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Access_open Legal Philosophy as an Enrichment of Doctrinal Research Part I: Introducing Three Philosophical Methods

Journal Law and Method, January 2020
Keywords interdisciplinary research, reflective equilibrium, argumentation, philosophical analysis
Authors Sanne Taekema and Wibren van der Burg
AbstractAuthor's information

    In this article, we discuss a particular form of interdisciplinary legal research. We focus on a discipline that may be fruitfully combined with doctrinal research, namely philosophy. The aim of this article is to give an account of the methods of philosophy that are most relevant and useful for doctrinal legal scholars. Our focus is therefore mostly on legal philosophy and the philosophical subdisciplines closely related to it, such as political philosophy and ethics. We characterize legal philosophy in three complementary ways: as an activity, as insights, and as theories. We then discuss three methods of legal philosophy: argumentation analysis and construction, author analysis and reflective equilibrium. In the practice of research these three methods are usually combined, as we will show with various examples.


Sanne Taekema
Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Wibren van der Burg
Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    Legal doctrinal scholarship engages with the problems of legal practice: it systematizes, comments on, evaluates and debates what goes on in law. These activities do not occur in a vacuum: they are embedded in scholarly traditions and theories. This paper discusses the role of the theoretical frameworks used in legal research and has two related aims. First, it aims to provide some practical conceptualizations and guidelines regarding theoretical and normative frameworks that are useful to understand and conduct legal research. Second, it aims to investigate the relationships between different kinds of normative frameworks and their relationship to empirical work. In the second part, an argument is made for a pragmatist understanding of the interplay between normative theorizing and empirical study. How do these work together in judgments about the state of the law?


Sanne Taekema
Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam; taekema@law.eur.nl.

    This paper discusses three approaches that can be helpful in the area of comparative rights jurisprudence, oriented in reference to three different kinds of studies that are possible in that area. To a large extent the methods for a comparative legal research depend on the research question and the goal of the researcher. First, a comparative law study may focus on the sociocultural context that led to the elaboration of differences or similarities in the protection of rights. Second, a comparative law approach can be a normative enterprise. It can focus on engaging in a philosophical analysis enlightened by the differences or similarities in the regulation of rights, in order to propose concrete solutions for the regulation of a right. Third, a comparative law approach can combine both elements of the two previously mentioned approaches. The paper discusses the challenges that the researcher faces in her attempt to use these methodologies and how these challenges can be overcome. The law as a normative discipline has its own constraints of justifiability. If what motivates a comparative law study is the search for principles of justice the researcher needs to persuade that her methodological approach serves her aim.


Ioanna Tourkochoriti
School of Law, NUI Galway, Ireland.

    In this article I plead for utilitarianism as guideline for the editor. The article consists mostly of rebuttals of a number of traditional objections against utilitarianism. In particular (but not exclusively) the following objections are discussed:

    1. It is impossible to predict the consequences of legislative measures.

    2. Legislation should be evaluated procedurally (democratically), rather than by a substantive standard.

    3. Utilitarianism allows the sacrifice of the interests or even rights of some on behalf of those of others.

    4. Utilitarianism leads to results that are sometimes strongly counterintuitive.


    A substantial part of the article consists of a discussion of coherentism as method for, amongst others, normative reasoning.


Jaap Hage
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