Legal Idealism and the Autonomy of Law

Ratio Juris 12 (3):286-310 (1999)
Abstract
Since Herbert Hart’s “fresh start” encouraged us to interpret legal and political phenomena from an “internal point of view,” and Lon Fuller pointed out the severe constraints upon a conceptually viable construction of this view, jurisprudence has had little choice but to become, methodologically speaking, genuinely and critically sociological. By this, we mean that in breaking with the common-sensical half-truths which produced the imperative or command theory of law, the conceptual problem of modelling the practical rationale of the legal enterprise for the purposes of a general description of the phenomenon as subject matter, has become central and acute. In the past 20 years or so, the sociological awareness of the need to transcend the flux of empirical subjectivity, as well as important recent reinterpretations of the tradition of Natural Law, does seem to put jurisprudence within striking distance of achieving a mature status of integration with the methodology of the social sciences; not merely as some adjunct to, or opportunity for, empirically oriented “social studies,” but, as the source of a genuine epistemological synthesis in the approach to the problem of conceptualising the very subject matter of social science, namely, social action at the institutional level. In terms of concept formation this has gone some way towards the rehabilitation of the idea of “essential” or “focal” viewpoints in contrast to the enthusiasm for the contingencies and relativity of historical, linguistic and cultural conventionalisms
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