Professor Kimberly Ferzan's Book Celebrates Law and Philosophy Legend

Professor Kimberly Kessler Ferzan's third book pays tribute to longtime friend and mentor Michael S. Moore, a revered scholar in law and philosophy.

September 22, 2016

A new book co-edited by University of Virginia School of Law professor Kimberly Kessler Ferzan honors the scholarship of law and philosophy giant Michael S. Moore, while also expanding upon his transformative theories.

The festschrift, “Legal, Moral, and Metaphysical Truths: The Philosophy of Michael S. Moore,” co-edited with University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Morse and published by Oxford University Press, features a “rock star set of contributors,” Ferzan said. The book is the first devoted to the scholarship of Moore, a mentor and friend to Ferzan and many other criminal law theorists.

“The contributors are leading theorists in legal theory, and everyone’s pushing him to the top of his game,” she said.

Perhaps most notably, Moore’s wife, Heidi Hurd, former dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, provides both personal and professional perspective on the scholar’s work.

“There are a lot of people who know Michael through his work or professionally, and understanding who he is as a person and what led to the questions he is intrigued by and why he wrote what he wrote is just this fascinating biographical glimpse of a scholar,” she said. “I don’t think we often get to see those things or know those things about people in the way that his wife was able to situate his scholarship.”

Moore is known for being the voice of retributivism, a justification for punishment as a response to crime. Underpinning Moore’s philosophy is the idea that “punishment is only justified if people deserve it,” Ferzan said.

“When I teach the justifications for punishment, on the first day we are talking about his theories both in favor of why we should punish people who deserve it and why other considerations aren’t relevant to justifying punishment,” she said.

Moore, currently a law and philosophy professor at the University of Illinois, has also been a professor of law and philosophy at a number of schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, where he co-founded and directed the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law and Philosophy. (He also has been a visiting professor at UVA Law.)

Ferzan first met Moore when she took his Legal Personhood class at Penn, when she also was taking Criminal Law. The combination began her longtime interest in criminal law theory.

“I just loved the stuff,” she said. Moore also advised her on her second-year comment for law review, and they now enjoy debating their ideas as colleagues.

“We disagree on a couple fundamental points, which has led to a lot of sparring in print,” Ferzan said. “I think sometimes he wins the argument, I think sometimes I win the argument, and sometimes it’s a stalemate. He’d say he always wins.”

Ferzan’s essay for the collection, “Self-Defense: Tell Me Moore,” pushed her friend to pin down his thoughts on self-defense, a topic about which he’s had little to say. Moore had argued, for example, that you can kill a person if they are falling down a well and are about to crush you.

“His views about how you’re allowed to harm other people to prevent harm seem inconsistent with retributivism, where you have to have done something wrong to deserve punishment,” she said. “I argued that his theory of self-defense could justify punishment on purely deterrence grounds.  He responded that ‘yes, you’re right that you can justify prevention this way, but it wouldn’t be punishment.’”

The format of the book allowed the 21 contributors to have a dialogue with Moore, who responded to their questions and arguments on topics ranging from the limits of criminalization to statutory interpretation.

“A couple people pushed on what he really meant by saying desert was sufficient for punishment, and he unpacked claims that he made decades ago,” she said. “There’s a rather incredibly detailed response to everybody at the end of the book.”

Ferzan is the Harrison Robertson Professor of Law and the Caddell & Chapman Professor of Law at UVA, and is also affiliated faculty with the University’s Philosophy Department. She teaches criminal law, evidence, advanced criminal law, and advanced law and philosophy seminars. Ferzan is the co-editor in chief of Law and Philosophy, and is also on the editorial boards of Legal Theory and Criminal Law and Philosophy. She is the author of numerous articles and the co-author of “Crime and Culpability: A Theory of Criminal Law” (Cambridge University Press), with Larry Alexander and Stephen Morse.

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