This introduction to legal theory provides a broad overview of the main topics and theories and covers the central issues. Written in a straightforward style, the author conveys academically challenging and often controversial ideas in a lucid manner.
This article focuses on issues relating to legal normativity, emphasizing the way these matters have been elaborated in the works of Kelsen and Hart and later commentators on their theories. First, in Section 2, the author offers a view regarding the nature of law and legal normativity focusing on Kelsen's work (at least one reasonable reading of it). The argument is that the Basic Norm is presupposed when a citizen chooses to read the actions of legal officials in a normative (...) way. In this Kelsenian approach, all normative systems are structurally and logically similar, but each normative system is independent of every other system – thus, law is, in this sense, conceptually separate from morality. Second, in Section 3, the author turns to Hart's theory, analyzing the extent to which his approach views legal normativity as sui generis. This approach raises questions regarding what has become a consensus view in contemporary jurisprudence: that law makes moral claims. The author shows how a more deflationary (and less morally-flavored) understanding of the nature of law is tenable, and may, in fact, work better than current conventional (morality-focused) understandings. (shrink)
H. L. A. Hart and the "Open Texture" of Language tries to clarify the writings of both Hart and Friedrich Waismann on "open texture". In Waismann's work, "open texture" referred to the potential vagueness of words under extreme (hypothetical) circumstances. Hart's use of the term was quite different, and his work has been misunderstood because those differences were underestimated. Hart should not be read as basing his argument for judicial discretion on the nature of language; primarily, he was putting forward (...) a policy argument for why rules should be applied in a way which would require that discretion. (shrink)
It has become increasingly common for legal positivist theorists to claim that the primary objective of legal theory in general, and legal positivism in particular, is "explaining normativity." The phrase "explaining normativity" can be understood either ambitiously or more modestly. The more modest meaning is an analytical exploration of what is meant by legal or moral obligation, or by the authority claims of legal officials. When the term is understood ambitiously - as meaning an explanation of how conventional and other (...) empirical facts can give rise to moral obligations - as many legal positivist theorists seem to be using the phrase, the project is contrary to basic tenets of legal positivism, and has regularly led theorists to propose doubtful theories that ignore "is"/"ought" divisions. (shrink)
One standard criterion for there being objectivity in an area of discourse is that there is conceptual space between what someone thinks to be the case and what actually is the case. That is, participants can be mistaken. This article explores one aspect of the objectivity debate as regards law: does it make sense to say that all legal officials or practitioners in a jurisdiction are mistaken (over a significant period of time) about some legal proposition? The possibility of legal (...) error is important to discourse within and about the law. In contrast to the views of some American legal realists, it is important to deny that law is only what the officials declare it to be. However, as this article argues, claims of long-term global error in law are more problematic. The truth of legal propositions seems to be a complex function of official actions and the meaning of the terms used in authoritative legal texts. Because of the conventional nature of law, there are problems with claiming global error regarding propositions of (within) law, the existence of legal norms, and structural priorities among types of legal norms. At times, the law may in fact simply be what officials (collectively) say it is, over the long term. However, the article also notes areas where claims of long-term global error are more sustainable: where the law incorporates a term from another discourse, or where the law purports to interpret an authoritative text. (shrink)
Consent, in terms of voluntary choice, is - or, at least, appears to be or purports to be - at the essence of contract law. Contract law, both in principle and in practice, is about allowing parties to enter arrangements on terms they choose - each party imposing obligations on itself in return for obligations another party has placed upon itself. This freedom of contract- an ideal by which there are obligations to the extent, but only to the extent, freely (...) chosen by the parties - is contrasted to the duties of criminal law and tort law, which bind all parties regardless of consent. At the same time, consent, in the robust sense expressed by the ideal of freedom of contract, is arguably absent in the vast majority of the contracts we enter these days, but its absence does little to affect the enforceability of those agreements. Consent to contractual terms often looks like consent to government: present, if at all, only under a fictional (as if) or attenuated rubric. This article explores a variety of topics relating to consent, and the role it plays in contract law doctrine and theory. The article begins by a brief examination of the nature of consent, then turns to contract doctrines that turn on the alleged absence of consent (e.g., duress and undue influence); contract rules and principles (e.g., implied terms) that turn on hypothetical consent; the challenges to consent that arise from electronic contracting and bounded rationality, and theories of contract law that emphasize consent. (shrink)
Conceptual analysis is an integral part of legal theory, but the nature and purpose of such inquiries are often not clearly stated. In this article, I attempt to elaborate upon some of the differing reasons for conceptual analysis and what consequences may follow from choosing one objective rather than another. By showing that divergent purposes are often present in competing analyses of the same concept, I also hope to indicate why some “debates” in the jurisprudential literature are best understood as (...) theorists talking past one another. (shrink)
This chapter contains section titled: History and Context Clarifications Alternative Legal Positivisms The Rule of Recognition and the Basic Norm The Divisions Within Contemporary Legal Positivism Debates and Distinctive Views Critiques of Legal Positivism Two Critics: Ronald Dworkin and John Finnis Methodological Questions and the Way Forward Conclusion Note References Further Reading.
