engage in such thinking as my livelihood!

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3:AM: You’re interested in both law and ethics, in fact you write that they do meet. However, your overall position is as a legal positivist isn’t it? I always thought that that was a position that kept the two apart and this was the main difference between positivists and natural law thinkers. And within the positivist camp don’t Raz and Shapiro disagree with your position? So perhaps you could begin by outlining what your position is?

MK: Legal positivists are often said to insist on the separability of law and morality (or to deny necessary connections between law and morality). Although that common characterization is not incorrect, it is seriously misleading in more than one way. First, any legal positivist would accept that there are numerous necessary connections between law and morality; most of those connections are trivial, but some are of more significance. They are all consistent with the proposition that law is not an inherently moral phenomenon. Second, the proposition just stated is itself not indicative of a single point of contention between legal positivists and their natural-law opponents. Natural-law philosophers have affirmed a multiplicity of necessary connections that are supposed to establish the inherently moral character of law, and legal positivists have sought to controvert those connections; the ensuing debates are largely distinct from one another. Third, not everybody who is predominantly a legal positivist is invariably on the positivist side in those debates, and not everybody who is predominantly a natural-law theorist is invariably on the natural-law side. (I myself am on the legal-positivist side in every one, or virtually every one, of those debates.)

Legal positivism is a species with many varieties. I can’t discuss most of them here, but the division to which you have adverted is between Inclusive Legal Positivism and Exclusive Legal Positivism. Along with quite a few other positivists (such as Wil Waluchow and Jules Coleman and Ken Himma), I belong to the former camp; Joseph Raz and Scott Shapiro are among the positivists in the latter camp. Debates between Inclusivists and Exclusivists are themselves multifarious, but they usually center on either or both of the following propositions: (1) It can be the case, though it need not be the case, that a norm’s consistency with some or all of the requirements of morality is a necessary condition for the norm’s status as a law in any particular jurisdiction. (2) It can be the case, though it need not be the case, that a norm’s correctness as a moral principle is a sufficient condition for its status as a legal norm in any particular jurisdiction. Most Inclusivists affirm both of these propositions, and most Exclusivists deny both of them ─ though, again, I’m here glossing over a lot of complexities and cross-cutting allegiances.

3:AM: So what are the affinities between morality and law even though they are strictly separable?

MK: As I’ve remarked, there are many such affinities. Perhaps the most obvious, and also one of the most important, is the shared deontic vocabulary. Both in regard to law and in regard to morality, we speak of duties and rights and obligations and liberties and authority and so forth. Another obvious necessary connection is that individual laws and whole legal systems are always properly susceptible to moral assessment. There are also subtler affinities, however. For example, in my writings on the nature of legal rights, I’ve argued that the delimitation of the class of potential right-holders ─ that is, the delimitation of the class of beings who can hold legal rights at all ─ is partly and inherently an ethical matter. Given as much, we can’t provide a full account of the deontic relations in any system of legal governance without drawing on substantive ethical considerations.

Of course, if the scope of your question here is broadened to encompass contingent connections as well as necessary connections, every legal positivist would accept that the links between law and morality are ─ and should be ─ multitudinous. Hart emphasized this point in his famous discussion of legal positivism in the ninth chapter of The Concept of Law.

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3:AM: Do you think of your position as an extension of legal positivism and what if any are important new implications of your position?

MK: On matters relating to the general connections and disconnections between law and morality, my position is pretty close to Hart’s. One respect in which I go beyond Hart (especially in my 2007 book Objectivity and the Rule of Law but also to some degree in my 2004 book Where Law and Morality Meet) is that I conjoin legal positivism with a wide-ranging account of the nature of legal objectivity. Another respect in which I go beyond him is that I more carefully differentiate among aspects or dimensions of morality that are at issue when philosophers debate the separability of law and morality. Similarly, in the final chapter of my 1999 book In Defense of Legal Positivism I ponder at length the implications of legal positivism for the matter of political obligation (i.e., the matter of the moral obligation to obey the law), whereas Hart’s own reflections on that issue are far sketchier. Moreover, although Hart was an Inclusive Legal Positivist avant la lettre, he largely finished his career before the Inclusivism/Exclusivism controversies gained momentum; consequently, he never ruminated sustainedly on the points of contention that have divided Inclusivists and Exclusivists. In In Defense of Legal Positivism and in some of my other books I have also criticized Hart on a number of additional points, but overall I immensely admire his contribution to the philosophy of law, and I regard my work on legal positivism as an extension of his work.

