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DEBATE |  Alex Davies, Barry Lam, & Thi Nguyen
DEBATE |  Alex Davies, Barry Lam, & Thi Nguyen

Thu, 18 Apr



DEBATE | Alex Davies, Barry Lam, & Thi Nguyen

A debate between Barry Lam (Vassar) and Thi Nguyen (Utah) moderated by Alex Davies (Tartu).


18 Apr 2024, 17:00 – 18:30 CEST




On precision and discretion in legal and bureaucratic conceptual engineering


There is an ongoing debate in legal theory and the philosophy of law about the value of precision and the value of vagueness. Precise laws eliminate subjectivity and bias, and make legal actions more predictable and regular. But vague laws make more room for discretion, and for people on-the-spot to adjust to the subtle and unexpected demands of the moment. The study of bureaucracies and data-collection has yielded a similar set of observations: when policies and standardized categories are precise, they are easy to execute similarly at scale, and easier to aggregate - but they lose nuance and adaptability. Importantly, legal and institutional concepts often seem to have already been contoured to fit the demands of institutional precision. When we define “adult” as “of 18 years of age”, we are, in effect, engineering the concept to better fit the needs of institutional life. In fact, many of the concepts we currently possess may already bear the mark of the past impacts of institutional conceptual engineering. How might future conceptual engineering projects respond in light? What are the advantages, and disadvantages, of contouring our concepts to fit particular institutional desiderata?

Zoom Access

Meeting ID: 643 9556 0347

Passcode: CEN24

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