Open Seminar: What is a legal thing? Animals, Slaves and corporations

The Transformations of Property Project Presents:

The Pasts and Futures of Property Seminar Series #2

Dr. Visa Kurki

University of Helsinki | Faculty of Law

  • Date: 25 February 2020
  • Time: 13:15–15:00
  • Venue: Styrelserummet at Faculty of Law | Lund University
  • Organizer: Dr. Leila Brännström
  • This event is organised in collaboration with Transnational Law and Politics Research Group

Lawyers and legal scholars subscribe often to the notion that the universe can be divided into two: persons and things. Furthermore, there are numerous assumptions pertaining to this bifurcation that are often not spelled out. In addition, one’s chosen definition of “thing” is often simply taken to be the correct one. The talk scrutinizes these assumptions and definitions.

First, I offer a brief history of the person–thing bifurcation. Second, I examine three possible definitions of “legal thing”: things as nonpersons, things as rights and duties, and things as property. I reject the first two definitions as not being very interesting or serving any heuristic function. Conversely, understanding legal things as property is meaningful, useful, and helps to understand what it means to say that, say, animals are legally things.Finally, I discuss the implications of defining things as property. For instance, not everything needs to be either a person or a thing: the historical institution of outlawry involved treating individuals neither as legal persons nor as legal things. One must conclude that the person–thing bifurcation is less fundamental than is often assumed, and legal scholars should not feel the need to classify everything as either a person or a thing.

Dr Visa Kurki is a Finnish legal scholar and philosopher, currently an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Fellow at the Law Faculty of the University of Helsinki.
He completed his PhD in 2017 at the Law Faculty of the University of Cambridge. His doctoral dissertation on legal personhood was awarded the Yorke Prize and the Salje Medal and was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. In addition to legal personhood, Dr Kurki’s research interests include animal law, rights theory and social ontology.

This is an open event /// No registration is required