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Stefan Sciaraffa Ph.D. (University of Arizona)
Professor, Department of Philosophy

E-mail: sciaraf@mcmaster.ca
Phone: 905-525-9140, ext. 23467
Office: University Hall 301

Research Interests

Stefan Sciaraffa specializes in the philosophy of law and social, moral and political philosophy. He received a J.D. from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Arizona. He practiced law as an associate with the commercial litigation section of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP. He has experience teaching courses in philosophy and substantive areas of law (American Constitutional Law, Legislation, and Property).

Professor Sciaraffa focuses on a number of issues within the philosophy of law. Currently, he is defending the method of immodest conceptual analysis within analytic jurisprudence. He argues that this method has its place in the legal philosopher’s toolkit because the law is a hermeneutic concept. To make this argument, he develops and defends the claim that law is a hermeneutic concept. He calls this claim the hermeneutic thesis. He is also writing about the implications that the hermeneutic thesis has for a number of areas within the philosophy of law, including debates between positivism and natural law theory, debates within positivism between the hard and soft legal positivist, and questions concerning the proper methods of legal reasoning and interpretation.

Being at Home and Identification

A second area of Professor Sciaraffa’s research concerns the value of being at home in one’s social institutions, such as the state, the family, and the institutions of civil society. In a number of papers, he explores the meaning and importance of this value, and he assesses the conditions under which social institutions can be a home. A theme in these papers is that social institutions, including the state, are defective not only insofar as they fail to realize the value of authoritative legitimacy, a value at the heart of contemporary political philosophy; they are also defective insofar as they are not homes for their occupants. A further issue he considers is whether it is possible or desirable to be fully at home in an institution that claims authority.

Normative Ethics

A third area of Professor Sciaraffa’s research concerns normative ethics. The key theme of this thread is a defense of an egalitarian rights-focused moral theory. He argues that morality requires that we treat others as equals. He compares two ways of doing this: following act-utilitarianism and pursuing one’s interests within a sphere of freedom no greater or lesser than those others enjoy. He argues for the latter approach and against the former on grounds relating to the separateness of persons. An interesting upshot of this discussion is that treating others as equals is only fully possible within social and legal institutions that secure and maintain equal spheres of freedom.

Select Publications

“On Content-Independent Reasons,” Law and Philosophy (forthcoming).

“Identification, Meaning, and the Normativity of Social Roles,” European Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming).

“Legal Positivism and the Nature of Legal Obligation” (co-authored with Thomas Christiano), Legal Theory, July 2004.

“Critical Legal Studies: A Marxist Rejoinder,” Legal Theory (1999), 5: 201-219.