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Scott J.Shapiro: Why were you initially drawn to the philosophy of law?

2009年12月11日 发表评论 阅读评论

shapiro_scott SCOTT J. SHAPIRO
Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Excerpt from interview: Why were you initially drawn to the philosophy of law?

For many people, jurisprudence is one of the drearier corners of philosophy.  Someone’s got to do it, they admit, but happily not them.  I don’t of course share this feeling but I do understand it.  The law is a technical practice and many of the theoretical issues it raises are undeniably dry, even by the normal standards of analytical philosophy.   It may also be true that we legal philosophers have a tendency to beat the life out our subject, unwilling as most of us are to let even the most insignificant issue drop.  And, of course the name “jurisprudence” doesn’t help either.   Still I have always been drawn to the field from the moment I encountered it, and have remained enthralled ever since.  I believe that this fascination reflects the intrinsic interest of the field; although they may not always be addressed in most graceful or accessible ways, the questions that legal philosophers confront – about the nature of law, how to interpret legal texts, whether legal authority can ever be legitimate and, if so, under which circumstances – are clearly as central and as they are difficult.  But my immediate attraction to jurisprudence probably has a lot to do the peculiarities of my background.  I think that the law mirrored certain puzzling aspects of my own upbringing and that legal philosophy offered, among other things, a way of making sense of it all.

Although I did not grow up in a religious home, I went to an orthodox Jewish yeshiva from elementary school through high school.   I lived at that time in Paterson, New Jersey, a dying industrial town with a failing public school system, and my parents felt that the yeshiva was the best option to be had.  My teachers were largely orthodox rabbis (or their wives) and half of the curriculum was devoted to Jewish law and literature.  Since the Talmud was regarded as the pinnacle of Jewish learning, we started studying it from 5th grade on, and spent several hours a day poring over the ancient Babylonian texts.  I was taught that I was extremely lucky to have been born a Jew because, despite enduring  thousands of years of persecution, we at least have the Law.  According to my teachers, the Law is God’s greatest gift to mankind and our highest obligation is to learn it.

Jewish law has a lot of rules and I spent a shocking portion of my youth studying them.  There are rules about what one is allowed to eat, how long a woman’s shirt sleeve must be, how much interest one is permitted to charge a fellow Jew, what blessing one must say upon seeing a rainbow, how one is supposed to put on their shoes (answer: left shoe first, then right shoe, then tie left shoe, then tie right shoe), how to tear toilet paper on the Sabbath if one has no other recourse (answer: not along the perforations), and so on.  I was taught that if a rule requires someone to perform, or not perform, some action, then that is the end of the story.  You are required to listen to it.  A rule is… a rule.  Correspondingly, if an action is permitted by a rule, then one is free to engage in it.  This is so regardless of whether the action permitted appears to be as bad as the action forbidden.  One of my favourite examples of this phenomenon is the rule requiring married women to cover their hair – the rationale being that a woman’s hair is sexually arousing.  Many rabbinical authorities have interpreted this rule to permit women to don wigs made from other women’s hair.  The point of human hair wigs, of course, is to hide the fact that one is wearing a wig and, given advances in wig technology, it is often impossible to tell whether an orthodox married woman is wearing one or not.  As my grandmother would say, “Oy Gevalt!””

Read the remaining part of Scott J. Shapiro’s interview in Legal Philosophy: 5 Questions, Automatic Press / VIP, September 2007.

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