Delving into the philosophical side of the law

MLS PhD student Jan Mihal has an unusual way of staying motivated while writing his PhD thesis, which delves into the philosophical side of law.

Jan Mihal

“I have a bust of Plato on my filing cabinet. Seeing him every morning as I arrive at my desk brightens up my day."

In his PhD, Jan tackles the central question “what is (the nature of) law” and argues that law’s essential nature is tied to its function.

Jan explains his theory: “The main thing that makes law what it is, is what it does. Being a legal system is not so much about being regarded or recognised as law, or getting branded with the label 'law'; rather, it is about having a certain characteristic impact on the social world – helping to maintain peace and security, for example.”

“This means that it is possible that there are many kinds of law around us which we do not recognise as strictly legal – perhaps our economic positions and familial relationships, or other influences on how we behave and maintain social order.”

Jan's Plato Bust

As with all his philosophical projects, Jan’s research methodology is “almost exclusively reading the ideas of those who have come before and disagreeing with them!”

Melbourne Law School is a great outlet for Jan’s enthusiasm for law and philosophy. He enjoys being a part of the variety of research taking place at the Law School and engaging with peers working in completely different theoretical frameworks and traditions.

“It is a useful way both to re-evaluate the ideas and perspectives in your work and to take a break from your work and just think about something different altogether.”

He has also ingrained himself in the MLS and broader philosophical community by presenting his work at the Australian Society of Legal Philosophy conference post-graduate workshop, which MLS hosted earlier this year.

“There is something about being in a room full of people who have read your work and have interesting feedback to give which really inspires and drives your academic life. The work you put in is shown to be relevant and interesting to your peers and others working in the field.”

He also helped put together the annual Melbourne Doctoral Forum for Legal Theory in 2014, a conference organised by Higher Research Degree students.

“Being involved in it gave me the opportunity to learn how to manage academic events and meet participants from around the world. Most of them were amazed at the quality of the conference and the fact that it was mainly student motivated and organised.”

In his spare time Jan writes and produces music, predominantly electronic dance music. He also dabbles in electro-rock, pop, and synth-based genres.

“I am half of the Psytrance duo ‘Sons of Israel’ and we have toured interstate playing at forest music festivals known colloquially as ‘bush doofs.’ I also DJ occasionally.”

Jan also has a passion for acting. “Although I’ve taken a break from it for the last six months of my PhD, I am an avid theatre actor and have performed consistently both in university student shows and pro-am festival productions for the last decade," he says. 

"I also enjoy writing song lyrics, jokes, poetry, and fiction – when I have the time and when the muse takes me.”

By Kate Edwards