Sign In
Endowments at UVA

Philosophy & Criminal Law

What does it mean to be morally culpable? Why do we think someone who premeditates deserves more punishment than someone who does not? Should a person who succeeds in their crime receive more punishment than a person who attempts the very same crime but fails?

Challenging questions of this nature are the driving passion of Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, who is the inaugural Harrison M. Robertson Professor of Law.

As a leading criminal law theorist with a philosopher’s heart, Ferzan believes that the discipline of philosophy and the simple light of reason are our best tools to critique and refine criminal law. An interdisciplinary approach has allowed her to produce numerous field-defining and award-winning publications.

With expertise in both areas, she brings together law and philosophy in ways that are radically redefining criminal law theory. Ferzan teaches criminal law, evidence, and advanced law and philosophy seminars in the School of Law, and is also affiliated with the Corcoran Department of Philosophy.

Believing that the fundamental principles of criminal law are not fully settled, Ferzan’s scholarship is establishing a novel theory of moral culpability that focuses on states of mind, motivation, and intent. In much of her work she applies this theory to specific issues within criminal law, including self-defense and attempts.

“Kim is one of the most distinguished criminal law theorists of her generation, and perhaps simply the most distinguished,” said her colleague Frederick Schauer, an expert in legal reasoning and philosophy of law. Schauer himself holds the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professorship in Law.

In addition to her own writing, Ferzan is co-editor-in-chief of Law and Philosophy, and serves on the editorial boards of Legal Theory and Criminal Law and Philosophy. She is also an award-winning teacher, and has been a visiting professor at several prominent law schools.

In 2015, in recognition of her stellar achievements, Ferzan was elected the Harrison M. Robertson Professor of Law. Named for the late Harrison M. Robertson, Jr. (College ’42, Law ’48), a successful lawyer and generous philanthropist, the endowed chair recognizes legal scholars of special eminence. Ferzan’s leadership and teaching exemplify the outstanding scholarship that Robertson sought to support.

“It is a great honor to be the inaugural chair holder of the Harrison Robertson Professorship, for my work to be supported and recognized in such a way, and to be able to forge a connection to Robertson, who loved this university so much,” said Ferzan.

She also holds the Caddell & Chapman Professorship in Law, created by Michael Caddell (College ’76, Law ’79) and Cynthia B. Chapman. With support from the endowed chairs, Ferzan will continue to redefine and advance criminal law theory, add to the stream of innovative scholarship at UVA, and prepare today’s law students to be tomorrow’s top leaders and lawmakers.