Review of 'Law at the Vanishing Point: A Philosophical Analysis of International Law,' by Aaron Fichtelberg
American Journal of International Law, Vol. 104, pp. 549-557
13 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2010 Last revised: 25 May 2011
Date Written: June 3, 2010
This is a largely critical review of Professor Aaron Fichtelberg’s philosophical analysis of international law. The centerpiece of the book’s affirmative agenda, a “non-reductionist” definition of international law that purports to elide various forms of international law skepticism, strikes the reviewer as circular, misguided in general, and, in its application to substantive international legal issues, difficult to distinguish from a rote form of legal positivism. Law at the Vanishing Point’s avowed empirical methodology and critical agenda, while largely unobjectionable, offer little that has not been said before, often with equal if not greater force. I commend the author’s effort to bring the professional philosopher’s toolkit to bear on the perennial questions about international law’s reality and efficacy, and the author’s philosophical aptitude emerges clearly in the work. But I doubt that many readers will find the non-reductionist definition particularly helpful in this regard: it is unclear what the philosophical excursions in Law at the Vanishing Point add to the continuing debates about international law. The need for serious and legally informed philosophical attention to the manifold questions subsumed by international legal skepticism has sadly remained, with few and partial exceptions, unchanged since H.L.A. Hart explored the issue in his canonical 1961 work, The Concept of Law, only to see it largely neglected by a subsequent generation of legal philosophers.
Keywords: international law, legal philosophy, jurisprudence, legal theory, positivism
JEL Classification: K19, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation