2019 - 'The Ecology of Obligations' by Professor Scott Veitch
‘The figure of a bond binding the person obligated … haunts much of legal thought’, wrote HLA Hart. This lecture is about that haunting. It seeks to trace lineages and contemporary presences of this spectral figure, a figure that remains, despite Hart’s provocation, under-examined in jurisprudential writings. To do this, it is necessary to consider the multiple settings in which the ‘figure of a bond’ that binds people – and people to things, ideas and institutions – appears. If this figure was for a long time central to religion and politics, and was taken up as a key theme in sociology and anthropology, examining its mutations, underpinnings, and hybrid operations in the juridical realm invites a re-assessment of the predominance that rights have gained in today’s legal and political imaginary.
But Hart was only partly right. For what also haunts much of legal thought, as it likewise haunts those other forms of practice and enquiry, is another figure, its close relation perhaps, but really its opposite, its double: the figure of the unbound person. The idea of a lack of ‘a bond binding the person’ marks in many ways the resolve and limit of regulatory activity, whether in religion, politics, morality or law. Addressing this double theme, this lecture takes its inspiration from sociological jurisprudence to explore what can be seen differently when starting from the perspective of what might aptly be called an ‘obligations critique’.
About the speaker
Scott Veitch is the Paul KC Chung Professor in Jurisprudence at the University of Hong Kong. Before that, he was Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Glasgow. His published work includes Moral Conflict and Legal Reasoning, Law and Irresponsibility, Jurisprudence: Themes and Concepts (3rd edition with E Christodoulidis and M Goldoni), and the recent collection (co-edited with D Matthews), Law, Obligation, Community.