Abstracts from Volume XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010)

Lisa Austin, “A Postmodern Defence of Universal Liberal Legal Norms,”Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 5-32.

The idea of universal liberal legal norms has long been under attack from a variety of sources. One of the most sustained and sophisticated philosophical versions of such an attack is found in the work of Martin Heidegger. His argument from the social embeddedness of the self to the ultimate contingency and groundlessness of any claims of normativity has been highly influential across a number of fields. This paper argues that legal theorists who wish to contest such a view should look to the work of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. In his critique of Heidegger, Levinas affirms the significance of the human beyond the particular context in which we find ourselves embedded. Levinas wrote very little about law; his main focus was on ethical responsibility and the claim that an “other” makes on me. I argue that legal responsibility is fundamentally different, concerned instead with the claims that a self can make on others. Drawing upon Levinas’ understanding of the self as constituted through ethical responsibility, I argue that a Levinasian account of justice can support liberal-democratic norms such as freedom, equality and dignity. Indeed, Levinas himself endorsed universal human rights and even indicated a strong affinity with Kant’s idea of justice. What he denied, however, was that justice is a fully rational and coherent concept. I argue that this does not render justice incoherent or call into question the basic status of the norms of justice. Rather, a Levinasian account of justice shifts the emphasis to the community practice of reasoning about universal norms, a practice that is never complete. I further suggest that such a practice of reasoning should be familiar to lawyers as it bears a strong resemblance to common law reasoning.

Gary Chartier, “Natural Law and Animal Rights,”Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 33-46.

The new classical natural law theorists have been decidedly skeptical about claims that non-human animals deserve serious moral consideration. Their theory features an array of incommensurable, nonfungible basic aspects of welfare and a set of principles governing participation in and pursuit of these goods. Attacks on animals’ interests seem to be inconsistent with one or more of these principles. But leading natural law theorists maintain that animals do not participate in basic aspects of well being in ways that merit protection, that the so-called “argument from marginal cases” is unsuccessful as a basis for claims that animals have moral standing, and that affirming that animals have rights leaves one with no basis for maintaining that humans do as well. In response, I suggest that animals can be understood to participate in some aspects of well being, defend the argument from marginal cases, and offer reasons why we might believe that affirming that animals have rights does not undermine the claim that humans have rights.

Bebhinn Donnelly, “Possibility, Impossibility and Extraordinariness in Attempts,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 47-70.

The relationship between possibility / impossibility and attempts is complex. Accounts of the relationship are often marked by a confusion that serves to distort our understanding of the nature of attempts as such. It will be argued below that impossibility is irrelevant to an understanding of attempts. This is not just to say that impossibility should not affect our view of how blameworthy certain defendants are. It is rather to say that the ‘impossibility’ referred to in the context of attempts is just not aboutattempts at all. In contrast, possibility is relevant to an understanding of attempts but its relevance is found to be universal and no normative distinctions among attempts can be made on the basis of possibility. If it can be shown that impossibility is a concept that does not belongtoattempts then it follows that attempts which are treated as different to ‘central cases’ of attempts in virtue of impossibility either, (a) are not different at all or, (b) are different for reasons other than impossibility. If some attempts belong to category (b) then it may be considered that the equal blame that is ordinarily taken to survive impossibility, does not survive these other reasons.

John Gardner Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 71-98.

In a recent paper in the Yale Law Journal, Malcolm Thorburn argued that to enjoy a justificatory defence in the criminal law is to have a normative power (more precisely, a measure of authority) that is exercised in the circumstances which give rise to the justification. He also argued that where such powers are conferred on private citizens, those citizens should be understood as acting as public officials pro tempore when they exercise them. In this extended reply, I resist both propositions and reply to some of the criticisms that Thorburn makes of my own rival views. I also take the opportunity to explore, philosophically, some of the criminal law relating to consent, self-defence and arrest, and to discuss the connections between the debate over the nature of criminal-law justifications and the debate over the nature of law.

Larissa Katz, “Red tape and Gridlock,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 99-124.

