Academic Year 2009-2010
Meir Dan-Cohen holds the Milo Reese Robbins Chair in Legal Ethics in the School of Law, and is an Affiliate of the Department of Philosophy, at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also served on the law faculties at Columbia University and Tel-Aviv University. He received his LL.B. from the Hebrew University and clerked for the Supreme Court of Israel before coming as a Fulbright Fellow to the United States, where he received an LL.M. and J.S.D. from the Yale Law School. Dan-Cohen is the author of Harmful Thoughts: Essays on Law, Self, and Morality (2002) and Rights, Persons, and Organizations: A Legal Theory for Bureaucratic Society (1986), and has published numerous articles in the areas of criminal law and legal and moral philosophy.
Law and the Boundaries of Self
A number of influential schools of thought converge on the view that human beings are self-creating. On this constructive view, the self is the largely unintended by-product of individual actions and collective practices, including those of law and morality. The recognition that we are the products as well as the authors of our norms affects the meaning of such foundational terms as responsibility, autonomy, and dignity. What precisely we’re responsible for, how far our autonomy extends, and what merits respect, all crucially depend on what we take the self to be and where its boundaries lie. But since these terms and their corresponding practices participate in constituting the self, the boundary they track is in part their own creation. The constructive view thus complicates our normative agenda. In devising behavior-guiding norms we must glimpse their effects on who we are as well: what subjects will emerge from the practices and activities generated by a particular set of norms? And what considerations ought to guide this constructive aspect of our normative engagements? In previous studies I have pursued these themes piecemeal. The year at the Institute affords an opportunity to expand these studies and consolidate them.