A number of important legal theorists have recently argued for metaphysically realist approaches to legal determinacy grounded in particular semantic theories or theories of reference, in particular, views of meaning and reference based on the works of Putnam and Kripke. The basic position of these theorists is that questions of legal interpretation and legal determinacy should be approached through semantic meaning. However, the role of authority (in the form of lawmaker choice) in law in general, and democratic systems in particular, (...) require that these realist solutions to the problem of legal determinacy be rejected, or at least significantly revised. (shrink)
There are a growing number of general theories of contract law and of other doctrinal areas. These theories are vastly ambitious in their aims. This article explores the nature of these claims, and the motivations for offering such theories, while considering the challenges to success. It is in the nature of theorizing to seek general categories, including doctrinal categories, and to try to discover insights that hold across those categories. However, differences both within a doctrinal area and across legal systems (...) undermine the case for universal and general theories. Also, unjustifiably general theories may distract us from developing properly contextual legal rules, and might even have the unintended effect of legitimating unjust rules. (shrink)
In his work, On Law and Justice, Alf Ross sought to explain law in scientific/empirical terms, in terms that would require no recourse to what he called “metaphysics” or “idealism.” The result is a sort of translation of legal rules and official actions into propositions of behavior, predictions of behavior, and shared ideology. The present work raises questions about the tensions within Ross's work(s), and discusses the places where Ross's analysis seems to fall short of its ambitions. In the course (...) of the discussion, the article considers issues relating to legal mistake, explanations of judicial behavior, and different types of normativity. (shrink)
In this response to eight commentaries on my article “Kelsen, Hart, and legal normativity” I clarify some points in my original analysis and agree with some comments regarding work that still needs to be done. In particular, I attempt to distinguish my position from both Berkeleyan idealism and mere subjective perception. I agree with the commentators who urge that more must be done to analyze the nature of normativity in general, and legal normativity in particular.
Analyzing Law offers an important selection of the most influential and challenging work now being done in legal theory. A central focus of the essays in this work is the contribution of the well-known philosopher Jules Coleman to the various topics which are covered by the contributors.
One of the standard criticisms of John Austin’s work is that his portrayal of law, as essentially the command of a sovereign to its subjects, does not fit well with the way law is practiced or perceived by lawyers, judges, and citizens; and since the theory “fails to fit the facts,” Austin’s theory must be rejected in favor of later theories that have better fit. Many influential modern approaches to the nature of law, including Joseph Raz’s exclusive legal positivism and (...) Ronald Dworkin’s interpretivism, while they criticize the lack of fit of theories like Austin’s, themselves unapologetically offer characterizations of legal practice that deviate in significant ways from the way most people practice or perceive law. Thus, it appears that many contemporary legal theorists wish to have it both ways: they use the deviations from conventional understandings as grounds for dismissing some theories by other scholars, but forgive or overlook comparable deviations in their own theories. This article explores what general principles can be learned, or developed, regarding when or to what extent deviation from the way law is practiced and perceived can be justified in a theory of the nature of law by other theoretical gains. Additionally, the article considers whether, in light of the proper approach to fit and mistake in theory-construction, Austin’s theory of law might be a more viable alternative than is conventionally assumed. (shrink)
The first two volumes of the collection are devoted primarily to analytical legal theory--in particular, theories about the nature of law. This is the idea of legal philosophy most familiar to jurisprudential students in the English-speaking world, and many of the civil-law countries. The last two volumes sample schools and theorists who mostly come from outside the analytical tradition, and who are, in one sense or another, critical theorists--theorists more interested in offering systematic critiques of law or general prescriptions. The (...) four volumes of the collection are divided into six parts. Part one brings together key work on the methodology of analytical philosophy and Part two collects the most important scholarship on forms of legal positivism, including material in the Austin-Hart tradition, 'inclusive vs. exclusive legal positivism' and Kelsenian legal positivism. Part three ('Critics of Legal Positivism') gathers material in the natural-law tradition; the work and influence of Lon Fuller and Ronald Dworkin are also fully explored here. Parts four to six are an assembly of the best and most important thinking by and about normative and critical theorists working outside the analytical tradition. Part four gathers material under the rubric of legal realism, exploring both the American and Scandinavian schools as well as their predecessors. Part five examines one of the most influential movements in modern legal theory and legal practice: known as 'law and economics' or the 'economic analysis of law', this approach has come to dominate American scholarship, and its role is growing in other countries too. Finally, part six makes available key research on a variety of critical theories of law that have grown up around systematic critiques of Western legal systems. Included here is work by the American legal realists, as well as work by feminists and scholars pursuing critical race theory. The intersection of law and literature is also examined, as are other approaches to law and legal theory: Habermas's 'proceduralist paradigm'; the concept of 'autopoiesis'; and the work of Rorty and Fish. This Routledge Major Work illustrates the many ways in which philosophical methods and theories have been used to explore aspects of law and legal practice, and with a comprehensive introduction, newly written by the editor, which places the collected material in its historical and intellectual context, Philosophy of Law is an essential collection destined to be valued by scholars and students as a vital research resource."--Publisher's website. (shrink)
This volume brings together the central works of recent scholarship on the nature of rights, with contributions by some of the most prominent contemporary theorists in moral, legal, and political philosophy. With approaches ranging from the political to the historical, and from the analytical to the critical, this collection touches on the major conceptual and practical questions of this important field and also offers useful introductions to emerging issues in rights theory.
