The nature of law as an interpretive practice and its associated modes of inquiry

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The paper provides a critical survey of certain methodological debates in the field of legal philosophy in order to assess their implications for legal research in general. Underpinning this survey is a concern to establish the independence and integrity of both legal practice and legal research in the light of the risks posed by preponderant forms of instrumental rationality. Thus, Brian Leiter’s recent call for a ʼnaturalised’ jurisprudence is criticised for the instrumentalist basis upon which he claims to privilege forms of legal research apparently ‘continuous with’ the natural and empirical social sciences. As against Leiter, it is argued that there are in fact a range of distinct but interrelated modes of legal research. In this respect, the work of HLA Hart is interpreted as an example of a distinctively theoretical mode of inquiry into law. In addition, an account of the nature of a distinctively practical mode of legal inquiry is developed from a critique of Ronald Dworkin’s excessively ‘theoretical’ reading of the interpretive character of legal practice. A constitutive practical feature of both modes of inquiry is their capacity to take up a certain distance from any exclusive concern with instrumental or pragmatic action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-591
Number of pages16
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number4
Early online date11 Aug 2009
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


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