New Harms, New Institutions, and How an Ancient Field of Law can Help: The Law of Obligations in Our Times

Prof. Heidi Li Feldman
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Today’s law of obligations, present (in somewhat varied forms) in jurisidictions worldwide, originated to govern relations between members of a single society, Ancient Rome. But current harms - environmental, financial, and physical - occur across borders. Likewise, entities who cause these harms tend to be transnational, conglomerated institutions, not single persons. These shifts - in the nature of harms and the nature of harmers - might suggest the obsolescence of the law of obligations. Yet the theory and practice of legal obligation can be brought to bear on very recent circumstances and agents. Whether concerned with problems such as global warming or with the formation and authority of transnational actors such as the EU or multinational corporations, the law of obligations can, if deployed properly, still be used to handle quite effectively enduring issues related to harm and governance. I defend the potency of a traditional legal discipline and framework in relation to nontraditional circumstances.

Keywords: Law, Politics, Government, Harm, Injury, Obligation, European Union, Global Warming
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
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Prof. Heidi Li Feldman

Professor of Law and Philosophy, Law Center, Georgetown University
Washington, D.C., USA

As a scholar of law and philosophy, I bring an interdisciplinary outlook to bear on problems that lie at the intersection of theory and practice. Among other topics, I have written about the relationship between common law doctrine and virtue ethics, the incoherence of a purely pecuniary definition of harm, and difficulties that should be anticipated with the rise of pharmaceuticals targeted at the genetic level. My B.A. is from Brown University, my J.D. and Ph.D. (in philosophy) are from the University of Michigan. Currently, I am on the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center. I have taught courses, as a visitor, at the University of Fribourg, Heidelberg University, and Tokyo University; I have delivered talks throughout the United States and at University College London and Kyoto University. As a user of the Socratic method when teaching I enjoy interactive conferences, and would like to use this workshop to learn from audience as well as to share my ideas with them.

Ref: I07P0841