Philosophy Colloquia – Dr. Seana Shiffrin: “Reliance arguments and democratic law”

Friday February 17, 2023
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

The Department of Philosophy is pleased to invite you to our 2022/2023 colloquium series.

Our guest speaker Dr. Seana Shiffrin, Professor of Philosophy and Pete Kameron Professor of Law and Social Justice at UCLA, will give a talk on “Reliance arguments and democratic law: On abortion, sexuality, guns and freedom of contract” on February 17.

Talk Abstract:

Many generations of women and other impregnable people in the United States made life-altering decisions in reliance on an entrenched, fifty-year old precedent that guaranteed the right to abortion.  Yet the Supreme Court overturned that precedent last year on the grounds that it was deeply mistaken and its obligation was to interpret the Constitution correctly and faithfully. This case has raised the prospect that other due process guarantees upon which individuals have organized their lives, including the constitutional rights to same-sex intimacy and marriage, will be revisited.  Such potential upheavals in the legal infrastructure of basic social status call for a sustained look at the reliance argument for sustaining constitutional precedent.

Reliance arguments for sustaining constitutional decisions face some difficult challenges of a philosophical nature.  Because most judicial decisions affect citizens’ decisions and behavior, an understanding of the reliance argument that would reify all legal decisions upon which some citizens depended would have too great a scope and would impede the potential for democratic change and moral progress. A persuasive account of the reliance argument must solve this scope problem in a principled way.  It must also solve the reach problem.  How could a reliance argument ever justify the prospective, continued application of a decision to future cases on which no reliance has yet been invested?  Examining particular reliance claims concerning abortion, same-sex intimacy, gun ownership, and freedom of contract, I defend a reliance principle that has limited scope and prospective reach, yet it would not underpin a static conservatism.

Speaker Bio:

Seana Valentine Shiffrin is Professor of Philosophy and Pete Kameron Professor of Law and Social Justice at UCLA, where she has taught since 1992. Shiffrin received her B.A. degree from UC Berkeley where she was the University Medalist. She attended Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar and received the B.Phil. with Distinction and the D.Phil. in Philosophy. She earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She teaches courses on moral and political philosophy as well as contracts, freedom of speech, constitutional rights and individual autonomy, remedies and legal theory. She served for sixteen years as an associate editor of Philosophy and Public Affairs and serves as co-director of the UCLA Law and Philosophy Program. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2016, she received the UCLA School of Law’s Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Her research addresses issues in moral, political and legal philosophy, as well as matters of legal doctrine, that concern equality, autonomy, and the social conditions for their realization. She has written extensively on the morality of promising and the role of law in facilitating and fostering moral character, with a special emphasis on the connection between contracts and promises. Her recent book, Speech Matters, explored the ethics of communication and the connection between the prohibition on lying, freedom of speech, and moral progress.