LAW M524

Legal Philosophy - The Nature of Law: Ground, Essence, and Analysis

Legal philosophers are interested in the questions of what law is, and what makes it what it is. But how are we to understand such questions, and how do they relate to one another? Do they concern the essence of law, or rather our concept of it? Do they look for features and determinants that law has whenever and wherever it exists? If so, can anything meaningful be said in answering them?Our aim in this course is to tackle these questions, and to do so with the aid of key conceptual tools developed within contemporary theoretical (analytic) philosophy. We will first look at the way in which debates on “the nature of law” have been conducted within contemporary legal philosophy, and at how first-order theories within them have traditionally been presented. Then, we will focus on exploring the notions that play a key role within these theories: conceptual analysis, constitutive determination (so-called “grounding”), essence, and reduction. This investigation will be used to provide a better understanding of the underlying issues, of the space of theoretical options on them, and of the ways in which these options can be comparatively assessed. Finally, we will focus on how the question of what law is relates to the question of what the law (on a particular issue) is. In doing so, we will scrutinize Ronald Dworkin’s famous conception of jurisprudence as “the general part of adjudication, silent prologue to any decision at law.” (Law’s Empire, p. 90)

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