Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology: Bases for a Comprehensive Theory of Law

Appalachian Journal of Law, Vol. 8, pp. 103-122, 2009

16 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2008 Last revised: 29 Mar 2010

See all articles by Eric Engle

Eric Engle


Date Written: September 15, 2008


This article presents a comprehensive theory of law founded on correct ontological, epistemological and axiological bases and proposes that monism materialism and holism will have greater explanatory and predictive power than dualist, atomist and realist International Relations (IR) theory have had. The theory, though focussed on IR theory, is applicable to domestic law as well.

Western thought has long been predicated on either an ontological materialism (matter determines mind) or an ontological idealism (eidetic realism: mind determines matter). Normally, the materialist view is also monist (reality is fundamentally unitary), whereas the idealist view is generally presented as dualist (reality is fundamentally binary). This ontological choice between monist materialism or dualist eidetic realism habitually entails either an atomistic epistemology (one can only comprehend reality by decomposing it into discrete real elements) or an epistemological wholism (to understand reality we must examine it as a whole). The epistemological and ontological choices also habitually entail either an axiology of moral scepticism and thus relativism (morals as intellectual constructs have no material existence) or of cognitivism (morals as expressions of the intellect are real entities).

In fact however these habitual associations are not inevitable: Other choices are possible. The greater part of the endemic conflict in western thought is due to an erroneous linkage of dualism and materialism as somehow necessarily consequent from each other, thinking - wrongly - that dualism implies materialism or materialism implies dualism, or both. A materialist can in fact imply an epistemology based not on atomism, the dominant western paradigm, but rather on wholism. Likewise, axiology can be based not on relativism but on moral cognitivism grounded not on eidetic realism but rather on materialism.

This presents two ruptures from western thought: First, in describing a monistic materialist reality which must be understood not analytically but synthetically. Second, by describing moral choice not in relativistic terms but as a real entity based in the material world. Rejection of eidetic dualism does not entail moral relativism. Adhesion to a materialist viewpoint does not entail atomism. These two key ruptures are the basis of a unique and far reaching theoretical basis for legal analysis presented here.

Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology: Bases for a Comprehensive Theory of Law 1 Table of Contents 1 Abstract: 2 Introduction 4 I. Ontology: Materialism v. Philosophical Idealism 10 II. Epistemology: Realism v. Atomism 11 A. Atomism 12 B. Critique of Atomism and, by extension, Realism 13 C. Holism 16 D. Critiques of Holism 17 E. Is it possible to Synthesize Holist and Atomist methods? 18 III. Axiology: Relativism (post-modernism and neo-liberals) v. Cognitivism (classical liberals) 19 IV A NEW NATURAL LAW THEORY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 19 Conclusion 23

JEL Classification: K33, K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Engle, Eric Allen, Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology: Bases for a Comprehensive Theory of Law (September 15, 2008). Appalachian Journal of Law, Vol. 8, pp. 103-122, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1268528

Eric Allen Engle (Contact Author)

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