Here's a selection of my research, arranged by theme.
THEORY OF LAW
Drawing upon the Aristotelian insight that friends have no need for justice - in ideal friendship, we behave justly - I develop a theory of law based on the universal phenomenon of friendship. Friendship and legal relations attract rights and obligations by virtue of the manner in which the parties are situated. Friendship teaches us that how the parties are situated gives rise to legitimate expectations; it attests to the intrinsic worth of each. The methodology for deciphering norms within, and moral lessons from, friendship can be transposed to law, resulting in an inter-subjectively agreeable and rich conception of justice. Justice as Friendship aims to provide a vision for law's development and invites the practitioner to advance its central claims in their area of expertise.
"This is an impressive piece of scholarship that will constitute an important contribution to contemporary debates about the nature of law, its normativity and authority, and its relationship to justice (and morality more generally). Seow Hon Tan makes excellent use of the work of contemporary writers in jurisprudence and political philosophy, drawing on their insights and, where appropriate, offering thoughtful and measured criticism. In dealing with other writers, she is consistently fair minded. In her expositions, she presents the arguments of opponents in the best possible light, and makes a serious effort to engage possible lines of counterargument they or their supporters might advance against her criticisms. I find this highly commendable. This is highly original work, though, as I say, it engages the ideas of many of the leading scholars in the field today. There is not another book quite like it. No informed person will read it and say, Oh she’s just rehashing the arguments of ...." Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Other selected reviews
Human flourishing, adoption, and interests of children
Surrogacy and Human Flourishing: This article argues that new natural law theory offers an alternative case against legalising surrogacy based on the violation of basic goods of human flourishing, a notion which unpacks afresh what is really at stake in the commodification/objectification arguments. The new natural law case against surrogacy hinges on the link between childbirth and raising children, which turns out to be the major bone of contention in the surrogacy debate. The establishment of the link turns on answers to empirical questions as to what is in the best interests of the child, as well as on contested notions of motherhood, raising questions of a philosophical or normative nature. This article elucidates for policy makers and legislators the precise issues they must face squarely in order to determine whether to legalise or prohibit surrogacy arrangements.
How Surrogacy Arrangements Fail Children: This online post examines whether surrogacy arrangements are in the best interests of children, looking at epigenetic effects of pregnancy, the loss to the children arising from separation from birth mothers, and special challenges associated with parenting by intended parents.
Should Commercial Surrogacy be Legalised?: This op-ed in Singapore's main English newspaper examines the arguments in relation to the legalisation of commercial surrogacy.
Surrogacy, Child's Welfare and Public Policy in Adoption Applications: This note, based on the case UKM v. AG (2018), discusses the decision of the Singapore High Court in relation to an application to adopt a child conceived through surrogacy, in view of de facto curtailment of domestic surrogacy in Singapore. I was also interviewed in the aftermath of this judgment by Channel News Asia.
Physician-assisted suicide, voluntary active euthanasia, and end of life issues
The Case Against Physician-Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Active Euthanasia: A Jurisprudential Consideration: This article examines whether physician-assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia should be legalised in Singapore, now that some two decades have passed since the Advance Medical Directive Act came into force in Singapore.
Law-making in pluralist democracies, ethics, etc.
Religion in the Abortion Discourse in Singapore: A Case Study of the Relevance of Religious Arguments in Law-Making in Multi-Religious Democracies: Abortion is perhaps one of the world's most polarizing issues today. Laws on abortion vary across different jurisdictions, from prohibiting abortion under all circumstances to freely allowing it without restriction as to reason. Unlike rights such as freedom from torture or of speech, failure to recognize abortion rights is not necessarily the product of illiberal governments known to abuse human rights, nor is allowing abortion indicative of a good human rights record. Using Singapore's parliamentary debates as a launch pad, this article examines the role of religious arguments in, and the ground rules for, law-making in a multi-religious democracy. It argues the justification for law-making must accommodate religious arguments beyond those that pass the Rawlsian test of public reason, as Rawls's attempt to delineate the public and the political fails. He purports to leave metaphysical questions unsettled, but really resolves them while sidelining metaphyiscal arguments.
Parsing the 24-week Rule for Abortions: In this op-ed (2014), I examine the reasons for the 24-week limit on abortions without restriction as to reason. Other op-eds I have written on the subject include Time Again to Review Abortion Laws (2013) and Time for Singapore to Relook Abortion Law (2008).
OTHER MORALS LEGISLATION
Signposting as a Principle in Lawmaking: In this op-ed, I explore the role of law in protecting the moral ecology of society.
Free Will's a Gamble: In this op-ed, I explore Singapore's decision to legalise casino gambling.
