Legal Positivism and the Moral Aim Thesis

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 33 (3):563-605 (2013)
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According to Scott Shapiro’s Moral Aim Thesis, it is an essential feature of the law that it has a moral aim. In short, for Shapiro, this means that the law has the constitutive aim of providing morally good solutions to morally significant social problems in cases where other, less formal ways of guiding the activity of agents won’t work. In this article, I argue that legal positivists should reject the Moral Aim Thesis. In short, I argue that although there are versions of the Moral Aim Thesis that are arguably compatible with legal positivism, all of the different ways of making it compatible face serious philosophical difficulties. Following a discussion of what these difficulties are, I provide an alternative to the Moral Aim Thesis, a thesis that I call the ‘Represented-as-Moral Thesis’. This thesis avoids the problems that I raise for the Moral Aim Thesis and better resonates with some of the core intuitions behind legal positivism. Furthermore, a version of Shapiro’s Planning Theory of Law that is developed with the Represented-as-Moral Thesis (as opposed to the Moral Aim Thesis) can explain all of the things that Shapiro uses the Moral Aim Thesis to explain



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David Plunkett
Dartmouth College

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