With feet firmly grounded in the history of legal
philosophy extending back to 17th century England, Gerald Postema, Cary
C. Boshamer Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law at UNC School of Law, is
working to form bridges between contemporary legal systems around the world.
And on September 28, Postema will receive the Johnson Prize for Distinguished
Achievement in the Arts and Humanities in Hyde Hall at 4 p.m.
Much of Postema’s body of work in the philosophy of
law is rooted in 17th century English legal tradition and the British
philosophical tradition thereafter. He has studied and written extensively
about David Hume, Jeremy Bentham and Sir Matthew Hale, about whom the Oxford
University Press has contracted Postema to publish. The upcoming collection of
writings by Hale will include several unpublished manuscripts.
In reviewing his body of work, Postema says, “I have
addressed issues and concepts and problems in the philosophy of law that have
dominated discussion for a long time, and I’ve approached them through the lens
of other major legal philosophers.”
Even as Postema’s scholarship digs deeply into the
historic roots of legal philosophy, he has also worked to help young legal
scholars establish their careers. Between the 1990s and mid-2000s, Postema
volunteered as editor of a series of monographs published by Cambridge
University Press that highlighted the writing of new thinkers.
Although his interests are varied – and include a lifelong
passion for singing and music – Postema’s attention has turned in recent years
to international collaborations. He is completing his service as editor of a
13-volume treatise on the philosophy of law.
“It is a very ambitious project to give a
comprehensive sketch of all the problems in legal philosophy viewed
systematically and historically,” he says. Volume 11, published in August 2011,
highlighted his personal career-long interest, the history of legal philosophy
in English-speaking countries.
“What drew me to it was the opportunity to build a
bridge between these two different kinds of legal systems and quite different
ways of thinking about law and the nature of law. My motivation was to help be
a bridge across those rather substantial divides,” says Postema, who also
travels widely and lectures to law students around the world. He recently
returned from China, where he was addressing the topic of the rule of law, for
which, he says, “I discovered a real enthusiasm and hunger.”
George H. Johnson is a longtime friend and loyal supporter of the Institute.
It is in his honor that the Institute created the George H. Johnson Prize for
Distinguished Achievement by an IAH Fellow, an accolade IAH director John
McGowan characterizes as a lifetime achievement award. The award pays homage to
Johnson, one of the Institute’s great ambassadors, while recognizing exemplary
contributions by faculty in the arts, humanities or qualitative social
The Institute awards the Johnson Prize to a full professor at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has been a Fellow at the Institute for the
Arts and Humanities. The Johnson prize is awarded every two years and includes
a $7,500 prize for the winner and a dinner in the recipient’s honor. Previous
recipients of this prestigious award include Trudier Harris in 2008 and Julia
Wood in 2010.