New book co-edited by Professor François Tanguay-Renaud pays tribute to legal philosopher John Gardner

François Tanguay-Renaud
Professor François Tanguay-Renaud

What is law? What is its value? And what justifications are there for specific fields of law and their key doctrines?

Answering fundamental questions like these was the life’s work of John Gardner, a former Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford who succeeded legal philosophers H.L.A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin in this prestigious chair. Gardner was a giant of legal philosophy in his own right who died after a spirited fight with cancer in 2019.

Now Osgoode Professor François Tanguay-Renaud, a former doctoral student of Gardner’s who also co-wrote with him, has teamed up with another former student of his to co-edit the first book celebrating Gardner’s important contributions to legal thought.

From Morality to Law and Back Again: A Liber Amicorum for John Gardner, was also edited by Michelle Madden Dempsey, a law professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. The collection features essays by 16 leading legal academics who benefited from Gardner’s guidance or were once his graduate students, including Tanguay-Renaud and Madden Dempsey. It includes contributions from legal scholars from Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Israel and Hong Kong, and will officially be released by Oxford University Press on August 19th.

The term “liber amicorum” from the title is Latin for book of friends – and that captured the spirit of the project, said Tanguay-Renaud. Unlike some prominent legal thinkers, he noted, “John was someone who really invested a lot of time and effort in his students. His incisive thought and extraordinary generosity really impacted a lot of people.”

Tanguay-Renaud described the volume as a handbook or guide to the many issues of legal philosophy that Gardner explored – and an attempt to spark new discussions.

His own chapter, titled State Crimes, draws on Gardner’s scholarship to examine whether legal norms should be developed that criminalize some instances of state wrongdoing. “The chapter argues that they may be, both conceptually and legitimately, at both the levels of international and domestic law,” he explained. “In the process, the essay makes the case for the introduction of more overtly punitive remedies in the public law context – such as under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Tanguay-Renaud, a former lecturer in law at Oxford, said the title of the book captures one key organizing thought underlying Gardner’s thinking: that the law often tracks moral norms that apply to all of us and often derives its justification from them. But the law also refines, reshapes and adds to morality.

Gardner applied this insight not only to general jurisprudence (otherwise known as general legal philosophy), but also to the study of specific fields of the law such tort law, contract law, discrimination law, criminal law and public law more generally, said Tanguay-Renaud. Many of Gardner’s insights are collected in the numerous books he published over the years, including Law as a Leap of Faith: Essays on Law in General (2012), From Personal Life to Private Law (2019) and Offences and Defences: Selected Essays in the Philosophy of Criminal Law (2007).

”In many ways, John’s work showcases the practical value of legal philosophy for both lawyers and ordinary citizens”, said Tanguay-Renaud, who regularly teaches courses on criminal law, criminal procedure, emergency law, foundations of Canadian law, the philosophical foundations of criminal law, jurisprudence and the rule of law.

“John’s work really gives us a window into a certain perspective of what the foundations of the law are,” he said. “I think it’s important for lawyers and judges to sometimes take a deep breath and ponder the underlying rationales for the doctrines they’re applying and the larger social enterprise they are engaged in. It allows them to be more deliberate professional actors and to help guide the evolution of the legal systems within which they act in sounder ways.”

Tanguay-Renaud said the image of Justitia on the cover of the book, which is expected to hit store shelves in October, is taken from a gargoyle at All Soul’s College, Oxford, that was sculpted in Gardner’s memory. A guitar is hidden in the hair of the gargoyle because the prominent legal philosopher was also an avid musician and an all-round lover of life.

He added that the book underlines Osgoode’s strength in legal philosophy, which is also reflected in the work of Osgoode professors such as Allan Hutchinson, Emily Kidd-White, Jennifer Nadler and Dan Priel.