On other philosophical questions, I’m more often in disagreement with Hart than in agreement with him. For example, his account of the conditions necessary and sufficient for the holding of legal rights is directly opposed to my account. Likewise, I am a moral realist ─ and I take moral realism to be a moral doctrine ─ whereas Hart’s own position on the nature of morality was rather nebulous. Similarly, although I warmly applaud Hart for his continuation of the liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill, his allegiance to utilitarianism (albeit an allegiance tempered with some substantial doses of Kantianism) is something that I decidedly do not share. And so on. Greatly though I esteem Hart, my alignment with him on philosophical issues is largely limited to the merits and implications of legal positivism.

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3:AM: Capital punishment is a live debate at the moment throughout the UK and USA. You’ve examined the arguments for and against it and conclude that most arguments justifying it fail. However there is a position that you think justifies a tiny range of cases being punished by capital punishment. Before getting to that can you sketch for us what a good argument for capital punishment has to do to succeed? Is William Edmundson right to say that it has to deal with both justification of punishment in general and the place of death in any such theory?

MK: In my 2011 book The Ethics of Capital Punishment, I do indeed argue that all the standard rationales for capital punishment ─ deterrence-oriented, retributivist, incapacitative, and denunciatory ─ fail to establish that such punishment is morally legitimate. Each of those standard rationales is the application of a general theory of punishment to the death penalty. To succeed as a justification of that penalty, a rationale has to establish that the execution of a convict is both morally obligatory and morally permissible. Since none of the standard rationales does establish the moral obligatoriness and moral permissibility of the death penalty (either when each of those rationales is considered discretely or when they are considered in combination), none of them can properly serve as a basis for the imposition of that penalty.

My own rationale for capital punishment in a very limited range of cases, the purgative rationale, is not an offshoot of a general theory of punishment. Hence, I reject William Edmundson’s claim. Like quite a few other philosophers of punishment, I’m a pluralist. In my 2011 book I’ve argued that there is no single theory that will justify all the sanctions which a system of criminal justice is morally obligated and morally permitted to impose. In particular, there is no general theory of punishment that will also justify the use of the death penalty. The purgative rationale is a free-standing justification derivable not from any general theory of punishment but from an account ─ broadly Stoical in its inspiration ─ of the conditions for warranted self-respect.

3:AM: And do you think that the most common arguments for capital punishment fail because they’re associated with a wide-ranging theory addressing all types of crimes rather than a particular and limited range of wrongdoing?

MK: Yes, as a pluralist about punishment, I’ve contended that the considerations sufficient to justify the imposition of most other criminal sanctions are insufficient to justify the use of capital punishment. I’ve never committed myself to any wide-ranging theory of punishment, but my discussions of such theories make clear that I am far more sympathetic toward retributivism than toward any of its consequentialist rivals. Nonetheless, retributivism fails to vindicate any use of the death penalty. Of course, many contemporary retributivists view that apparent failure as a strength of their doctrine, because they are opposed in principle to capital punishment. However, if one believes (as I do) that capital punishment is in principle morally legitimate in certain cases of extreme evil, one will conclude that retributivism falls short of being a comprehensive justification of punishment.

3:AM: What is the purgative rationale for capital punishment? Why is the execution of Achan a good illustration of what you are driving at?

