I am from a town called Grangemouth in central Scotland which, when I was growing up there, was famous for having a huge oil refinery and petrochemical plant, the cooling towers and flare stacks of which could be seen for miles! This was in the 1970s, at the height of the discovery of the North Sea oil fields: Grangemouth was the other end of the Forties field pipeline. It was not a picturesque place, but the oil brought prosperity to the town. I was brought up by my mum, who was the best educated person - in the true sense of the word - I have known, although she left school at age 15. She was a lifelong voracious reader of many genres, but especially of books which helped her understand the complexities of other people's lives. I attended Grangemouth High School, a state comprehensive, and then went on to study law at Glasgow University, before coming to Oxford to do a DPhil in legal philosophy. That's me and my partner Richard - who works in bio-tech (please do not ask me what that is) - in the photo.
What led you to a career in academia?
Two inspirational teachers at University level. The first was Elspeth Attwooll, my tutor in Jurisprudence at Glasgow University. The second was Joseph Raz, my doctoral supervisor at Oxford. Both Elspeth and Joseph instilled in me very high standards in intellectual work, and a powerful feeling of freedom to explore and almost the mystery of a quest as regards doing such work. I try as best as I can to pass that on to my own students.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
I work mainly in general jurisprudence, with a particular focus on methodology, so I think about things such as: what are the criteria of success of a theory of law? Need legal philosophers make value judgements about law, and, if so, of what kind, in order properly to understand it? I feel these questions have chosen me rather than the other way round as I just cannot seem to escape being fascinated by them.
In my middle age I have somehow turned into both a bird nerd and a photography nerd. So my favourite spare time thing is probably combining both interests: taking photos of birds on the bird reserves that my partner Richard and I often visit on weekends and holidays. I have included with this profile a photo I took of a gannet spinning in the air while diving for fish on the Pembrokeshire Coast where we went on holiday this summer.
Do you have any pets?
I don't, and I am beginning to think this is a huge mistake in the current Covid times when we are doing so much teaching online, and when I am really quite bad with the technology. Because I have seen first-hand from colleagues that a well-placed labradoodle appearing on the Teams videocall can smooth over many tech and teaching disasters! Maybe the Law Faculty could give us access to a fund for such pets in these unprecedented times?!