Sandy Steel

How did you come to be an academic?

When I went to university, I initially wanted to become a practicing lawyer. But I became very interested in philosophical puzzles surrounding causation and realised that I’d like to spend my time thinking about these and similar problems. 

What is your research about? 

My research is about the normative assessment of private law, especially tort law – the area of law that provides remedies for certain kinds of wrongs. For example, I’ve done a substantial amount of work on the question of whether it is ever justifiable to hold people liable to pay damages in tort law for harms that they have not been proven to have caused. 

How does your research relate to more traditional work on tort law?

I don’t see my work as discontinuous from doctrinal work on tort, which is also concerned with the normative assessment of tort law. The main difference is the exploration given over to understanding and analysing basic moral ideas and their interrelationship in philosophising about tort law. For instance, in a recent article, I have explored the nature and justification of the distinction between positive and negative duties in an area of tort law.

What do you find most exciting about your research?

I’m most excited by attempting to get to the bottom of moral puzzles thrown up by private law. I enjoy the fact that my research allows me to keep up to date with research in moral philosophy as well as recent legal developments. Sometimes it’s also exciting to see how relatively abstract philosophical ideas can have a practical bearing upon current legal disputes, even if only by way of illuminating the issues at stake. 

What are some big trends in Jurisprudence these days and how do you feel about them?

More work is being done on the philosophy of particular areas of law. Naturally, I’m pleased about this!

What are some of your non-academic interests, pursuits, or hobbies?

I play jazz piano. I've recently become obsessed with squash: if you see me on the streets of Oxford looking much (much) worse for wear, it’s probably because of the latter. 

If you had to pick a desert island book (academic or not), music album, or film, which one would it be?

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. JS Bach, Brandenburg Concertos.

This interview was conducted in August 2019 by Carolina Flores (St. Hugh's, MMathPhil, 2016) who is a philosopher working in epistemology and social philosophy.

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