- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: OUP Oxford (18 May 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192806912
- ISBN-13: 978-0192806918
- Product Dimensions: 17 x 1 x 10.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 429,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Philosophy of Law: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 18 May 2006
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About the Author
Raymond Wacks is Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Theory at the University of Hong Kong. He has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of law, including Jurisprudence and Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory.
Top Customer Reviews
- For 'A Very Short Intro' the book packs a lot of info in and in a logical and clear manner.
- This was the first of these books I had bought and I will definitely be buying them again.
- Had no problems whatsoever.
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But that format has limitations. I find that the VSI volumes that are devoted to a single thinker are much more useful than the ones that cover a broad subject matter. (It inspires me to a bad pun. "A very short intro to a very big subject" is almost Oxfordmoronic. O, never mind.)
At best, when dealing with a subject matter as opposed to an individual thinker the VSIs are concise intros. But sometimes, as with the VSI to The Philosophy of Law the treatment seems shallow. Wacks is very good on some of his thinkers: Rawls, Dworkin, Hart, Weber, and Habermas are all fairly well done. Some of the others are not as well handled- I found his treatment of Locke, Marx, Foucault to be cursory at best. It felt like a survey of a survey.
So take it for what it is. This volume is a very quick overview of a lot of thinkers (see Mr. Clark's review for a good listing). Some of these thinkers are important enough to deserve their own volume in the series (Locke, Marx, and Habermas). Others like Rawls and Dworkin deserve such treatment. Prof. Wacks has provided us with a quick and cheap way to orient ourselves to future reading in this field. I just cannot help but feel that he could have done better. That if he had taken the time to flesh out his presentation for another fifty or so pages that it would have been a much more useful member of the VSI family.
The book is organized as a more or less chronological presentation of major schools of legal philosophy (from natural law and positivism through critical legal studies), with the major thinkers in each school usually receiving their own brief sections. Unfortunately, these sections tend to consist largely of scattershot presentations of various doctrines asserted by the thinker. Little attempt is made to string the doctrines together into developed thoughts, or to suggest what problem the thinker hoped to solve by setting forth his or her doctrines, much less to locate the doctrines in a larger intellectual history.
I found that if I was already familiar with the thinker being discussed, the book's presentation often contained subtly misleading phrasing; and if I was not familiar with the thinker, I came away still unclear about why the thinker had bothered to assert the various, vague statements about the law that had been summarily presented. One premise of the Very Short Introduction books is that it's not impossible to say something worthwhile about the significance of a philosopher's contribution to legal theory in even a single paragraph. But doing so requires work. It requires synthesizing the philosopher's claims and locating them in some context, not just throwing out a few vaguely connected, undeveloped doctrines. Those interested in getting a first impression of the philosophy of law would be better off visiting the Wikipedia pages of a few legal philosophers than buying this book.
This is the kind of book that offers a passage like the following -- "Raz actually postulates a stronger version of the 'social thesis' (the 'sources thesis') as the essence of legal positivism" -- and then fails to define the "sources thesis." The thesis is evidently important enough to be mentioned three times in two pages, but is never defined.
If you're like me, and you like your theses to be stated, you might find this book frustrating.
Another characteristically frustrating passage: "Since Kelsen argues that the effectiveness of the whole legal order is a necessary condition of its validity of every norm within it,..." I can't even tell what went wrong in that sentence: is it a typo? Bad grammar? Unclear thought?
(For more straightforward typos or grammar errors, see p. 37 ["by reference to three elements; efficacy, institutional character, and sources"], p. 55 ["Can I not have a duty without you (or anyone else) having a right that I should perform it."], etc.)
The author also offers gratuitous, unsupported praise or scorn for various thinkers, such as the following throwaway remark about Critical Legal Studies: "Yet the possibilities of transforming the law seem frequently to be diluted by the destructive, even nihilistic, tendencies of some of the more dogmatic adherents of CLS." Really? Thanks for the tip! (No identification of these adherents is offered, nor any clarification of the sense in which they are "nihilistic," nor any clarification of how their nihilism might dilute the possibility of transforming law.)
Finally, the book contains a glaring omission that is apparently typical of philosophers of law who were trained in England. It makes no mention of the thought of (the German) Friedrich Carl von Savigny, and instead presents many of Savigny's central ideas as though they were invented by (the English) John Austin, who in fact got the ideas directly from Savigny.
I bought it used. It was in brand new condition apply described in the sellers info. Great and affordable price with quick delivery.
The study of the academic and philosophical areas of law are generally overlooked in traditional law schools. This is the subject matter that is the intersection of law and religion.
The book accomplished its purpose. For that reason I rate it highly.
But legal reasoning is a requirement for human well being, and then the question arises as to what system of concepts best encapsulates it. Many questions arise when contemplating proper philosophical frameworks for legal contemplation, and many of these are answered in this book, written of course for those readers who need a quick introduction to the subject matter. No reader would expect an in-depth discussion of the philosophy of law from this book, but there is enough in it to enable readers to investigate specialized topics of interest.
The author begins the book by stating that the philosophy of law is "rarely an abstract, impractical pursuit", and he explains the (weak) demarcation between "descriptive" and "normative" legal theory. Because of its place in history, the author discusses the doctrine of natural law first, and this discussion sheds considerable light on why many modern conservatives are committed to this philosophy of law: it seems to make legitimate the social hierarchies that these conservatives insist we respect.
The doctrine of legal positivism is then discussed, and in this regard the most interesting (and disconcerting) discussion is the "pure theory of law" of Hans Kelsen. The Kelsen theory is interesting since legal norms in this conception are all relational: any one particular norm must be justified or authorized by another norm, giving in the end a large hierarchy of norms with a "basic norm" sitting on top of the hierarchy and representing a completely formal or hypothetical construct. One should not view it as arbitrary though, since its selection is based on whether or not the legal order is "effective". The author does not really elaborate on this notion, but the open-ended nature of his discussion motivates the reader to investigate this doctrine in more detail through outside reading.
If read in the light of current controversies in the interpretation of legal statutes by the United States Supreme Court, probably the most interesting discussion in the book concerns the legal philosophy of Ronald Dworkin. Dworkin himself is very critical of recent decisions that have been made by the Supreme Court in the last two years, but his criticisms in this regard are not brought out in this book. What is discussed is a conception of the law that seems "extralegal" in that it views legal contexts as being intertwined with moral and political ones. This makes legal reasoning more than just an application of rules, and forces the judge to consider the consequences that his edicts will have on the community.
Because it is still in its infancy as a legal philosophy, considerations of jurisprudence brought about by discoveries in neuroscience are not discussed in this book. Called by some the "neuroscience of law" this branch of jurisprudence will probably not be taken seriously by the majority of legal philosophers for some time to come. This reviewer recommends the book by Brent Garland for those who want to supplement the reading of this book by considering what is at the present time very exciting developments in both neuroscience and legal philosophy.