Tough Books

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Credit: Christoph Niemann

No one puffed on a Gauloises or sipped red wine, but people in the room had things to say about Kant. As the snow came down outside, words like “heuristic,” “deontologist” and “universalizability” flew. It was a session of Book Trouble 2003, a new series of discussions at Harvard Law School this spring, each centered around a speaker’s interpretation of a work of philosophy, or political or legal theory, organized by Professors Janet Halley and Duncan Kennedy.

“We want this to be a real encounter,” said Halley, “more like a poetry slam than a press conference.”

Law and economics scholar Professor Louis Kaplow ’81 spoke about philosopher Richard Hare’s “Moral Thinking” and its influence on his own recent book, “Fairness Versus Welfare,” written with Professor Steven Shavell. It was Pound 200, not the basement of a bohemian dive, but students, faculty and visiting scholars rattled off comments, hypotheticals and more questions than could be addressed in two hours.

The series also included Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. discussing Harold Cruse’s “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual” and Professor Charles Fried talking about John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”

Halley says she is grateful to Dean Clark for funding the discussions; students, she believes, hunger for such opportunities for intellectual sustenance and intoxication.