The Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence

All judges on the couch? On Jerome Frank as Murdochian Jurisprudence

12Dec2017 12:00 - 13:00


Paul Scholten Centre Colloquium with Iris van Domselaar. Discussant Wouter de Been (EUR)

Venue: Roeterseiland Room A2.04

  • Roeterseilandcampus - building A

    Nieuwe Achtergracht 166 | 1018 WV Amsterdam
    +31 (0)20 525 5340

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Drawing upon our everyday experiences, there is nothing radical about thinking that moral life is largely taken up by our efforts to obtain a clear vision of the people who surround us and to respond accordingly. We may for instance immediately be annoyed by the rudeness of an adolescent girl who talks loudly in the silent-compartment of the train. Later on, after we have arrived at our destination, we spontaneously reassess the situation and conclude that she was simply excited, full of youthful vitality.

Similarly, in our personal or professional relationships we entertain images of others that greatly influence the way we respond to them, yet at the same time we work with those images. We may for instance come to realize over time that an extremely competitive colleague is not really a narcissist, but that he is more likely scared of failure due to the demanding financial obligations he faces in supporting his family.

Despite having experiential plausibility, vision-based approaches to morality are quite rare within moral philosophy. However, the moral philosophy of Iris Murdoch, in which ‘vision’ commands center stage, is a notable exception to this rule. Her work is increasingly receiving attention and constructive critiques from those who sympathize with the idea that vision should have a more prominent place in moral philosophy.1

So far, the potential relevance of Murdoch’s moral philosophy for the public domain has received no attention. This may be due to the predominantly a-political character of her work. Perhaps it is also due to the fact that, not only in theory but also at the level of our daily experience, we tend to think of the practice of public decision-making primarily as one in which public officials consciously apply rules and principles.

As a means of critically examining this preconception, in this paper I will investigate what a Murdochian understanding of adjudication would amount to. Luckily, I will not need to start from scratch. Below we shall see that the scholarly work of Jerome Frank, one of the leading figures of the Legal Realist Movement, bears striking resemblances to Murdoch’s conceptualization of moral life. Moreover, reading his normative legal realism in the spirit of Murdoch has several advantages. It not only provides a welcome philosophical underpinning for Frank’s – nowadays oftentimes ridiculed - scholarly work, it also sheds light on the

largely ignored normative dimension of his work. Also, reading Frank as Murdochian jurisprudence forms a welcome point of departure for identifying several crucial issues that a vision-based approach to adjudication, or perhaps to public decision-making in general, must further explore.

Research colloquium, organised by the Paul Scholten Centre. This colloquium is open to all, no registration required. A copy of the paper can be obtained via

  • mr. dr. drs. I. (Iris) van Domselaar | T: 0205253496

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Published by  Paul Scholten Centre