MK: The purgative rationale is a complex deontological justification that is applicable only in cases of extravagant evil. It maintains that, in some such cases, the sustainment of an evildoer’s life (even through lifelong imprisonment) is at odds with the conditions for the warrantedness of a sense of self-respect on the part of every member of humankind. My 2011 book begins its discussion of the purgative rationale with the story of Achan that is recounted in chapter 7 of the Book of Joshua. Achan appropriated for himself some of the booty that had been seized by the Israelites at Jericho. When his misappropriation became evident, God enjoined the Israelites to purge their community of the taint with which they had been defiled through the presence of the wrongdoer. God instructed them to execute Achan, and they complied. Now, although this story is grotesque (like so many of the other narratives in the Book of Joshua), it is serviceable for my purposes in one key respect. That is, it presents vividly the idea that the continued presence of an evildoer within a community can defile the community even if there was no collective responsibility for the original crimes. That idea is not unique to the Bible, of course. It is also present in Greek mythology ─ prominently so in the story of Oedipus, for example. Nonetheless, various books in the Hebrew Scriptures chiefly helped to give form to my inchoate sense of the purgative rationale for capital punishment. (As I say in the preface to my 2011 book, that inchoate sense arose when I was 8 years old. At that age, I learned about the Holocaust and about the judgments at Nuremberg that followed the Second World War.)

Now, my invocation of the Bible (and perhaps also my invocation of Greek mythology) will immediately set off alarms in the minds of some philosophers. I should therefore remark that I have been robustly atheistic since the age of 8. On the one hand, I read the Bible every day for 60-90 minutes, and I have been working on a Biblical commentary as my principal avocation for nearly 32 years. On the other hand, my preoccupation with the Bible is purely intellectual and philosophical and literary rather than devotional. I became interested and remain interested in the Bible primarily because of its vast influence on Western culture, but over the years it has also been quite stimulating as a source of philosophical ideas (albeit no more so than Shakespeare’s plays, every one of which I read annually). Because I am unremittingly atheistic, I thoroughly secularize any ideas that I draw from the Bible ─ as I have secularized the purgative rationale.

3:AM: Why do you think the purgative rationale ‘does not succumb to the moral vices or the empirical snarls that undermine the standard justifications for the death penalty’?

MK: Because the purgative rationale for the death penalty is strictly deontological (though non-Kantian), it is not dependent on empirical contingencies like those on which the deterrence-oriented and denunciatory rationales are dependent. It therefore does not become bogged down in the futility of the myriads of conflicting empirical studies through which social scientists have sought to ascertain the presence or absence of those contingencies. The wording which you’ve quoted from my book is slightly too strong, however. Although the in-principle pertinence of the purgative rationale is not dependent on empirical contingencies, its legitimacy in practice ─ that is, the morality of its implementation ─ is subject to such contingencies. In the lengthy final chapter of my 2011 book, I discuss the problems that afflict the implementation of the death penalty, and I leave open the possibility that the imposition of such a penalty will never be permissible in practice notwithstanding its legitimacy in principle. (Indeed, that book closes with a call for a moratorium on capital punishment.)

The phrase “moral vices” in the quoted wording refers to several things. First, in some circumstances, most of the standard rationales for capital punishment call also for the infliction of supplementary sanctions such as prolonged torture. Second, some of the standard rationales deem the execution of innocent people to be morally permissible and morally obligatory in certain credibly possible contexts. Third, most of the standard rationales contravene the principle that a necessary condition for the permissibility of any governmental measure M is that M be the least invasive feasible means of attaining the legitimate end in pursuit of which M is undertaken. Fourth, some of the standard rationales favor the organizing of executions as public spectacles with especially brutal methods of putting capital prisoners to death. Those and several other moral failings in the standard rationales are all avoided by the purgative rationale.

3:AM: Does this position depend on the idea of ‘evil’ having traction? I’m thinking that in modern times it is a concept that doesn’t command universal acceptance is it?

MK: The notion of evil is indeed discountenanced by a number of contemporary philosophers, and even more widely discountenanced is the notion of defilement. Given that I marshal both of those concepts in my elaboration of the purgative rationale, I’ve had to do a lot of work to explicate them in philosophically respectable ways. Having said as much, I should immediately add that I benefited from many illuminating accounts of evil that have been propounded by philosophers over the past few decades. My own account is quite different from any of those, but I’ve profited considerably from engaging with them. (By contrast, I discovered very little good philosophical work on defilement in recent decades. I do mention a few writings in my discussion of the matter, but for the most part I had to find my own way.)

Clearly, the main challenge has been to secularize ideas that were originally developed in religious contexts. I think that I have succeeded in doing as much. There is certainly nothing mysterious or eerie or numinous in the concept of evil as I expound it. My account of evil in a nutshell is as follows: Evil conduct is underlain by sadistic malice or heartlessness or extreme recklessness that is connected to severe harm in the absence of any significant extenuating circumstances. Of course, I’ve had to flesh out that bare-bones statement greatly in my 2011 book, but my point here is simply to indicate that the property of evil as I expound it is a secular moral property rather than anything that smacks of the supernatural.

As for the notion of defilement, the key to it in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Greek mythology is that a community transgresses against God or the gods by harboring (perhaps unwittingly) an evildoer in its midst. To secularize that notion, I have refocused it on the relationship between any community and humankind, specifically in connection with the sustainment of the conditions necessary for the warrantedness of everyone’s sense of self-respect. The idea in a nutshell is that some crimes are of such extreme turpitude that the continuation of the life of the perpetrator of those crimes ─ a life whose ethical tenor is thoroughly dominated by the iniquity of those crimes ─ is inconsistent with the aforementioned conditions. I’ve devoted many pages to expanding on that skeletal idea, but its independence from any religious doctrines should be apparent even from this one-sentence encapsulation.

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3:AM: If capital punishment is a central contemporary issue so is the use of torture. Why do you argue that torture is always wrong?

MK: There is no single answer to that question, because there are many different types of torture, and the explanation of the wrongness of torture is not uniform across those types. (When I refer to the sundry types of torture, I am not differentiating among them on the basis of the techniques employed; rather, I am differentiating among them with regard to the chief purposes for which torture is undertaken.) Let me say a bit here about the most frequently discussed type, interrogational torture. My 2014 book Torture and Moral Integrity maintains that such torture is always and everywhere morally wrong. The gravity of the wrong varies, but the wrongness itself does not. Hence, it should be apparent that that book is as robustly deontological as any of my previous volumes. (“Robustly deontological” is definitely not equivalent to “robustly Kantian.” My book on torture contains numerous objections to Kantianism as well as to consequentialism.)

Interrogational torture involves the deliberate infliction of severe pain for the purpose of extracting information from someone (either from the person on whom the pain is directly inflicted or from someone who is likely to care deeply about that person). The deliberate infliction of severe pain for that purpose is always morally wrong because of the overweeningness of the control exerted both through the infliction itself and through the aim which it is undertaken to achieve. The overweeningness of the control exerted by the infliction itself has been brought out especially incisively in recent years by David Sussman, and the overweeningness of the aim pursued has been brought out especially incisively in recent years by David Luban. Hence, I draw upon their writings as well as those of many other philosophers in my ruminations on torture.

3:AM: Given that you think capital punishment is justified in rare cases why doesn’t an analogy to the purgative rationale justify torture in rare cases? If a consequence of torture is to prevent an act of mass killing of innocents that would trigger your purgative rationale for a death sentence then wouldn’t that situation elude moral vice?

MK: At some length in my book on capital punishment and at considerably greater length in my book on torture, I highlight the main differences between various types of torture (including punitive torture) and deliberate killing ─ in order to explain why each of those types of torture is always morally wrong whereas deliberate killing is sometimes morally permissible. Punitive torture is always morally wrong because, in light of the availability of alternative sanctions (including the death penalty), its infliction of severe pain serves as a means of attaining vengeance. By contrast, the purgative rationale is wholly dissociated from any quest for vengeance. The only rationale for capital punishment that presents it as a means of vengeance is the denunciatory rationale. (Some retributivists over the centuries have associated their doctrine with a quest for revenge, but most contemporary retributivists differentiate sharply between retribution and revenge.)

If the contrast is instead between capital punishment and interrogational torture (or several other types of torture that are relevantly similar), the key differences bear on the overweeningness which I mentioned above. Because the infliction of pain is strictly incidental if it occurs at all in a purgative execution, capital punishment is not overweeningly controlling in the first respect identified above. Similarly, because capital punishment is not aimed at gaining fine-grained control over someone’s behavior, it is not overweening in the second respect identified above. Its effects are more wide-ranging than the effects of most non-lethal techniques of torture, but the agony-exploiting and minutely controlling properties of interrogational torture are absent from a purgative execution.

