Legal Thought and Empires: Analogies, Principles, and Authorities from the Ancients to the Moderns

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Date / time
Date(s) - 22 March
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Law Faculty LG17, University of Cambridge


In this lecture, it is revealed why the history of legal thought cannot be prepared in the same way as the history of political thought. To this end, two thousand years of legal thought are explored, beginning in the Mediterranean before taking in a transnational (but not a perfectly global) scope. Analogy, principle, and authority are identified as the main components in the expression of legal argument. Motivations and themes, however, vary. A number of thinkers (including Justinian, Grotius, Maine, and Lauterpacht) are discussed. Imperialism quite often spurred innovation and change in the substance of legal thought, it is conceded, while its components, in spite of these variations in substance, have remained mostly unchanged. In a post-revolutionary age, the uses of analogies, principles, and authorities are prone, now and then, to slight corruptions, for a number of reasons we might guess at. Yet these remain crucial to the expression of legal thought today.

Dr Edward Cavanagh FRHistS is a research fellow in History at Downing College ( Professor John Robertson, currently the Professor of the History of Political Thought at Clare College, will respond. Dr Megan Donaldson, Junior Research Fellow in the History of International Law at King’s College, will chair the discussion (

Law Faculty, West Road,LG17, 17:00–19:00

Thursday March 22nd