Felipe Jiménez, ‘Legal Principles, Law, and Tradition’

ABSTRACT
Legal reasoning and legal discourse take place within historical traditions that develop over time. Law is characterized by the authoritative presence of those historical traditions. This observation vindicates the basic positivist insight that law is ultimately grounded in social facts. These social facts include the history of the legal tradition, the work and shared understanding of legal scholars, and the moral reasoning of legal participants – all of which have been mistakenly left aside by many legal positivists and their usual focus on coercive institutions. I use the Hart-Dworkin debate as a starting point for reclaiming the notion of law as a historically grounded practice. The Hart-Dworkin debate highlights that philosophical reflection about law becomes impoverished without history. A closer look at history shows that both Dworkin and Hart were partially right. As Dworkin argued, law is not only a matter of purely source-based legal rules, but also incorporates principles with weight and a less straightforward connection to social facts. However, the ubiquity of legal principles and their operation show that a socially grounded conception of law, as the one defended by legal positivism, is entirely consistent with the existence of legal principles.

Felipe Jiménez, Legal Principles, Law, and Tradition, Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Winter 2022, volume 33, issue 1.

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