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A pet project of my career as an academic and a judge has been to join philosophical inquiry with my experiences in judging in a municipal court. This book is the culmination of a thirty-five year journey that brings to light how these seemingly insignificant people’s courts, courts that handle minor offences without complex procedures, can offer valuable insights about law, judging, and punishment for the whole legal order. In a work of applied philosophy intended for the generally educated reader, I include accounts of personal experiences, visits to similar courts around the world, and conversations with their judges.

Special thanks go to my colleague Richard T. Hull, a fellow Associate Editor of the Value Inquiry Book Series, for serving as Guest Editor for this volume. Richard, more than anyone I know, shares my interest in applying philosophy and making it accessible and relevant to students and the public. His stint as Director of Humanities Texas, the state agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities for bringing the humanities to the public, is a striking example of this commitment. His proximity in Austin to Texas State, my home institution in San Marcos, afforded opportunities to collaborate with him first-hand on projects in applied philosophy and ethics, like leading discussions in our Dialogue Series, assisting with its development, and coming on board as a Visiting Professor on several occasions.

I am grateful to artist Will Bullas for permission to use an image of his work, ‘Kangaroo Court,’ an oil on canvass, as the cover illustration. It captures well an essential feature of how a people’s court functions—maintaining a delicate balance of formality and informality to provide for the participation of the citizenry. Note how all the cues of formality that the judge projects are counteracted by the presence of a younger kangaroo that the judge is holding. Many thanks go to David Cano for the drawing of me in the style of courtroom illustrations.

State University of New York Press granted permission for me to quote passages from my A Case for Legal Ethics: Legal Ethics as a Source for a Universal Ethic. The American Bar Association granted permission for me to quote passages from my ‘Balancing of Interests in Courts,’ which appeared in its journal, Jurimetrics Journal. I thank them both for these permissions. Courtesy of Legends of are all of the Native American wisdoms that I quoted from that website in the chapter on punishment.

Throughout the work I drew on and restated ideas that I published elsewhere and am likewise grateful to these publishers for their permission to make use of this material. The works and publishers include:

‘New Technologies, New Punishments, and New Thoughts about Punishment.’ Rechtstheorie, Behest 18: Changing Structures in Modern Legal Systems and the Legal State Ideology. Edited by E. Bulygin, B. Leiser, and M. Van Hoecke, 395–404. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1998. isbn 3428091477

‘In Search of People’s Courts in China in 1999.’ Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 84, no. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2001): 105–20 Stable url:

‘Law as Acts of Citizens.’ In: Legal Philosophy: General Aspects (…) Proceedings of the 19th World Congress of [ivr]. Edited by M. Troper and A. Verza, 45–50. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002 isbn 9783515080262

‘New Balance, Evil, and the Scales of Justice.’ Evil, Law, and the State: Perspectives on State Power & Violence. Edited by John T. Parry, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. isbn 9042017481

Texas State University and the American Philosophical Society provided funds for travel to people’s counts here and abroad, and thanks to them too. Prof. Rui Zhu arranged for my speaking at Peking University, visiting courts in China, accompanying me, and translating for me for which I am very appreciative. Finally, I thank Elizabeth D. Boepple who edited the manuscript and prepared it for production, and Bram Oudenampsen and Jarno Florusse of Brill-Rodopi who oversaw the various stages leading to its appearance in print.

Appeal to the People's Court

Rethinking Law, Judging, and Punishment


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