Jules Coleman, a preeminent scholar and the Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld Professor of Jurisprudence and Professor of Philosophy at Yale Law School, has joined Miami Law's faculty for much of this spring semester as the first University Distinguished Scholar in Residence.
Professor Coleman is the quintessential New Yorker. His dress, edge and deportment practically scream it, his sharp intellect and self-deprecating manner the marks of the best thinkers the city produces. He is a traveler in the fields of philosophy of law, torts, language and truth, political philosophy and rational choice, and he has come to Miami Law to contribute to its crackling intellectual life. His being here, Dean Patricia D. White says, "is a huge deal."
One of Professor Coleman's current areas of concentration is blameworthiness, the subject of a paper on which he discoursed Wednesday before a gathering that included Dean White and some two dozen fellow faculty members. He said that guilt, indignation and resentment are central to regarding other human beings for the acts they commit.
"When is it appropriate to feel blame toward others for what they do?" he asked, positing that the passage of time should – more often than not – be sufficient to lessen the emotional charge that blame produces and the liability of the person accused.
He brought up the notorious case of the film director Roman Polanski, who was accused in 1977 of sexually assaulting a teenager and whose legal travails, Professor Coleman said, had stimulated his interest in crimes of yore being prosecuted decades after being committed. "Thirty years later, is it appropriate to punish him?" Professor Coleman asked. "After 30 years, have we not lost the claim to do so?"
In the end, he suggested, "it's a question of fairness," and that, at a certain point, "you've got to let it go."
Despite his acutely conceived observations and his stellar academic credentials, Professor Coleman insists that he not be taken too seriously. "One of things I highly recommend is laughing, at every interval," he told his Miami Law faculty colleagues during his presentation. "You can't go wrong. If it's funny, it's appropriate – and if it's not funny, I won't mind."
Coleman's books include Hart's Postscript, The Practice of Principle, and Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and the Philosophy of Law. Educated at Brooklyn College, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rockefeller University and an M.S.L. from Yale Law School. He has written about the puzzling success of Brittany Spears, the horror that is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the beauty of Curtis Mayfield.
Coleman will be working with faculty in law and philosophy, participating in workshops, and mentoring younger faculty with projects and research. He is excited to be at Miami Law, "and not just for escaping the weather in the north," he said.
"I enjoy the intellectual life of this university," he went on. "Miami is much more cosmopolitan than when I was last here twenty years ago. It is beautiful and has much more cultural sophistication than Northerners are inclined to think. The university is a first rate environment in scholarship and it is consistently intellectual. Ideas matter here and I admire that."