This article is based on a Lecture given as part of the Franklin J. Matchette Foundation Lecture Series on Truth at the Catholic University of America, School of Philosophy, in 2002. It explores what theorists in the natural law tradition and modern legal theorists have argued about what makes propositions of morality and law true, focusing on the rubric of "reason" as opposed to "will." It seems probable, and perhaps inevitable, that theorists about the nature of truth in morality must (...) choose between reason and will - that morality, at its core, is either one or the other. What makes law distinctive is that it is, as a practical matter if not by conceptual necessity, a mixture of both. And it is this intertwining of reason and will, of normative system and practical reasoning, which makes assertions about the nature of legal truth, and theories about the nature of law, so difficult. The arguments about truth in law are as much disagreements about what it means to say that a legal proposition is truth as they are about what makes legal propositions true. Are declarations of truth in law statements about legal norms and legal sources, or are they statements about the results of particular disputes or particularized inquiries? There are obvious complilcations in speaking of truth in a context like law, where there is simultaneously an effort to create a coherent normative system and a decision-making procedure that can modify that system in the course of resolving disputes. (shrink)
There is an ongoing debate in the philosophical and jurisprudential literature regarding the nature and possibility of Contract theory. On one hand are those who argue (or assume) that there is, or should be, a single, general, universal theory of Contract Law, one applicable to all jurisdictions and all times. On the other hand are those who assert that Contract theory should be localized to particular times and places, perhaps even with different theories for different types of agreements. This article (...) considers one facet of this debate: evaluating the relevance of the fact that the remedies available for breach of contract can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another. This wide variation in remedies for breach of a (contractual) promise is one central difference between promises in morality and enforceable agreements in law. The article asserts that variation of remedies strongly supports the conclusion that there is (and can be) no general, universal theory of Contract Law. (shrink)
Our world is full of fictional devices that let people feel better about their situation - through deception and self-deception. The legal realist, Felix Cohen, argued that law and legal reasoning is full of similarly dubious labels and bad reasoning, though of a special kind. He argued that judges, lawyers and legal commentators allow linguistic inventions and conventions to distort their thinking. Like the ancient peoples who built idols out of stone and wood and then asked them for assistance and (...) guidance, Cohen argued that within the legal world people tend to create legal concepts and then think that these concepts do or should determine how social disputes must be The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein similarly spoke of the way we fool ourselves, when we use a noun for some matter, and then assume that, because nouns usually name objects, here as well there must be some entity that exists out in the world, whose nature can be discovered. Our grammar misleads us. This article explores some of the ways, particularly in contract law and family law, that we have been led astray by our legal language. Because we only rarely have an Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., or a Felix Cohen to keep us in line, we need to learn to do the important work ourselves. The great danger is the way that inaccurate language can so easily change our substantive views about what is natural or what is right. If transparency is difficult in legal language, much of the fault may lie with lawyers and judges who want to make their conclusions sound more reasonable, less controversial, and more appealing: so we call it "consent" and "waiver" and "meeting of the minds" and "best interests of the child," when it is in fact something quite different. And at least in the common law systems the process of reasoning and law-making is tied strongly to the past. The new case has to fit into the categories and concepts that we created for a prior case - fitting cases that came up hundreds of years before, in a different society, with different technology, facing a different set of problems. So judges often end up stretching the meaning of concepts, or using legal fictions to bridge the old rule with the new equities. We may never entirely escape the tendency of our own language to mislead us, but clarity in thought and analysis is something towards which we should struggle constantly, and with determination. (shrink)
This article offers an overview of the difficulties in Robert Alexy’s idea of law’s “claim to correctness.” The inquiry takes us deep into the nature of simple communication, back out to what it means to have a theory about the nature of law, and also in the direction of wondering about the interaction of legal theory and practical reasoning—reasoning about how we should best act. The article offers reasons to question whether law in fact makes claims, at least in any (...) straightforward sense. Even if one brackets that matter, there are reasons to raise doubts about what is in fact implicit in the act of lawmaking. At one level, an act of lawmaking does implicitly assert the authority to act in that way. Whether it also implies that the content of the action is morally good, or at least not clearly morally bad, is, at a minimum, a harder question. (shrink)
This short article was written for a collection on American legal philosophy today. It gives a brief overview of analytical legal philosophy, and speculates on why this theoretical approach has been consistently misunderstood in the United States, from the time of the legal realists until today.
This article, written for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy, offers an overview of the most important American contributions to legal philosophy - American legal realism, law and economics, various critical schools of jurisprudence, Lon Fuller, and Ronald Dworkin - while speculating on what might be distinctive of American legal philosophy. One obvious recurring theme is a focus on practical application in general, and adjudication (especially constitutional adjudication) in particular.