Pragmatism, Morals Legislation and the Criminalisation of Homosexual Acts in Singapore: In this journal article, I explore the Singapore Parliament's navigation of the relationship between law and morality in its criminal law review in 2007.
Redefining Marriage: In this op-ed, I explore attempts to redefine marriage.
LEGAL & MORAL OBLIGATIONS
Radbruch's Formula Revisited: The 'Lex Injusta Non Est Lex' Maxim in Constitutional Democracies: This article, forthcoming in the August issue of the Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence, explores the relevance of Radbruch's Formula for constitutional democracies. I argue that regardless of whether the lex injusta maxim is a subordinate theorem of natural law theory (as Finnis suggests), and regardless of whether Radbruch affirmed unchanging natural law at any stage of his writing, there are sound reasons why Radbruch’s Formula, interpreted in my proposed version as a natural law doctrine, forms an essential part of democratic constitutionalism. Crucially, Radbruch’s Formula is strongly consistent with the most persuasive premise of democratic constitutionalism. I make the case for the legal invalidity of intolerably unjust laws, relying on Alexy's suggestion as to using broad historical consensus to explicate the idea of intolerable injustice. Referring to such consensus also addresses the twin fears of judicial oligarchy and legal uncertainty that plague the judicial invocation of Radbruch’s Formula to strike down legislation passed by a democratically elected local legislature. I also consider whether the reference to broad historical consensus sits uneasily with the notion of subsidiarity, another concept favored by some natural law theorists, insofar as it possibly overrides local moral consensus. I conclude that the treatment of unjust laws within Radbruch’s Formula, with judges authorized to strike down laws in constitutional democracies in the case of intolerable injustice but not otherwise, presents us with a neatly cohesive position within natural law theory, all aspects of natural law theory considered.
Natural Law Theory
Validity and Obligation in Natural Law Theory: This article examines Finnis's approach to unjust laws in new natural law theory, and whether the approach comes too close to that of legal positivism.
Nature of Morality
The Problems with Moral Subjectivism: In this article, I parse some of the arguments that moral subjectivists might make in dialogues.
I have also written two related op-eds: True Believers or Moral Absolutists and It's All Right to be Wrong, Sometimes.
RULE OF LAW
Jurisprudential Issues in a Pandemic
Legislating and Enforcing for Containment in a Pandemic: An Introduction to Jurisprudential Issues Raised by COVID-19 (Temporary Measures)(Control Order) Regulations 2020: In Chapter 21 of this Ebook, I examine selected provisions of Singapore's regulations relating to ordinary day-to-day living and use them as a launchpad for exploring jurisprudential issues raised in the process of legislating and enforcing for containment in a pandemic where the scientific community is still struggling to catch up with the pathogenesis and the responses of the addressees of the law might not be easily predictable by legislators.
Separation of Powers
Between Judicial Oligarchy and Parliamentary Supremacy: Understanding the Court's Dilemma in Constitutional Judicial Review: In this article, I consider the dilemma that constitutional judicial review presents to the most well-meaning of judges, that of navigating the narrow and difficult road between parliamentary supremacy and judicial oligarchy. I examine the Singapore Court of Appeal's delineation of legal and extra-legal considerations in view of Ronald Dworkin's theory of adjudication in determining the constitutionality of a statutory provision in Lim Meng Suang v AG (2015).
LAWYERS AND LEGAL EDUCATION
Legal education, moral transformation and development of professional identity
Supported by a Ministry of Education Academic Research Grant, I did an empirical study of law students from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, following a cohort across three years of law school. They were surveyed at the start of the first year, at the end of the first year, and at the start of the fourth year of legal education. They were also interviewed at about the same time. The analysis of the results after one year of legal education was published in Legal Ethics while the analysis of the results after three years of legal education was published in the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies.
Law internships and the development of professional identity
Supported by a Ministry of Education Academic Research Grant, I did an empirical study of students from the Singapore Management University School of Law who had recently done legal internships to assess the role that these internships played in the making of future lawyers. My findings and analysis are found in a journal article, an op-ed, as well as a publication by the Law Society of Singapore.
WORTH OF LEGAL THEORY
Mandating jurisprudence in legal education
Teaching Legal Ideals Through Jurisprudence: This article examines the value of jurisprudence in legal education. I argue that jurisprudence should be mandated at an early stage of the students' law curriculum as the legal ideals that may be imparted through a jurisprudence course cannot be adequately taught in a professional ethics course or through teaching jurisprudential perspectives in doctrinal subjects. Law schools have a special responsibility to get students thinking about what law is, what makes law legitimate, and how law is related to justice, morality, politics and rationality. A mandatory jurisprudence course should be intentionally structured along these themes.