Intentions in Artifactual Understandings of Law

In Luka Burazin, Kenneth Einar Himma, Corrado Roversi & Paweł Banaś (eds.), The Artifactual Nature of Law. Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 16-36 (2022)
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The primary aim of this chapter is to show that several missteps made by others in in their thinking about law as an artefact are due to misconceptions about the role of intentions in understanding law as an artefact. I first briefly recap my own contention that law is a genre of institutionalized abstract artefacts (put forth in The Functions of Law (OUP 2016) and subsequent papers), mostly following Searle’s understanding of institutions and Thomasson’s understanding of public artefacts. I highlight the central place that this theory affords law’s functions, without requiring the theorist to say that possession or performance of the function is either necessary or sufficient for inclusion in the class of law. Some of the most common misunderstandings are exemplified in Brian Leiter’s paper ‘Legal Positivism about the Artifact Law’. He thinks that holding an intentionalist view of artefacts commits the theorist to privileging drafters’ intentions when interpreting law. (It doesn’t.) He also has confusions about the differences between artefact tokens and artefact types leading him to a problematically broad understanding of artefacts. Another problem can be seen in thinking that functional understandings of artefacts are vulnerable to the same problems that arise in functional explanations for biological systems. I go on to consider the work of Luka Burazin and Corrado Roversi, addressing worries that making intentionality central to artefacts implies too much conscious thought is required to make one, noting that several theories of intentionality do not require conscious thought in the execution of intentional action. While those who think a central place for intentionality threatens to leave us unable to explain customary law, this can be dealt with by noting the important distinction between customary rules and customary laws (where the latter requires a decision to enlist public aid in redressing violations). I claim that authors’ intentions are communicated requests for the artefacts’ audiences to see the artefacts as members of their putative kinds. Finally, I address the question of whether or not legal systems are themselves artefacts and institutions, given that they may or may not have been intentionally created. An early lawgiver might have created a legal system by accident in the process of handing down the first laws. I raise the possibility that we might want to impute intentionality to necessary by-products of artefact creation, seeing those by-products as artefacts as well.



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Kenneth M. Ehrenberg
University of Surrey

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