Legal Ethicist To Teach International Criminal Law, Human Rights Courses

David Luban Authored the Book ‘Torture, Power, and Law’
David Luban

Visiting professor David Luban will teach International Criminal Law in the spring, as well as Human Rights, Then and Now: Philosophy, History, Prospects. Photo courtesy of Georgetown University Law Center

December 10, 2020

Professor David Luban of the Georgetown University Law Center, an influential legal philosopher and ethicist who has studied the authorization of torture, among other topics, will teach courses at the University of Virginia School of Law this spring as a visiting professor.

More broadly, Luban said, “I study the conduct of individual people in complicated organizational settings.”

In addition to his role as a University Professor in law and philosophy at Georgetown, since 2013, Luban has served as the Class of 1965 Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, where he helps conduct intensive research seminars on topics in military ethics, national security and just war theory.

A leading voice in the torture debate since the 9/11 attacks, he has provided congressional testimony on the subject. His 2014 book “Torture, Power, and Law,” published by Cambridge University Press, won the American Publishers Association PROSE Award for professional and scholarly excellence in philosophy.

While Luban has focused much of his recent scholarship on national security and international criminal law, he has written extensively about the moral and legal responsibilities of lawyers. His 1988 book “Lawyers and Justice: An Ethical Study” was the first book-length philosophical study of a lawyer’s role in making moral decisions, and his co-authored legal ethics casebook is now in its eighth edition. Luban is currently on the editorial boards of Ethics & International Affairs, Legal Ethics and the Just Security blog.

In the spring he will teach two courses for UVA Law, both via Zoom: one on international criminal law and the other on the philosophy of human rights. He is co-author of the textbook “International and Transnational Criminal Law.”

The human rights seminar will examine the philosophical basis of human rights, connecting it with real-world challenges facing the human rights movement “in a period of skepticism and even hostility toward internationalism.”

Luban has written extensively on what constitutes a “just war,” one waged for ethical reasons, a point of debate that will factor into class discussions.

“I think just war is intimately tied with human rights,” he said. “That sounds obvious, but it isn’t. I think the most common legal doctrine is that just wars are about defending state sovereignty, not human rights.”

For both of his courses, he said he hopes to have a good mix of students with diverse backgrounds, as he has had in the past. He has taught students with military backgrounds as well as students who have been activists for peaceful causes.

“Law students bring a lot to the table and add so much to the discussion that I don’t really know myself,” he said.

He added that he doesn’t assume students will have had previous experience in philosophical study.

Dean Risa Goluboff expressed her excitement that Luban will bring his insights on legal ethics to UVA Law.

“David Luban is a must-read author on the subject of torture as a human rights violation, and his decades of work in legal ethics spans so much of the legal landscape,” Goluboff said. “Whatever type of practice our students pursue, I am confident that they will find what he has to say in both his scholarship and his courses interesting, edifying, and instructive.”

Luban is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and has received prizes for distinguished scholarship from the American Bar Foundation and the New York State Bar Association. In 2011 he was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University.

Luban’s most recent article is a historical and ethical study of two lawyers who served in the Nazi regime who claimed they were privately trying to mitigate atrocities. Currently, he is writing a book on the German-born political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt.

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