Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law

Charles L. Barzun

University of Virginia School of Law

April 2014

Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming
Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-30

Recently some philosophers have argued, under the name of “metaphysical quietism,” that philosophers should give up asking metaphysical questions about whether and how the terms of a given discourse “hook up” with the world and that they should instead ask what function particular terms or whole vocabularies serve in human social life. A similar hostility to metaphysical inquiry is latent in much legal scholarship, though rarely under the quietist label. This paper criticizes metaphysical quietism by casting doubt on the possibility and desirability of dissolving the traditional philosophical questions and replacing them with anthropological ones. Drawing on the example of the concept of “negligence” in Anglo-American law, I show how the functional accounts envisioned by quietists generate the same kinds of metaphysical questions that quietists seek to avoid. I further argue that such questions are not only natural and perhaps inevitable but are also ones worth asking.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

Keywords: philosophy, quietism, tort, negligence, history, meta-ethics, metaphysics, Rorty, Price

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Date posted: April 25, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Barzun, Charles L., Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law (April 2014). Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-30. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2428777

Contact Information

Charles L. Barzun (Contact Author)
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-6454 (Phone)

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