Reflections on Waldron’s Archetypes

Law and Philosophy 30 (1):77-103 (2011)


Jeremy Waldron argued that the government lawyers responsible for the ‘torture memos’ acted unprofessionally by undermining the prohibition on torture. He did so partly on the basis that that the torture prohibition represents a ‘legal archetype’ which cannot be undermined without doing considerable harm to large bodies of law. This paper argues that, however much intuitive appeal Waldron’s archetype-based analysis may have, its force is inherently limited. This is so for two reasons. First, the claim that the torture prohibition is an archetype for non-brutality can only make a meaningful difference to the integrity of the legal order insofar as ‘brutality’ is understood widely. Waldron, though, reads ‘brutality’ in a narrow fashion. Second, and more importantly, the claim that archetypes are uniquely important to legal reasoning and the legal order is deeply problematic

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