From abstract to concrete: Prof. David Enoch


Professor David Enoch is firmly grounded in abstract thinking. Comfortably donning two hats — he is both a philosopher and a lawyer — Enoch is far more intrigued by asking questions than he is in reaching conclusive answers. Enoch, 39, is among the young faculty members recruited by the University in recent years; he is a Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities and the Jacob I. Berman Professor of Law in the Faculty of Law. The joint appointment is ideally suited to Enoch, who regards himself as a philosopher interested in thinking about law, rather than a practitioner of the trade.

While Enoch’s academic interests include moral, legal and political philosophy, his forté, he says, is the field of metaethics, which he describes as “the philosophical sub-discipline that does not study normative issues — such as what is right and what is good — but rather questions about these questions,” or what he calls “second-order questions.” Enoch explains: “What does it mean for an action to be right? Are there any moral truths and moral facts [he believes there are] and, ultimately, do these questions have any true impact on ethical discourse?”

According to Enoch — a Tel Aviv University law graduate with a doctorate in philosophy from New York University — the last decade has witnessed a tremendous rise in the philosophical interest in metaethics. So much so that the topic was the focus of a research group, hosted by the Hebrew University’s prestigious Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) during the 2007/2008 academic year. “While philosophy is almost never about reaching conclusions collectively,” says Enoch, who headed the IAS group, the scholars — both from Israel and abroad — benefited from the “collective discussion and intellectual interaction.”

Enoch, who has spent time in New York as a visiting professor at Columbia Law School, admits that while he sees himself “temperamentally” as a philosopher, he finds himself “only a bit” of an anomaly in the Faculty of Law. “Most influential law schools have philosophers on board,” he says.

The recipient of the University’s Yoram Ben-Porath President’s Prize for Outstanding Young Researcher in 2006 and the Zeltner Prize for a Young Scholar in 2005, Enoch has no problem combining abstract discussions with legal argument and theory. He offers a number of examples. “Take the distinction between intended and foreseeable actions, and the moral status of their consequences.” This theoretical topic, Enoch explains, becomes relevant when discussing terrorism (intended harm) and counterterrorism (foreseeable collateral damage) and the moral and legal implications of the intending-foreseeing distinction to state actions. Applying philosophical questions to legal issues, Enoch has also written about peer-disagreement and reason-giving and how they pertain within a jurisprudential context. He also has a book in the works, Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism (to be published in July 2011 by Oxford University Press).

Enoch certainly approaches his interests with enthusiasm and seriousness, clearly enjoying his diverse roles as both a philosopher and legal scholar. Indeed, these two worlds seem to be converging as he finds himself gradually putting greater emphasis on political philosophy. “Not only is it becoming hard to avoid,” says Enoch with an enigmatic smile, “but it is also not a good idea to try to do so.”