The Murphy Institute

The Murphy Institute The Murphy Institute

This is a past Event

Liam Murphy, Center for Ethics and Public Affairs Public Lecture

Herbert Peterfreund Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, New York University

"Private Law and Public Illusion"



Tulane University Law School
Gauthier Moot Court Room 110, John Giffen Weinmann Hall
Reception to follow in the Berkett Multipurpose Room

About the Speaker

Liam Murphy works in legal, moral, and political philosophy and the application of these inquiries to law, legal institutions, and legal theory. Subjects of his publications range from abstract questions of moral philosophy (for example, the book Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory, 2000) to concrete issues of legal and economic policy (such as the book The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, 2002, co-authored with Thomas Nagel). His most recent book is What Makes Law: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Lecture Abstract

In the public at large, property and contract law are commonly thought to reflect moral proprietary and promissory rights. Contemporary philosophers are mostly skeptical about natural property rights, though not about promissory rights. I argue that contract and promise, no less than property, can only be justified instrumentally—by appeal to the social good (which may go beyond social welfare) that these conventional practices produce. The morality of the market is, in David Hume’s sense, artificial.

The illusion that the law of the market reflects individual natural rights is harmful to public political discourse about institutional design. For example, it severely distorts discussion of tax policy. We have here a case where misunderstanding of the law leads us astray in our understanding of morality. This in turn hinders our ability to see clearly what the options for morally sound legal change may be

Filed under: The Center for Ethics and Public Affairs, All CEPA Events, Ethics and Public Affairs Lectures