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School of Law

Imagination and Legal Reasoning: History, Theory, Pedagogy

15 June 2016

Time: 9:30am - 7:30pm
Venue: Collette Bowe Room, Queens’ Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

An International, Interdisciplinary, One-Day Workshop


The role of the imagination in exercising practical reason has been generally well-recognised, if also under-theorised, e.g. imagining, in concrete terms, the consequences of one’s decision (visualising possible scenarios and narratives) was emphasised as a necessary part of the process of ethical decision-making by John Dewey. Legal reasoning can be conceived as a particular, specialised branch of practical reason – and, as such, one would expect recognition of the role of the imagination in the process of legal reasoning. Theories of legal reasoning, however, have greatly neglected this aspect of legal reasoning, focusing instead either on what is termed ‘the context of justification’ or ‘the context of discovery’ of legal decisions. The purpose of this workshop is to explore the context of the imagination as a necessary and neglected dimension of legal reasoning, and to do so by comparing its role within legal reasoning to its role more generally, especially in philosophy, literature, and film.

Some possible illustrations of the use of the imagination in legal reasoning include: the construction and consideration of hypothetical narratives (what might have happened, or what might happen as the result of the decision), perspectival devices (imagining what an officious bystander might have said, or what a reasonable person would have done), and the use of fictions (temporally suspending what is normally required by law, and thus tolerating contradiction). These imaginative devices are all ways of exploring possible solutions to problems. One could perhaps conceive of them as ways of creating cognitive space and time, and thus providing new cognitive resources within which to locate a solution. Imagination is also arguably required in the empathetic understanding of the claims of those who come before judges - and this includes being able to be self-critical and confronting the inevitable obstacles one has (as a result of one's biases) to imagining sensitively (and concretely) certain sorts of lives or situations. Thus, arguably, developing imaginative abilities is a key component of virtuous judgment in law.

This workshop will investigate this theme, and consider the importance of the imagination not only for theories of legal reasoning, but also as requiring new innovations in the practice of legal education.

Format and Speakers

For the London event, we are experimenting with a new format. We are inviting our speakers to pre-circulate a paper on the general theme of imagination. We would prefer this paper to not engage with legal reasoning at all. We are then inviting theorists of legal reasoning / legal education to engage with that paper and with the speaker’s work more generally, in order to consider what intersections there might be between the speaker’s work and the history and theory of legal reasoning and its teaching.


9.30-10am: Arrival, Tea and Coffee

10am – 12.30pm: Session 1: Imagination, Fiction, and Legal Reasoning
Chaired by Dr Maks Del Mar (QMUL)
10am – 11.15am: Professor Greg Currie (Philosophy, York), with reply by Dr Mathilde Cohen (University of Connecticut School of Law)
11.15am – 12.30pm: Professor Kendall Walton (Philosophy, Michigan), with reply by Dr Susanna Lindroos-Hovinheimo (University of Helsinki)

12.30-1.30pm: Lunch

1.30pm - 4pm: Session 2: Imagination, Emotion and Legal Reasoning
Chaired by Professor Simon Stern (University of Toronto)
1.30 - 2.45pm: Professor Suzanne Keen (Literature, Washington and Lee), with reply by Dr Iris van Domselaar (University of Amsterdam)
2.45 - 4pm: Dr Margrethe Vaage (Film, Kent), with reply by Dr Miriam Aziz (Artist and founding director of MAstudioLAB)

4 - 4.15pm: Break

4.15 - 6.45pm: Session 3: Imagination, Education, and Legal Reasoning
Chaired by Professor Paul Maharg (Australian National University)
4.15 - 5.30pm: Professor Paul Harris (Education, Harvard), with reply by Professor Sanne Taekema (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
5.30 - 6.45pm: Professor Joshua Landy (Literature, Stanford), with reply by Dr Isobel Roele (QMUL)

6.45 - 7pm: Concluding remarks by Dr Maks Del Mar, Professor Simon Stern and Professor Paul Maharg

7 - 7.30pm: drinks reception

International Network

This event is part of the ‘Legal Mind Network’, founded by Dr Maks Del Mar, Reader in Legal Theory at Queen Mary University of London. This network is an international collaboration between the Department of Law, QMUL, the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and the PEARL Centre at the College of Law, Australian National University. The network explores the theory and history of legal reasoning and its teaching, under the heading of three concepts: Imagination, Communication and Cognition.

A triad of workshops is planned:

  • London 2016: ‘Legal Reasoning and Imagination: History, Theory and Pedagogy’ (June, 2016, organiser Dr. Maks Del Mar)
  • Canberra 2017: ‘Legal Reasoning and Communication: History, Theory and Pedagogy’ (June, 2017, organiser Professor Paul Maharg)
  • Toronto 2018: ‘Legal Reasoning and Cognition: History, Theory and Pedagogy’ (June, 2018, organiser Professor Simon Stern)

The aim of these events is to bring together scholars from a range of different disciplines all interested in legal reasoning – with a focus on discussing common themes as well as differences in the history and theory of the practice of legal reasoning and its teaching. We shall consider what common themes might properly frame any discussion of the comparative history of legal reasoning and its teaching, including: the practice and teaching of communication (including rhetoric and advocacy); the variable influence of scientific and humanistic models on reasoning in the law; the relations between legal reasoning and reasoning about matters of proof; the various so-called external influences (including economic, social and cultural) on legal reasoning and its teaching; the intersections of cognition, brain and legal study, and the interface between human cognition and artificial cognition.

The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple Logo


This event is kindly sponsored by The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.


For directions to the venue, please refer to the map.

How to Book

There are minimal seats available. If you would like to attend, please email Dr Maks Del Mar:


For more information on this event, please email

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