Lisa Van Alstyne

Lisa Van Alstyne
Lecturer in Philosophy
Stuart Hall, Room 202-A
Office Hours: On leave Winter 2022
PhD Candidate, University of Pittsburgh
Teaching at UChicago since 2018
Research Interests: Philosophy of Law, History of Legal Theory, Political Philosophy

Lisa Van Alstyne has broad interests in contemporary philosophy and the history of philosophy. Her primary research focus is in the philosophy of law, especially in the following three areas: the philosophy of tort law, the nature of constitutional interpretation, and fundamental issues in the theory of jurisprudence. She also has research interests in the history of legal theory, with a special emphasis on Aristotle’s account of the varieties of justice and Kant’s doctrine of right. Beyond the philosophy of law, she works on topics in Rawlsian and post-Rawlsian political philosophy, as well as in contemporary feminist theory. She has additional teaching interests in the philosophy of religion, the history of ethics, as well as in a variety of topics in contemporary moral philosophy that border on the philosophy of law.

Selected Publications

Theory, Interpretation, and Law: Some Worries about Dworkin’s Account of Their Relation,” Philosophical Topics 44, no. 1 (Spring 2016)

The Autonomy of Legal Norms,” in Essays on Action, Truth, and Other Things, ed. Krister Segerberg and Rysiek Sliwinski (Uppsala University Press, 2003)

Aristotle’s Alleged Ethical Obscurantism,” Philosophy 73 (1998): 429-52

Recent Courses

PHIL 21204 Philosophy of Private Law

This course will be on the part of the law known as private law — the part that adjudicates disputes between private citizens where one person is alleged to have suffered harm through the wrongdoing of another. Among the questions with which we will be concerned are the following: What constitutes a legal harm in such a context? What, in the eyes of the law, counts as one person being the cause of another person’s suffering? What sort of redress or compensation may one justifiably seek for such suffering? Who has a right to decide such questions? What justifies the use of sanction or force — and when is it justified — in the enforcement of such legal decisions? The first half of this course will present a selective historical genealogy of our contemporary understanding of how to go about answering such questions. The second half of the course will be on contemporary theories of private law.  The historical portion of the course will begin by examining the origins of the modern distinction between private and public law in Aristotle’s ancient distinction between corrective and distributive justice. Next we will briefly consider what private legal adjudication looks like in the absence of the state, first by reading an Icelandic Saga and then by watching John Ford’s classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Most of the first half of the course will be devoted to a careful examination of how, building on Aristotle's distinction, Kant arrives at a systematic theory of the scope and nature of private law. We will focus, in particular, on his derivation of (what he takes to be) the three fundamental forms of private law — property, contract, and agency — as well as on his account of their place within an overall theory of the nature of right. In this connection, we will read the first half of Kant’s The Doctrine of Right, as well as some of the leading contemporary secondary literature on that text. The second half of the course will then be devoted to contemporary theories of private law — including various contemporary attempts to inherit, modify, or altogether repudiate Kant’s theory. We will explore in this connection the writings of Ronald Dworkin, Richard Posner, Arthur Ripstein, Martin Stone, and Ernst Weinrib, among others, focusing especially on issues in the philosophy of tort law.

2021-2022 Spring
Philosophy of Law

PHIL 21203 Introduction to Philosophy of Law

This course will be an introduction to the philosophy of law.  The first third will cover some historical classics: Plato's Crito, and selections from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Kant's Doctrine of Right, Hegel's Outline of the Philosophy of Right, and Austin's The Province of Jurisprudence Determined.  The second third of the course will cover some classics of postwar Anglo-American jurisprudence, including selections from H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, Richard Posner, and Ernest Weinrib.  The final third of the course will explore in a little further detail philosophical problems that arise in the following areas: the philosophy of tort law, theories of constitutional interpretation, and feminist jurisprudence.

2018-2019 Spring
Philosophy of Law