This paper concerns the role of property theory in explaining why so many people around the world control their assets informally, without recourse to the state. According to one influential view, owners and their assets are driven to the informal sector because of deficiencies in the form of ownership on offer in the formal sphere. Where too many people have the power to veto the optimal use of a resource, we have a form of ownership, an anticommons, that is deficient. But this account of informality proceeds from an overly capacious theory of ownership. On this view, an owner’s position is incomplete if she lacks the requisite inputs for a project that represents the optimal use of an object. Further, a person counts as an “owner,” albeit one locked in an anticommons, merely if she has the power to block the ends that others are able to achieve with an object. I argue that this view of ownership leaves us unable to see that owners are in a radically different position vis-à-vis other owners with the same authority over an object than they are vis-à-vis the state or other non-owners who may be in a position to block an owner’s valuable ends. The integrity of the concept of the anticommons is undermined if we define it in terms of veto-power over the ends for which a resource is optimally suited.

In this paper, I situate the concept of the anticommons within a larger theory of ownership as agenda-setting authority. Seen this way, what is important about an anticommons is its effect on an owner’s means rather than her ends. Whereas owners of private property are never guaranteed the ability to achieve their ends, owners in an anticommons are not even guaranteed the ability to exercise their very means, their agenda-setting authority. From this revised and much narrower concept of the anticommons, what follows is that talk of “gridlock” in the formal sphere makes sense just as a normative argument about the best distribution of ownership and regulatory authority rather than a conceptual argument rooted in the idea of ownership.

Sagi Peari, “Improperly Collected Taxes: The Border Between Private and Public Law,”Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 125-162.

In recent years, Professor Birks’ doctrine of constitutional right to restitution has become a new normative rule with respect to the issue of restitution of improperly collected taxes. Nevertheless, the new doctrine has puzzled academic scholars. Profound questions regarding the conceptual “private law-public law” location of Professor Birks’ doctrine and the current status of traditional law doctrines have arisen. 

This study challenges Professor Birks’ doctrine and demonstrates that despite its universal adoption, the doctrine was based on weak premises. Furthermore, based on Professor Weinrib’s legal philosophy, this study develops an alternative framework to analyze the issue of improperly collected taxes. The study shows that the “private-public” puzzle and the doctrines traditional to improperly collected taxes may be coherently explained within this legal philosophy.

Ronen Perry, “The Third Form of Justice” (Critical Notice), Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 233-248.

Izhak Englard, a prominent tort scholar and a former justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, has dedicated the last few years to an unprecedented research project, aimed to “retrace the long and complex history of the Aristotelian conceptual distinction between distributive and corrective justice from antiquity to the present day.” Modern legal theorists are well versed in the Aristotelian concepts. But although these concepts have engaged “the most brilliant philosophical, legal, and theological minds for generations,” the millennial treatment of the Aristotelian distinction has been disregarded in recent times. Englard’s recently published book brings the cumulative knowledge to the attention of contemporary thinkers, offering an opportunity to enhance and deepen ongoing jurisprudential discourse.

Englard has structured the book chronologically (with a single exception), on the grounds that a topical arrangement would be impractical due to its complexity. Nonetheless, one can break down his sequential analysis of discrete manuscripts and extract fascinating inter-temporal debates on concrete questions that have occupied the minds of Western thinkers for centuries. This Critical Notice focuses on one of the main themes that run throughout the book, and may be of the greatest importance to contemporary legal theorists, namely the place of retributive (punitive, vindictive) justice within the Aristotelian framework. Following a short presentation of the Aristotelian text, this Critical Notice utilizes Englard’s painstaking study to systematically evaluate four possible attitudes to the place of retributive justice vis-à-vis the Aristotelian forms: (1) retribution is part of corrective justice (the Thomist position); (2) retribution pertains to distributive justice (the Scotist position); (3) retribution combines both forms of justice; (4) retribution is a third form of justice.

Hugo Omar Seleme, “A Rawlsian Dual Duty of Assistance,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 163-178.

