Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law

26 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2014

See all articles by Charles L. Barzun

Charles L. Barzun

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: April 2014


Recently some philosophers have argued, under the name of “metaphysical quietism,” that philosophers should give up asking metaphysical questions about whether and how the terms of a given discourse “hook up” with the world and that they should instead ask what function particular terms or whole vocabularies serve in human social life. A similar hostility to metaphysical inquiry is latent in much legal scholarship, though rarely under the quietist label. This paper criticizes metaphysical quietism by casting doubt on the possibility and desirability of dissolving the traditional philosophical questions and replacing them with anthropological ones. Drawing on the example of the concept of “negligence” in Anglo-American law, I show how the functional accounts envisioned by quietists generate the same kinds of metaphysical questions that quietists seek to avoid. I further argue that such questions are not only natural and perhaps inevitable but are also ones worth asking.

Keywords: philosophy, quietism, tort, negligence, history, meta-ethics, metaphysics, Rorty, Price

Suggested Citation

Barzun, Charles L., Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law (April 2014). Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-30, Available at SSRN:

Charles L. Barzun (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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