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GISME Hosts Scholars of Criminal Law


The Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME) hosted a unique symposium on criminal law at the Georgetown Law Center on March 31.

The symposium on "Crime Without Fault: The Justifiability of Public Welfare Offenses and the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine" brought together 12 of the nation’s leading criminal law scholars to discuss the justifiability of punishing those who commit "public welfare offenses"–crimes that require no intent or knowledge that one is breaking the law. The concept of public welfare offenses stems from the belief that it would be in the public interest to prosecute crimes even when there is no evil intent behind the action.

Originally, public welfare offenses were limited to regulatory offenses that carried only small penalties, but over the decades the scope of what falls within the ambit of such strict liability crimes has expanded. In addition, the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine allows those who stand in a responsible relationship to a violation of law to be convicted of crimes committed by those that they supervise.

The symposium explored whether the prosecution of such crimes of strict and vicarious liability is consistent with the underlying purposes of the criminal law. The scholars addressed a variety of important questions. For example, if a person breaks the law unintentionally, with no knowledge of wrongdoing, how should they be held accountable? How does society benefit from prosecuting cases in which criminal action occurred without intent? And what should be the extent of the law’s reach over such crimes.

Samuel Buell, the Bernard M. Fishman Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law praised the event as “an exceptionally productive symposium.” He noted that because the participants had thought about the problem in some depth, they were able to produce “excellent draft papers that spoke clearly to each other’s ideas.”  Buell’s encouragement is indicative of the success the institute has had in producing novel events with high impact: “This is a model for such events, and quite rare.”

Lawrence Alexander, the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego School of Law said, “This conference was useful in having both general theoretical papers and specific case study papers, and in distinguishing among strict liability, vicarious liability, and omission liability in ways that will benefit other scholars.”

The twelve papers presented at the event will be published as articles in a forthcoming issue of the journal Criminal Law and Philosophy.

Vera Bergelson, professor of law at the Rutgers Law School, described the forthcoming publication of the symposium’s papers as providing “a comprehensive account of public welfare offenses and the doctrinal and practical problems associated with criminal strict liability.” 

Michael Moore, the Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, explained that the collection of papers produced at the symposium should have real policy impact. 

“The collection will serve as a much needed antidote to the current temptation of legislators to overuse and misuse the criminal law to serve various regulatory ends.  In their rush to promote various social policies, such as the reining in of risky investments by banking officials, legislators often forget the limitations on the proper use of the criminal law, limitations based on culpability that are explored in the essays in this collection.”

The Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics brings together the finest scholars and best teachers from different fields to advance understanding of the ethical issues inherent in the functioning of the market society. The institute’s comprehensive approach to the study of markets and ethics extends beyond the exploration of ethical questions related to business people functioning in the organizational setting to include issues surrounding law and law enforcement policy and the pressures of conducting business in a political environment with rules that are subject to change.



News story on GISME's Seminar on Ethics Across the Curriculum


In November, the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME) hosted a seminar titled “Ethics Across the Curriculum.” Fourteen graduate students from Georgetown University and other universities across the United States and Canada were recruited from a variety of disciplines, including political science, economics, history, business, and philosophy, to discuss the relationship between their area of study and normative thinking.

“The seminar asked, can you work as an economist, a political scientist, business management professor, anything, without a normative framework?” said Michael Douma, the director of GISME. “Are you simply just describing, or do you have a background of normative questions that you're thinking about? Questions that influence the way that you write, what you plan to research, and where to go next.”

The students participated in six sessions, each of which focused on a particular area of study and featured various articles selected by Douma. The specific disciplines were chosen because of their inherent relationship to the study of markets.

The seminar sought to promote communication between disciplines and understanding of different methods used when approaching ethics. Students became increasingly aware of the relationship between ethics and their respective area of study, as well as the disciplines of others.

“The candid discussion and intelligent exchange of ideas allowed me to think more deeply about how ethics and normative thinking are incorporated into my research and studies,” said Benjamin Gibbs, a historian and business student from the University of Dallas. “The variety of disciplines represented also facilitated discourse as to how my department's study of ethics is informed by other disciplines and how we can communicate across departments."

