20 January 2014

JURISPRUDENCE (Legal Philosophy): A (Hasty) Cry for Help

A (Hasty) Cry for Help

I've taught Jurisprudence (Legal Philosophy) for many years now. Within the limitations of a twelve-week seminar format, I've always attempted to place the subject in comparative perspective, ie both across time and space. 

Indeed, insofar as possible this has been a sort of anthropology and social history of legal-normative thought as well. Anyone who knows me will know that I want to convey the 'hybridity' or complexity of normativity, past and present. This includes Western 'law' and 'legality', concepts that precede the state, but that can be distinguished from other forms of normativity. 

(But that's an argument for another time and place ...)

Each year for my class, I've used John Kelly's Short History of Legal Theory (1992). The book is imperfect, whiggish and Euro-centric, but I've found nothing better--at least not in English--for encouraging in-class discussions of 'law' in history. A more socio-legal history of normativity would be useful, but ...

A second book is then required for contemporary legal philosophy in the five or six weeks left in the semester. Each year, I've tried a different text, each with its own drawbacks. Only Roger Cotterrell's Politics of Jurisprudence: A Critical Introduction to Legal Philosophy has been used more than once. Many others are too limited in their focus or too long to be practical. Few teaching texts treat 'legal-normative pluralism' seriously, none make it central to the text.

In my class, these texts are supplemented by an article or two by William Twining, ie 'General jurisprudence' and perhaps 'Normative and legal pluralism: a global perspective'. Twining's General jurisprudence: understanding law from a global perspective (2009) is excellent, but it isn't a teaching text. The same is true of Paul Schiff Berman's Global legal pluralism: a jurisprudence of law beyond borders (2012). More importantly, Berman's book is a (prescriptive) normative jurisprudence rather than a (descriptive) jurisprudence of normativities. I'm not naive, but my approach presents hybridity as unavoidable, whether or not it is desirable. 

It might be too late for this semester, but I wonder if anyone has suggestions for a text in English that might better meet these requirements? I'm aware that I may just have to write such a book myself, ie either a monograph or a teaching text (a casebook-style compilation) that starts from the fact of hybrid normativities, places them in historical and comparative context, all the while reflecting on the canon. But, like you, I'm busy.

Let me know your thoughts.


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