Raff Donelson

Associate Professor of Law

Professor Donelson is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose research grapples with questions in law, in philosophy, and at the intersection of these two fields. In philosophy, his research focuses on the foundations of ethics and on questions about the nature of law. His legal doctrinal work centers on constitutional protections for incarcerated persons and the accused. He teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, constitutional law, and legal theory. Professor Donelson was recently appointed as an editor at the Journal of Legal Philosophy.

Before joining Chicago-Kent, Donelson held an appointment at Penn State Dickinson Law and prior to that, he held a joint-appointment with the Paul M. Hebert Law Center and the Department of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. Donelson earned a doctoral degree in philosophy as well as a juris doctor from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science from Williams College.


Ph.D. Northwestern University

J.D. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

M.A. University of Chicago

B.A. Williams College


Book Chapters

Experimental Approaches to General Jurisprudence, in Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Law (Stefan Magen & Karolina Prochownik, eds. Bloomsbury 2022)

The Rorty-Dworkin Debate, in The Ethics, Epistemology and Politics of Richard Rorty (Giancarlo Marchetti, ed. Routledge 2021)

Fuller and the Folk: The Inner Morality of Law Revisited (with Ivar Hannikainen), in Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy, vol. 3. 6-28 (Tania Lombrozo, Joshua Knobe & Shaun Nichols, eds. Oxford University Press 2020)

The Nihilist, in The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 31-47 (Seth Vannatta, ed. Lexington Press 2019)


The Inherent Problem with Mass Incarceration, Oklahoma Law Review (2022)

Natural Punishment, 100 North Carolina Law Review 557 (2022)

The Real Problem with Katz Circularity, 65 Saint Louis University Law Journal 809 (2021)

The Pragmatist School in Analytic Jurisprudence, 31 Philosophical Issues 66 (2021)

Are There Cross-Cultural Legal Principles? Modal Reasoning Uncovers Procedural Constraints on Law (with Ivar Hannikainen et. al), 45 Cognitive Science (2021)

Reparations, Responsibility, and Formalism – A Reply to Carnes, 49 Philosophia 643 (2021)

Describing Law, 33 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 85 (2020)

Legal Inconsistencies, 55 Tulsa Law Review 15 (2019)

Three Problems with Metaethical Minimalism, 34 Southwest Philosophy Review 125 (2018)

Who are the Punishers? 86UMKC Law Review259(2017)

Blacks, Cops, and the State of Nature, 15 Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 183 (2017)

Rorty’s Promise in Metaethics, 14 Contemporary Pragmatism 292 (2017)

Ethical Pragmatism, 48 Metaphilosophy 383 (2017)

Cruel and Unusual What? Toward a Unified Definition of Punishment, 9 Washington University Jurisprudence Review 1 (2016)

Selected Media Appearances

The FBI Cast an Incredibly Questionable Dragnet for Steve Bannon’s Lawyer, Quoted in Daily Beast about FBI probe into lawyer for Trump White House strategist

A court just struck down Pennsylvania’s mail voting law. Here’s what you need to know, Quoted in story about PA voting by mail

Court throws Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law into doubt, Quoted in story about PA voting by mail

Deadline passes in GOP’s election ‘investigation’ subpoena, Quoted in story about PA state senate investigation into 2020 federal election

PolicePrivacy, and Searches, Invited to author a post on the Blog of the American Philosophical Association

Interference: Democracy at Risk, Appeared in the documentary on US constitutional law & elections

Ipse Dixit Interview, Interviewed about “Natural Punishment” for legal scholarship podcast

Legal-Phi Interview, Interviewed for series on new scholars in legal philosophy

Media Appearances

Police Decertification Can't Be Effective Tool for Reform While It's So Difficult, Says Associate Professor Raff Donelson

“Decertification has to be easier if it’s to work as an independent way to get police reform,” said Raff Donelson, an associate professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, drawing a contrast to criminal prosecutions as an accountability mechanism. We have one set of rules for figuring out whether to take away your freedom,” he said, and “a different set of rules about whether you should do a job.”

The Intercept