Philosophical Analysis of Legal Argument

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Spring 2014 Seminar
Meets: W 5:00pm - 7:00pm in WCC Room 3019
2 classroom credits

One of the most enduring questions in legal theory is the extent to which legal argument is, can be, or should be "rational." Some vigorously maintain that it can and should be rational (even when in particular instances it is not); others are deeply skeptical about claims to legal rationality. Often this debate is framed as a dispute about whether the "rule of law" is a realizable, viable, valuable ideal for lawyers, judges, and citizens. This course will explore those closely related ideas of legal rationality and the rule of law. To investigate these abstract themes in concrete detail, we will examine the characteristic types of (Anglo-American) legal argument and legal interpretation: deductive inference (often used in legal interpretation), inductive inference (often used in reasoning about evidence), analogical inference (often used in reasoning from precedent), and "inference to the best explanation" (used in both reasoning about evidence and in reasoning about how to characterize a fact pattern from a legal standpoint).

Readings will be from judicial opinions, statutory and constitutional provisions, Anglo-American jurisprudence, and relevant areas in philosophy.

No background in philosophy is required or presupposed. Note that we will pay careful attention not only to theorizing about legal arguments but also sharpening our skill at making various kinds of legal arguments. Anyone seeking information about this course should feel free to contact Professor Scott Brewer at sbrewer@law.harvard.edu.

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