The Dewey Lecture's Honored History

When Professor Emeritus Michael Walzer visits the Law School on Wednesday, he will become the next in a long line of distinguished guests to deliver the annual Dewey Lecture.

The Dewey Lectureship in Jurisprudence was established at the Law School in 1981 with an endowment from The John Dewey Foundation, which honors the premier American philosopher and educator.

John Dewey had a strong connection to the University of Chicago. From the university's inception in 1894 until 1904, Dewey was chair of the University of Chicago's Philosophy Department. During that time, he founded what came to be called the Chicago School of Pragmatism, a controversial intellectual movement that applied scientific method to societal problems. He also created the University's Laboratory School in 1896 with the intention of challenging conventional conservative attitudes about childhood education and to discover how a school could become a cooperative community.

In 1981, former Dean of the Law School Gerhard Casper decided the Law School should recognize Dewey's tie to the university and contributions to legal theory. He exchanged letters with philosopher Sidney Hook, then president of The John Dewey Foundation, about establishing a lectureship in Dewey's name at the Law School. Hook readily agreed that Dewey's foundation would fund the Dewey Lectureship in Jurisprudence.

"John Dewey's association with the University of Chicago was so central to his philosophical career and fruitful for so many disciplines that it is a source of particular gratification to the Directors of the Foundation to establish the Lectureship in his name," Hook wrote to Casper on Nov. 11, 1981.

Casper responded praising Dewey's influence on jurisprudence, "directly as well as through the group loosely known as the legal realist movement."  

"It would give us the greatest pleasure to be able to honor a social philosopher so intimately connected with the history of the University," he wrote.

The first speaker to give the Dewey Lecture was philosopher and M.I.T. professor Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1989. Other past speakers have been: the Law School's own Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, Jurgen Habermas, Hilary Putnam, Sir Bernard Williams, Ronald Dworkin, Amy Gutmann, Catharine MacKinnon, Peter Singer, Richard Rorty, Robert E. Goodin, and Christine Korsgaard.

Professor Walzer, a leading American political theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study, will speak about the political morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial. His lecture, entitled "Trying Political Leaders," will explore a comparative politics of political trials.

The Dewey Lecture in Jurisprudence will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom.