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Naturalism in International Adjudication

28 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2008 Last revised: 19 Apr 2009

J. Patrick Kelly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: March 5, 2008


By what processes should international legal norms be made? This paper argues that international and domestic tribunals are increasingly utilizing forms of "Naturalism" to articulate norms rather than using methodologies based on the consent of states as traditionally required. The paper discusses several types of naturalism including the misuse of customary international law, the evolutionary or expansive interpretation of treaty norms, and the adoption of a universal ideology of human rights. It argues that naturalistic methodologies undermine the legitimacy of norms, mask unresolved conflicts of values and interests that reemerge, and short-circuit more effective international lawmaking processes and solutions.

Keywords: international law, international legal theory, World Trade Organization, international tribunals, international adjudication, customary international law, sources of law

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Kelly, J. Patrick, Naturalism in International Adjudication (March 5, 2008). Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, Vol. 18, 2008; Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-29. Available at SSRN:

J. Patrick Kelly (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States

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