This paper seeks to specify the requirements that follow from the Rawlsian duty of assistance. In order to determine them, the hypothesis I will defend is that this duty is a specification of the natural duty of justice. This interpretation has several advantages: a) It facilitates the task of appreciating how one of the most important parts of the Rawlsian conception of international justice presented in The Law of Peoples is connected with the natural duty of justice presented in A Theory of Justice. b) It enables one to appreciate a new requirement of the duty of justice overlooked by Rawls: the duty of contributing to maintaining well-ordered foreign institutions. c) This new requirement enables one to appreciate the critical potential of justice as fairness in relation to one of the most pressing problems nowadays: the foreign debt of developing countries.

Grégoire C. N. Webber, “Proportionality, Balancing, and the Cult of Constitutional Rights Scholarship,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 179-202.

Constitutional rights’ scholarship is anchored in the cult of proportionality and balancing. Despite the absence of reference to proportionality or balancing in most State constitutions or international conventions, scholars and judges alike have embraced a vocabulary of proportion, cost, weight, and balance. Drawing on the work of German scholar Robert Alexy and Canadian scholar David Beatty, this essay attempts to illustrate how the principle of proportionality conceals more than it reveals in rights-reasoning. By challenging the contemporary cult of practical reasoning over rights, the essay advocates a turn away from a methodology and vocabulary of proportionality in favour of a more direct struggle with political-moral reasoning.

Philip Soper, Book Review of Brian Burge-Hendrix’s Epistemic Uncertainty and Legal Theory,Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 249-254.

Making the perspective of insiders critical to a theory of law, including particularly those who accept and enforce legal standards, has been the hallmark of corrections to John Austin’s theory at least since Hart’s The Concept of Law. Burge-Hendrix’s book continues this tradition and brings its insights to bear on the particular dispute between inclusive and exclusive positivists. That being said, the project has always seemed to me to be incomplete. If the participant’s perspective is indeed the critical one, then the recognition that participants make normative claims about the concept of law itself (not just about their legal standards) surely deserves its own proper place in a legal theory. Those normative claims about law range, at the very least, from claims that coercion is (morally) justified to claims of (moral) authority. If these claims turn out to be false in cases of laws that are extremely unjust, then either they are not “laws” at all according to the participants' own views(in which case the natural law theorists are correct.) Or, participants will have to give up their normative claims about law and recognize that all that counts is pedigree and the power to coerce. In that case, we will be back to Austin’s coercive account of law, and much of the dispute between exclusive and inclusive positivists will be irrelevant.

Mark Thornton, Book Review of John Gardner’s Offences and Defences: Selected Essays in the Philosophy of Criminal Law, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 255-262.

This volume contains eleven previously published essays on criminal law together with a new "Reply to Critics" by the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, John Gardner. The principal themes of the essays, covering offences, defences, and punishment, are summarized in this review, which also highlights areas of controversy and various lines of criticism.

Jacob Weinrib, “What can Kant Teach Us about Legal Classification?”Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (January 2010) pp. 203-232.

In Dimensions of Private Law, Professor Stephen Waddams describes the obstacles that an adequate classification of private law must overcome. The purpose of this essay is to offer a theoretical account of legal classification that explains how these obstacles can be overcome and what the resulting classification of private law might look like. I begin with the catalogue of obstacles that Waddams presents and argue that, because they are rooted in misconceptions about the classificatory project, they pose no threat to an adequate conception of legal classification. In search of such a conception, I consider how three great legal theorists – Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel – answer three fundamental classificatory questions about private law. First, what is the unitythat underlies the seemingly chaotic array of legal instances? Second, what is the principle of differentiationthat applies to this unity? Third, how are legalinstancessubsumed under this differentiated unity? The focus of this essay is the enduring significance of Kant’s conception of legal classification, which provides an alternative to Waddams’ conception and offers a set of coherent answers to the fundamental classificatory questions. In contrast, both Aristotle and Hegel respond to the fundamental classificatory questions by providing a conception of the unity of private law that fails to cohere with their ensuing accounts of its differentiation.