Why is the overweening controllingness of interrogational torture so important? The answer to that question is signaled in the title of my 2014 book, for I understand moral integrity as conformity to a deontological ethic of self-restraint. Although my elaboration of that ethic has been inspired partly by Stoicism, it is not tied to any Stoical doctrines. Some of Rawls’s remarks on self-respect are also a source of inspiration for my pondering on the matter ─ since the notion of self-restraint is integrally connected to that of warranted self-respect. I expound that connection in my books on capital punishment and torture, but I develop it in much more detail in the book on which I’m currently working, Liberalism with Excellence.

Your second sentence here also asks why torture would be wrong if it serves to avert a calamity. I naturally discuss calamity-averting torture, especially calamity-averting interrogational torture, at many junctures in my 2014 book. On the one hand, the ticking-bomb scenarios peddled by proponents of interrogational torture ─ scenarios in which hundreds or thousands or millions of deaths are averted through the use of such torture ─ are generally fanciful. On the other hand, far more realistic is a situation in which the use of torture can avert a single death or some other small-scale calamity. Such situations are very rare, but they are not fanciful. Why would interrogational torture be morally wrong even in such a situation? The short answer to this question is that all the wrong-making properties of interrogational torture are present when it averts a calamity as well as in any other context. Its calamity-averting role affects the gravity of its wrongness but not the wrongness itself. Hence, although the recourse of somebody to interrogational torture in one of these extremely rare situations might conceivably be the less grave of two very serious wrongs between which he or she has to decide, it is still a wrong. At the end of my answer to your next question below, I briefly touch upon one of the implications of this point.

3:AM: Your approach across these issues is to mix abstract with concrete argumentation. Can you say something about this and why you think this the best way to approach these philosophical issues?

MK: Yes, this pattern was especially evident in my book on torture. Chapters 1 and 4 deal with very abstract and somewhat technical issues relating to moral conflicts and the nature and sustainability of deontology, whereas the other chapters deal with more concrete matters pertaining to the specificities of torture. Although positions on the abstract issues do not logically entail positions on the more concrete questions, the links between them are quite strong. I expand on this point by contrasting my account of torture with the account propounded by Michael Moore, who was generally supportive of the Bush Administration’s interrogational practices. My marked differences with Moore over that matter are closely related to the differences between us concerning the importance of moral conflicts and the rationality of deontological absolutism. Connections between the highly abstract levels and the more concrete levels ramify all the way down into the details of the appropriate legal responses to the perpetration of torture. Whereas Moore’s doubts about the frequency of moral conflicts and about the rationality of deontological absolutism lead very smoothly to his opposing the imposition of legal sanctions for instances of interrogational torture that avert calamities, my affirmation of the frequency of moral conflicts and my defense of the rationality of deontological absolutism lead very smoothly to my insistence on the moral obligatoriness of legal sanctions for all instances of interrogational torture perpetrated by public officials.

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3:AM: You defend a moral realist position that claims that ethics is both objective and that that objectivity is itself an ethical matter don’t you? Can you sketch out this idea and also say whether your approach to law and morality depends on whether you are or are not taking this view that objectivity is itself ethical?

MK: Yes, my 2009 book Moral Realism as a Moral Doctrine argues that morality is strongly objective in several different ways, and that the objectivity of morality in each of those dimensions is a moral matter. More specifically, the book underscores the mind-independence of all basic moral principles and of many derivative moral principles; it contends that there are determinately correct answers to a vast array of moral questions; it affirms the categorical prescriptiveness of moral principles and the other ways in which such principles are uniformly applicable; it highlights the invariance of morality in major respects, while also readily acknowledging the variability of morality in other respects; it accounts for the knowability of moral principles and for the transindividuality of our epistemic access to them; it expounds the ways in which moral deliberations can be impartial and thus truth-conducive; and it maintains that any number of moral assertions are truth-apt and that some of them are true. In so arguing, the book addresses the semantics and metaphysics and epistemology of morality, but it comes to grips with all such issues as substantive moral matters.

