Book Review: Practical Reason in Law and Morality by Neil MacCormick

6 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2009 Last revised: 23 Nov 2015

Date Written: August 26, 2009


This book by the late Neil MacCormick is the fourth and last in a series ‘Law, State, and Practical Reason.’ The central question dealt with in the book is 'Can reason be practical?' and MacCormick’s answer to this question is 'loudly affirmative.' In thus defending the existence of practical reason, MacCormick goes against of the greatest figures in twentieth century legal philosophy, viz. the legal positivists Hans Kelsen and Alf Ross, and possibly also against a third great figure, viz. the legal positivist H. L. A. Hart.

In this short review, I offer a quick overview of MacCormick’s main line of argument, and consider in a little more detail what I take to be MacCormick’s central claim, viz. that the solution to the 'riddle of practical reason' is to be found in (what MacCormick calls) the Smithian categorical imperative, that is, Kant’s categorical imperative supplemented with Adam Smith’s idea of an impartial spectator. I argue, very briefly, that MacCormick’s central claim is not as clear as it might be, and that in any case it is not really plausible.

Keywords: Practical Reason, Moral Objectivity, Categorical Imperative, Natural Law, Legal Positivism, Reasons for Action

Suggested Citation

Spaak, Torben, Book Review: Practical Reason in Law and Morality by Neil MacCormick (August 26, 2009). Ethics 120: 192-197 (2009), Available at SSRN:

Torben Spaak (Contact Author)

Stockholm University ( email )

S-106 91 Stockholm
46 8 16 45 89 (Phone)
46 8 612 41 09 (Fax)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics