The Self and Strong Legal Theory: A Heideggerian Alternative to Fish’s Scepticism

Gavin Byrne
University of Birmingham
This essay concerns the question of whether it is possible to have an account of what judges ought to do when they decide cases if one accepts Stanley Fish’s thesis that man is a socially constructed creature, who can only see the world around him in terms of the practice that he is involved in. It puts forward the view that such a position is defensible, provided that one makes different metaphysical commitments to the ones made by Fish. It is argued that Fish is best understood as a metaphysical idealist. The essay seeks to demonstrate that Martin Heidegger’s conception of the self and interpretation are similar to those of Fish, but that, when understood as involving a commitment to metaphysical realism, Heidegger’s philosophy can hold the possibility of strong legal theory open in a way that Fish’s cannot. Michael S. Moore’s natural law position is used in order to articulate what such a position might be. Moore’s example of what a judge ought to do if called upon to define ‘death’ as a concept is used to illustrate the difference between Fish and Heidegger when it comes to metaphysics and strong legal theory, despite their similarities when it comes to an account of interpretation and of the self
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