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Russell's Paradox and Legal Positivism

19 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2009  

David Gray Carlson

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Date Written: March 8, 2009


In 1902, Bertrand Russell overturned set theory, which aspired to reduce all sets to their rules of recognition. These rules were to have logical priority to empirical sets posited by empirical human beings. As a result of Russell's Paradox, set theory gave up the hope of theorizing sets. This paper claims Russell's Paradox can be applied directly to jurisprudence. The result is that legal positivism (carefully defined as the claim that law can be reduced to rules of recognition) is invalid and must be abandoned. The corollary to this proposition is that law cannot be entirely separated from morality.

Keywords: Bertrand Russell, positivism, Hart, Kelsen, Raz, rule of recognition, set theory, morality

Suggested Citation

Carlson, David Gray, Russell's Paradox and Legal Positivism (March 8, 2009). Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 257. Available at SSRN: or

David Gray Carlson (Contact Author)

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )

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