Adam Perry

How did you first get interested in Jurisprudence?

When I was in law school in Canada, I took a course about wills. We learned that a valid will must be signed by the testator. The idea is that a signature is evidence that the testator intended what is in the will. But we also learned about a line of cases in which judges were admitting wills into probate even though they had not been signed. These judges were satisfied that the will really did reflect the testator's intention, despite the lack of a signature. The purpose of the requirement was fulfilled, though the letter of it was not. 

These cases just fascinated me. They made me think: why do we have rules? When they seem to lead us astray, should we stick to them or depart from them? I went to graduate school largely because I wanted to know the answers. Once I was there, new questions arose.

How do you think of the research you do? 

What I do, or try to do, is intellectual arbitrage. Philosophers mainly talk to each other. Lawyers are the same. By knowing a bit about each area, I hope to bring insights from one area to bear on problems in the other area. For example, I've tried to use notions of civic virtue to make sense of public interest standing in administrative law. In the other direction, I think that lawyers have seen certain aspects of mercy more clearly than philosophers have. 

Of course, this strategy can go badly wrong. I worry a lot about doing bad philosophy and bad legal scholarship and satisfying no one. But it helps to keep things fresh and interesting for me, and so far that's a trade-off I've been willing to make.

What do you find most exciting about your research?

I am a puzzle solver at heart. When I see the solution to a puzzle - or think I do - it's exhilarating, especially if it's a long time coming. I also find the act of writing deeply absorbing. I can get lost for many hours drafting and redrafting. Research is often painful and occasionally dispiriting, but these two things make up for it.

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

The field now includes more people with a strong background in philosophy, often employed in philosophy (not law) faculties. There is also increasing interest in philosophical questions about specific areas of law, for example, criminal law or tort law, and decreasing interest in the sort of general jurisprudential questions prominent in the 1960s through 1990s. Jurisprudence has for many years felt like a bit of a stale field, and I welcome both trends. 

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

Squash. Detective novels. Cooking. Eating. 

If you had to pick a desert island book, music album, or film, which one would it be?

Paul Simon’s Graceland

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

On this page