What is the nature of law and what is the best way to discover it? This book argues that law is best understood in terms of the social functions it performs wherever it is found in human society. In order to support this claim, law is explained as a kind of institution and as a kind of artefact. To say that it is an institution is to say that it is designed for creating and conferring special statuses to people so (...) as to alter their rights and responsibilities toward each other. To say that it is an artefact is to say that it is a tool of human creation that is designed to signal its usability to people who interact with it. This picture of law's nature is marshalled to critique theories of law that see it mainly as a product of reason or morality, understanding those theories via their conceptions of law's function. It is also used to argue against those legal positivists who see law's functions as relatively minor aspects of its nature. -/- This method of conceptualizing law's nature helps us to explain how the law, understood as social facts, can make normative demands upon us. It also recommends a methodology for understanding law that combines elements of conceptual analysis with empirical research for uncovering the purposes to which diverse peoples put their legal activities. (shrink)
The most influential theory of law in current analytic legal philosophy is legal positivism, which generally understands law to be a kind of institution. The most influential theory of institutions in current analytic social philosophy is that of John Searle. One would hope that the two theories are compatible, and in many ways they certainly are. But one incompatibility that still needs ironing out involves the relation of the social rule that undergirds the validity of any legal system (H.L.A. Hart's (...) rule of recognition) to Searle's notion of codification: the idea that institutions need official declarations of their constitutive rules in order to enjoy the full benefits of institutions. The incompatibility arises from the fact that, in order to do its institutional work, the basic validity rule must be codified in Searle's sense—yet, given the particular role it has in legal positivism, it may be impossible to codify in the Searlean sense. In this paper I develop the incompatibility in detail, consider and reject consigning the basic validity rule to Searle's “Background” capacities that support institutional facts, and conclude that the best route to eliminating it while doing a minimum of damage to the two theories is to make a slight emendation to Searle's theory of institutions. (shrink)
This chapter provides an explanation of precedent as a kind of artefact, in keeping with broader accounts of law that do so, specifically the author’s account of law as a genre of institutionalized abstract artefact. The chapter develops its explanation by responding to an argument by Dan Priel against seeing the common law as an artefact when understood to be a form of custom. The chapter shows that customs can themselves be artefacts but also that the precedential elements of common (...) law are not necessarily quite as customary as sometimes considered, showing that the common law built from precedents fits within a distributed design model of artefacts and that stare decisis has a wider systemic function of upholding certain rule of law principles. It ends with some considerations about the institutional nature of precedents, specifically that judicial decisions are most often both applications and developments of legal norms, but also determinations of legal validity. (shrink)
Abstract: We sometimes say our moral claims are "objectively true," or are "right, even if nobody believes it." These additional claims are often taken to be staking out metaethical positions, representative of a certain kind of theorizing about morality that "steps outside" the practice in order to comment on its status. Ronald Dworkin has argued that skepticism about these claims so understood is not tenable because it is impossible to step outside such practices. I show that externally skeptical metaethical theory (...) can withstand his attacks, thereby defending the possibility of this kind of metatheoretical method and showing that the additional objectivity claims still make sense as external claims. Four interpretations of the additional objectivity claims can still be understood externally: as secondary properties, as arguing for some form of causal correspondence, as explaining error, and under Blackburn's expressivism. In the end, Dworkin's argument can be turned against itself. (shrink)
I argue that there is methodological space for a functional explanation of the nature of law that does not commit the theorist to a view about the value of that function for society, nor whether law is the best means of accomplishing it. A functional explanation will nonetheless provide a conceptual framework for a better understanding of the nature of law. First I examine the proper role for function in a theory of law and then argue for the possibility of (...) a neutral functional theory, addressing issues raised by Leslie Green, Stephen Perry, Michael Moore and John Finnis. (shrink)
I argue that law is not best considered an essentially contested concept. After first explaining the notion of essential contestability and disaggregating the concept of law into several related concepts, I show that the most basic and general concept of law does not fit within the criteria generally offered for essential contestation. I then buttress this claim with the additional explanation that essential contestation is itself a framework for understanding complex concepts and therefore should only be applied when it is (...) useful to gain a greater understanding of uses of the concept to which it is applied (adducing criteria for making such judgments of usefulness). With that in mind, I then show that applying the appellation of essential contestation to the concept of law does not helpfully illuminate the most general concept of law (usually of most interest to legal philosophers) and therefore it should not be used, while allowing that it might be more useful for the related concept of the rule of law. (shrink)
The primary aim of this chapter is to show that several missteps made by others in in their thinking about law as an artefact are due to misconceptions about the role of intentions in understanding law as an artefact. I first briefly recap my own contention that law is a genre of institutionalized abstract artefacts (put forth in The Functions of Law (OUP 2016) and subsequent papers), mostly following Searle’s understanding of institutions and Thomasson’s understanding of public artefacts. I highlight (...) the central place that this theory affords law’s functions, without requiring the theorist to say that possession or performance of the function is either necessary or sufficient for inclusion in the class of law. Some of the most common misunderstandings are exemplified in Brian Leiter’s paper ‘Legal Positivism about the Artifact Law’. He thinks that holding an intentionalist view of artefacts commits the theorist to privileging drafters’ intentions when interpreting law. (It doesn’t.) He also has confusions about the differences between artefact tokens and artefact types leading him to a problematically broad understanding of artefacts. Another problem can be seen in thinking that functional understandings of artefacts are vulnerable to the same problems that arise in functional explanations for biological systems. I go on to consider the work of Luka Burazin and Corrado Roversi, addressing worries that making intentionality central to artefacts implies too much conscious thought is required to make one, noting that several theories of intentionality do not require conscious thought in the execution of intentional action. While those who think a central place for intentionality threatens to leave us unable to explain customary law, this can be dealt with by noting the important distinction between customary rules and customary laws (where the latter requires a decision to enlist public aid in redressing violations). I claim that authors’ intentions are communicated requests for the artefacts’ audiences to see the artefacts as members of their putative kinds. Finally, I address the question of whether or not legal systems are themselves artefacts and institutions, given that they may or may not have been intentionally created. An early lawgiver might have created a legal system by accident in the process of handing down the first laws. I raise the possibility that we might want to impute intentionality to necessary by-products of artefact creation, seeing those by-products as artefacts as well. (shrink)
I have argued that law is a genre of institutionalized abstract artifact, meaning that laws are purposive products of human creation designed to signal norms of behavior with respect to them. Its institutional nature is seen in the fact that it is a system of artificial statuses that convey deontic powers to status holders understood in their institutional roles. Following Searle in explaining institutions, however, is also to see the institution as the 'continuing possibility of a practice.' Hence there is (...) no tension in seeing law as both a practice and a genre of artifact. (shrink)
I examine the impact of the presence of anarchists among key legal officials upon the legal positivist theories of H.L.A. Hart and Joseph Raz. For purposes of this paper, an anarchist is one who believes that the law cannot successfully obligate or create reasons for action beyond prudential reasons, such as avoiding sanction. I show that both versions of positivism require key legal officials to endorse the law in some way, and that if a legal system can continue to exist (...) and function when its key officials reject the reason-giving character of law, then we have a reason to re-examine and amend legal positivism. (shrink)
If medical complicity is understood as compliance with a directive to act against the professional's best medical judgment, the question arises whether it can ever be justified. This paper will trace the contours of what would legitimate a directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment (and in possible contravention of her oath) using Joseph Raz's service conception of authority. The service conception is useful for basing the legitimacy of authoritative directives on the ability of the putative authority to (...) enable subjects to comply better with reasons that already apply to them. Hence, the service conception bases the legitimacy of practical authority on a certain kind of greater knowledge or expertise. This helps to focus the conundrum regarding complicity on the clash of expertise between the medical expert and the governing body tasked with coordinating behaviour and otherwise devising rules for the social good. The ethical dilemma presented by a hypothetically legitimate directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment also serves to highlight the moral dimension of one's duty to obey a legitimate authority. (shrink)
In his 1827 work Rationale of Judicial Evidence, Jeremy Bentham famously argued against exclusionary rules such as hearsay, preferring a policy of “universal admissibility” unless the declarant is easily available. Bentham’s claim that all relevant evidence should be considered with appropriate instructions to fact finders has been particularly influential among judges, culminating in the “principled approach” to hearsay in Canada articulated in R. v. Khelawon. Furthermore, many scholars attack Bentham’s argument only for ignoring the realities of juror bias, admitting universal (...) admissibility would be the best policy for an ideal jury. This article uses the theory of epistemic contextualism to justify the exclusion of otherwise relevant evidence, and even reliable hearsay, on the basis of preventing shifts in the epistemic context. Epistemic contextualism holds that the justification standards of knowledge attributions change according to the contexts in which the attributions are made. Hearsay and other kinds of information the assessment of which rely upon fact finders’ more common epistemic capabilities push the epistemic context of the trial toward one of more relaxed epistemic standards. The exclusion of hearsay helps to maintain a relatively high standards context hitched to the standard of proof for the case and to prevent shifts that threaten to try defendants with inconsistent standards. (shrink)
I argue that law is best understood as an institutionalized abstract artifact. Using the ideas of John Searle on institutions and Amie Thomasson on artifacts, I show how the law is capable of generating new reasons for action, arguing against recent work by David Enoch who holds that legal reason-giving is ultimately a form of triggering conditional reasons.
Scott Shapiro’s theory that law is a social plan is helpful in seeing law essentially as a tool of human creation and as such is sympathetic to understanding law in terms of the social functions it performs, a method I argue for elsewhere. I focus here on two problems with the theory as presented. The planning theory does not adequately explain the persistence of law beyond the utility of those who implement it. Generally, plans can cease to exist as soon (...) as those engaged in them have no more use for them. Laws however, must usually be declared invalid or otherwise nullified for them to have no further effect. Shapiro’s use of self-certification to explain how law is differentiated from other forms of social planning is ad hoc and threatens circularity when he admits it to be a matter of degree. Both of these issues can be better solved by seeing law as an institutionalised abstract artefact, with a greater emphasis upon the nature of institutions doing much of the work done by the idea of planning. (shrink)
Joseph Raz argues that legal authority includes a claim by the law to replace subjects’ contrary reasons. I reply that this cannot be squared with the existence of choice-of-evils defenses to criminal prosecutions, nor with the view that the law has gaps (which Raz shares). If the function of authority is to get individuals to comply better with reason than they would do if left to their own devices, it would not make sense for law to claim both to pre-empt (...) our contrary reasons and to leave open spaces or catch-all exceptions which we must use our own devices to fill. (shrink)
Notions of procedural justice alone are sufficient to support evidentiary exclusions in a wide variety of legal and law-like institutions that focus on conflict resolution, including courts. Special attention is paid to the relevance and need for exclusion of parties’ own assessments of the value of their claims.
Under John Searle’s theory of institutional facts, the law can be understood both as an institution governed by foundational documents and practices, and as a method for creating new institutions through the codification of the assignment of functions, usually of the form ‘X counts as Y in circumstances C’. The architect Christopher Alexander’s notion of pattern languages, schematic templates for problem-solving widely adopted by computer programmers, can be developed within a legal system as a coherence constraint on the assignment of (...) functions such that codified legal solutions do not conflict with other legal solutions to related or distinct problems. (shrink)
Economic success in competitive systems requires resource redistribution to those who fail. Once we recognize that success in competitive endeavors depends meaningfully on the failure of others, policy implications that involve strong redistributive mechanisms should be drawn. Particular attention is paid to the role of education in fostering a sense of self-esteem necessary to counter the effects of internalized competition.
Highlighting the distinct approaches to behavior guidance employed by law and aspirational religious institutions like Buddhism, focusing on the work of Lon Fuller. There is importance to both baseline or duty-centered rules such as found primarily in criminal law and deontic morality, as well as aspirational guidance principles that are found in religious law, virtue ethics, and sometimes seen in civil law. However, the specific assumptions and aims of these two modes of guidance must be harmonized to be effective.