Avoiding law's existence

This paper argues that legal theorists should give up the pursuit of determining the mode of law's existence - whether in the form of rules, as in HLA Hart, or in the form of norms, as in Hans Kelsen. Attempting to determine the mode of law's existence results in two mistakes: first, it presupposes the possibility of content-determination (of rules or norms), resulting in a more (Kelsen) or less (Hart) stringent reference theory of meaning; second, it presupposes unproblematic access to a sphere of brute reality upon which the existence of rules or norms is said to supervene. Both mistakes are illustrated by reference to a reading of Hans Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law and HLA Hart's The Concept of Law. Two alternatives for legal theory are offered: first, meta-analysis, as exemplified in the paper, whereby a theorist considers the puzzles and difficulties of taking a certain theoretical aim (in this paper, that of determining the mode of law's existence) and talking about it in specific ways (in this paper, using existence talk); and second, an ontology-free legal theory the task of which is to pursue the improvement of the role that legal work plays in the protection of the moral quality of the lives of individuals and communities. The foundations of an ontology-free legal theory are illustrated by reference to the pragmatic pluralism of Hilary Putnam's approach to ethics in his Ethics without Ontology.
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