The closing portion of your question here is not easily answerable. On the one hand, I’m inclined to say that my espousal of moral realism as a moral doctrine is independent of my espousal of legal positivism, because the former position aligns me quite closely with Dworkin whereas the latter position aligns me quite closely with Hart. On the other hand, there are certain points in my defenses of Inclusive Legal Positivism against Exclusivism where I rely on claims about the observational mind-independence of morality. Moreover, I’m doubtful that a thoroughgoing moral nihilist could meaningfully come to grips with most of the questions addressed by legal positivists and their natural-law opponents (save through radically revisionary understandings of those questions). Thus, although one’s stance on questions about the objectivity of morality severely underdetermines one’s stance on questions about the relationship between law and morality, there are some connections.

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3:AM: There’s been quite a lot of discussion about whether people have freewill and whether responsibility is conditional on us having it. Pat Churchland and others have pointed out that long before freewill and autonomy were an issue responsibility (and punishment) were well established. So do you think freewill is important for your theories about punishment, responsibility and morality to work or could you retain your views without any freewill foundations? And does this connect with more general considerations of freedom?

MK: Although my longest book (The Quality of Freedom) is on political and social freedom, I explicitly prescind there from questions about metaphysical freedom. I say more about those latter questions in Moral Realism as a Moral Doctrine and in The Ethics of Capital Punishment. I’m a compatibilist, and ─ naturally ─ I’m a compatibilist for moral reasons. On the one hand, like most compatibilists, I readily accept that an individual’s freedom of will can be vitiated by factors such as coercion, fraud, severe inebriation, and hallucinations or mental illness. On the other hand, the sheer fact that a person’s willing is itself causally determined does not deprive the person of responsibility for her decisions and actions, whether they be creditable or discreditable. Thus, insofar as the property of freedom of the will is understood to consist in the will’s not being causally determined, that chimerical property is not a necessary condition for moral responsibility. If freedom of the will is instead understood (as I understand it) to consist in the absence of the vitiating factors mentioned here and any other vitiating factors, then it is indeed a necessary condition for full moral responsibility. (Of course, the presence of some vitiating factor does not necessarily negate moral responsibility altogether. In many contexts, various factors attenuate ─ rather than eliminate ─ moral responsibility.)

The connection between moral responsibility and freedom of the will in the latter sense just outlined is presupposed by most social practices of blaming and praising and by most legal practices of punishment. However, it should not be regarded as merely a presupposition of those practices. Rather, it is also an objective moral fact by reference to which the appropriateness of those practices in their broad contours is to be gauged. (As the phrase “in their broad contours” suggests, I am obviously not suggesting that any actual practices in all their details are derivable from the abstract concepts of moral responsibility and freedom of the will. Those concepts are vague in the technical sense as well as in an ordinary sense, and many of the details of their cashing out can legitimately vary across societies. Moreover, as is apparent, many actual practices of blaming and praising and punishing are morally dubious to greater or lesser degrees. Even if they conform to the general connection between moral responsibility and freedom of the will, they can of course go badly astray in their specifics.)

3:AM: And finally, for the readers here at 3:AM, are there five books you could recommend that will take us further into your philosophical world?

MK: As I’ve already suggested, two of the books that would take people further into my philosophical outlook are the Bible ─ Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and Apocrypha ─ and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. (Let me emphasize again that my study of the Bible has nothing to do with any sentiments of religiosity.) However, I shan’t include those volumes here. Nor will I include anything by anyone who is currently alive. Here, then, are five books that have heavily influenced my thinking:

H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law
Wesley Hohfeld, Fundamental Legal Conceptions
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
Gregory Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory

Compiling a list of this sort is extremely difficult. On a different day, I might have included Locke’s Second Treatise of Government or Hobbes’s Leviathan or Berlin’s Four Essays on Liberty or Foot’s Virtues and Vices or Spinoza’s Ethics or…. Still, each of the five listed books has profoundly shaped my outlook ─ by provoking me to disagree as well as by eliciting agreement in me, of course!


ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 22nd, 2015.