The students determined that although it may be possible to conduct research without thinking about ethics, the research would be bland.

“The major realization I came away with from the seminar was just how inescapable normative thinking is in work across the humanities and social sciences,” said Ben Woodfinden, a Carleton University graduate student in political philosophy. “Being aware of the normative foundations and presuppositions inherent in virtually all scholarship and research helps us better critically evaluate our own work and research, as well as the work of others."

By hosting “Ethics Across the Curriculum,” GISME helped to fulfill the mission of the McDonough School of Business to create principled leaders.

“If we want to create principled leaders, we can’t just tell people to be good. We have to put them through situations and they need to think about various problems,” Douma said.

The seminar was successful in both promoting awareness of philosophical ethics across a variety of disciplines and increasing GISME’s profile.

“The conference was a fruitful opportunity to discuss the nature and importance of ethical practice and ethical theory with non-specialists across a large breadth of academic disciplines,” said Gordon Shannon, a Princeton University Ph.D. candidate in philosophy.


Students Discuss Catholic Social Thought


About 50 undergraduate students from six universities across the country convened in Washington, D.C., in April for the inaugural Symposium on Markets and Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

The two-day symposium was sponsored by the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME) and the Institute for Humane Studies. Participating students reflected on and discussed two books and five articles on how Catholic social thought addresses issues of wealth and poverty, market social order, and the of the role of business leaders in the community. Students had prepared for the event through year-long book discussion clubs at each of the participating schools, including Catholic University, Creighton University, Lindenwood University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University New Orleans, and St. Louis University.

“They all came in prepared,” said Michael Douma, director of GISME. “There was much more preparation time involved than a traditional seminar or symposium. Georgetown served as the anchor of their year-long program.”

The Catholic social thought tradition, which has evolved over more than 100 years of papal encyclicals and scholarly commentary, is concerned, in part, with the relationship between markets and morality. “There’s a tradition in the Catholic Church of speaking about the marketplace, about how to be responsible for more than just profit,” Douma said. “Catholic social thought tells people to consider the poorest, to try to pay reasonable wages, to worry about the employee as well as the employer. It’s about balancing social responsibilities with marketplace responsibilities.”

The readings included Pope Francis’ 2013 encyclical, Evangelium Gaudium, and Pope John Paul II’s Centesium Annus, as well as works by modern philosophers and theologians. “[The symposium] offered an opportunity to more deeply engage with vital questions about faith and the market, and also to meet new people with a breadth of backgrounds and perspectives who could expand my thinking on the topic,” said Luke Buffington, a senior at Creighton University.

The Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics brings together scholars and teachers from different fields to advance understanding of the ethical issues inherent in the functioning of the market society. The symposium was the first of its kind for the institute.

For Mackenzie Vieth, a student at Lindenwood University, the weekend was an opportunity to learn from peers at fellow Catholic universities. “As I sat and listened to everyone in my group discuss the topics at hand, it was clear to me that my generation has great minds,” she said. “I took away a deeper appreciation for the importance of the type of dialogue the symposium represents,” Buffington said. “Both the deep gaps and great complements that exist between the teachings of the [Catholic] Church and our understanding of markets apparent in the readings make me aware of how much the church and the economics profession can gain from interacting in a deeper and more sustained way.”


The Markets Without Limits Tour


A new book by Dr.'s Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski  "Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Limits"  shows how academic philosophy can have popular appeal.  Published by Routledge in the fall of 2015, the book has been widely reviewed and commented on.

Since 2014, Brennan and Jaworski combined have given over thirty invited presentations on their book. Locations of these presentations have included: Queen’s University, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), University of Toronto, McGill University, Brown University, Duke University School of Law, University of Pennsylvania. 

Talking about the work has been a productive exercise. Jason Brennan relates: "To my surprise, philosophers and others whom I expected to disagree have tended to to agree with us after hearing the argument. I think that shows a lot of good faith on the part of audiences. They have reasonable concerns and worries about many of these markets, but when they see that these concerns can be dealt with, they come on board."

Upcoming presentations on the book are scheduled at Dartmouth College, and the University of Colorado.