february, 2018

07feb5:15 pm6:45 pmKevin Toh: 'Authenticity, Ontology, and Natural History'


Event Details

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Kevin Toh, who will present: ‘Authenticity, Ontology, and Natural History’. This is an obligatory pre-read seminar, so we will proceed directly to discussion. Registered attendees will receive the paper by email by 2 February.

Abstract: This paper is an attempt to exploit a set of analogies between music and law, with the primary purpose of dislodging a very influential conception of legal interpretation, and a secondary purpose of tracing out a speculative conception of the nature of law.  Both the originalist movement in law and the so-called period instrument movement in classical music gathered momentum in earnest in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s.  And both were reactions to earlier traditions of interpretation, in law and music respectively, the traditions that the partisans of the new movements deemed insufficiently faithful to the objects of interpretation.  “Authenticity” is a term that musicians and critics often use to talk about the ideal of fidelity in musical performance.  Importantly, what kinds of performances count as authentic depends on what properties are constitutive of musical works.  The legal analogue of this relation, I believe, should help us to think carefully about originalism, which involves a particular way of conceiving the ideal of authenticity or fidelity in legal interpretation.  What results from this thinking, I argue, is the unsettling of the originalist assumption that legal interpretations must be aimed exclusively or primarily at being faithful to the meanings of legal texts.  The last third of the paper sketches out a way of conceiving our legal thinking as reliant on the same psychological infrastructure that we rely on in our critical thinking – i.e. our engagements with works of art.

Kevin Toh is a Senior Lecturer in Jurisprudence from University College London. Prior to joining the UCL faculty, he was Associate Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University. His work focuses on issues at the intersection of general jurisprudence and metaethics.

Dr. Toh’s seminar is part of our Hart Seminar Series, which features a diverse group of leading scholars working at the intersection of law and philosophy. Hart Publishing contributes generous support to make the seminar series possible. The complete 2017-18 line-up is available here.


(Wednesday) 5:15 pm - 6:45 pm


University of Surrey School of Law

Frank Whittle Building (AB) Fifth Floor, Guildford, GU2 7XH

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