Pursuing Truth, from Aristotle to Austen
fitzgibbon bridges two great traditions
In Professor Scott FitzGibbon’s office,
towers of books on contract law teeter
on the small, overwhelmed desk, and a
volume of Aristotle has fallen to the floor.
A dusty green papier maché dragon, made
long ago by one of his children, perches on
a cabinet piled with papers, near the
framed photograph of his wife of twenty-eight
years, Dr. Kwan Kew Lai, a specialist
in infectious diseases.
The comfortable miscellany accumulated
over twenty-five years of teaching at BC
Law reflects two core themes of FitzGibbon’s
life: philosophical-legal scholarship,
and the theory and practice of family relationships.
As the father of three children,
Timothy, now in his third year at BC Law;
Cara, a recent graduate of the Rhode
Island School of Design; and Charles, a
sophomore at Vassar, FitzGibbon likes to
joke that he has at least the advantage of
personal experience over great theorists of
marriage and the family like St. Augustine
and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Soft-spoken and reflective, FitzGibbon
said in a recent interview that he knew
from an early age that he wanted to be a
law professor, and that intuition has
proved reliable over years of teaching Contracts,
Jurisprudence, Corporations, and
Securities Regulation. “I love everything
about teaching, even preparing for class,
and I love everything about scholarship,
even writing the footnotes,” he said.
FitzGibbon was brought up in what he called “a very progressive home” in the New York metropolitan area, and his early intellectual life was shaped by Harvard Law School, and by two stints at English universities, a junior year at the London School of Economics and two years studying legal philosophy at Brasenose College, Oxford.
What he admired about Oxford philosophy,
said FitzGibbon, was its attention to the
classical roots of modern legal thought. The
topic has preoccupied him increasingly over
the last twelve years, as he has sought to
apply Aristotle’s thinking on the nature and
varieties of friendship to legal theories of
society and the family, in particular. He also
likes to give his scholarship in jurisprudence
a human dimension by enlisting literary
examples, as in a recent article entitled “The
Seduction of Lydia Bennet: Toward a General
Theory of Society, Marriage, and the Family,”
although his allusion to Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice is lost on many American
legal scholars, he admitted regretfully.
FitzGibbon’s conversion to Catholicism
at the age of thirty-three marked an intellectual
and spiritual turning point. “Crossing
and re-crossing the bridge between
English language analytical philosophy and
jurisprudence on the one hand, with all its
aspirations to clarity and rigor, and the
deposit of the classical tradition in and
through the Church, and bringing those
two in conjunction with each other in my
own thinking and writing is a major project
of my life,” he said.
Professor Hugh Ault, a long-time colleague
and early mentor of FitzGibbon at
BC Law, has watched with great interest as
the young man he lured from the Boston
law firm of Ropes & Gray to teach corporate
law and securities regulation, has
matured into a notable legal philosopher.
FitzGibbon, he said, is “not satisfied with
superficial or conventional answers,” and
he encourages the same probing mentality
in his students. “He wants students to raise
hard questions, questions that aren’t easily
answered, or even articulated,” said Professor
It’s hard to imagine a question that
FitzGibbon could not articulate. “I love listening
to him talk,” said Dean John Garvey.
In a society that looks to the law as a
framework for addressing moral questions,
said Garvey, FitzGibbon’s qualities fit him
perfectly for the role that top-notch legal
academics can play as “intellectual arbitrageurs”
who apply insights from many
disciplines to the consideration of corporate,
civic, and personal conduct.
FitzGibbon sees family life as the complement to all this high-minded scholarship. So although he admitted in the early October interview that his non-legal reading would be Thomas More’s Utopia, in preparation for an informal reading group of colleagues from Boston College and beyond, he was also looking forward to watching his college sophomore son’s Extreme Frisbee tournament, and to joining his wife—a serious baseball fan—in rooting for the Red Sox.—Jane Whitehead