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What is suffering worth ?


What is suffering worth ?

Perspectives across disciplines on the treatment of victims

mardi 10 septembre 2019



Franco-American Conference in Law, Criminology, Economics, History and Philosophy

This interdisciplinary symposium explores a crucial but little-studied issue with growing importance today: what is the value of harm suffered by victims, whether of terrorism, crime or natural disasters. In law, politics, economics and public opinion, answers differ widely, and unequal treatment is the norm. Across the globe, victims evoke a range of feelings, from compassion verging on celebrations of heroism, to denial, anger, indifference and even repulsion. Those reactions translate into wide variations in legal and economic responses to their harm.

The symposium will bring together experts to compare perspectives from the United States and France. They will be joined by professors of law, economics, history and philosophy. It will be held in English at the Maison Française at Columbia University in New York and is part of the Matrice Memory Program, an international transdiscilplinary research program supported by the Government of France (« Plan d'Investissements d’avenir »), and specifically a section of this program dedicated to memory of 11/13 terrorist attacks in Paris (memoire13novembre.fr)

The speakers include prominent experts from the United States and France, including two prominent public officials, François Molins, Attorney General at the French Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) and Cyrus Vance Jr., District Attorney for New York County. They will be joined by professors of law, economics, history and philosophy.

Speakers will address questions such as :

  • Do we really care about all victims ?
  • Should all victims be treated equally? Is there a moral or legal "hierarchy" of victims ?
  • Why do some victims touch us more and some less? Why do they evoke such a range of feelings ?
  • What does this diversity of reactions teach us about society ? Does it exacerbate an ideological divide ? Does our treatment of victims have a cathartic effect ?
  • What can we learn from the approaches of civil liability law, criminal law, economics, history and philosophy ?





Chair : Pierre-André Chiappori, E. Rowan and Barbara Steinschneider Professor of Economics, Director of The French House, Columbia University


9 a.m : The Perception of the "Value" of the Victim by the Judicial Authorities in the Initiation and Conduct of Criminal Proceedings and of the Greater or Lesser Compassion of the Magistrate
Cyrus Vance Jr, New York County District Attorney : in the United States
François Molins, General Attorney of the French Court of Cassation : in France

The Value of the Victim : an Economic Approach
Mark Cohen, Justin Potter Professor of American Competitive Enterprise & Professor of Law Vanderbilt University : Economics of crime

Who is and who is not an “Ideal Victim” ? A Criminological Approach
Patrick Morvan, Professor of Law, Pantheon-Assas University, Paris



Chair : Elisabeth Pelsez, Inter-ministerial Delegate for Victims' Assistance, France


2 p.m. : The Value of the Victim in Tort and Compensation Law
Philippe Pierre, Professor of Law, Rennes 1 University (France) : European and French Law
Robert Field, Professor of Law and Professor of Health Management and Policy, Drexel University, Philadelphia : American Law

Compassion Towards Victims Throughout History and Political Science
Denis Peschanski, CNRS, Director of Matrice Memory Research Program, Co-leader of 13-November Program
Bernard Harcourt, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

5 :30 p.m : Conclusion : Hate, Fear and Violence in Philosophy
Marc Crepon, CNRS, Director of the Philosophy Department of the École normale supérieure, Paris



Symposium registration : https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-is-suffering-worth-tickets-64411263824

Columbia University
French House
16 Washington Mews
New York, NY 10003, États-Unis