Law as Plan and Artifact

Jurisprudence, 7(2):325-40 (2016)

24 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2015 Last revised: 21 Dec 2016

Date Written: November 11, 2015


Scott Shapiro’s theory that law is a social plan is helpful in seeing law essentially as a tool of human creation and as such is sympathetic to understanding law in terms of the social functions it performs, a method I argue for elsewhere. I focus here on two problems with the theory as presented. The planning theory does not adequately explain the persistence of law beyond the utility of those who implement it. Generally, plans can cease to exist as soon as those engaged in them have no more use for them. Laws however, must usually be declared invalid or otherwise nullified for them to have no further effect. Shapiro’s use of self-certification to explain how law is differentiated from other forms of social planning is ad hoc and threatens circularity when he admits it to be a matter of degree. Both of these issues can be better solved by seeing law as an institutionalized abstract artifact, with a greater emphasis upon the nature of institutions doing much of the work done by the idea of planning.

Keywords: Scott Shapiro, John Searle, legal positivism, artifact, institution, social planning

Suggested Citation

Ehrenberg, Kenneth M., Law as Plan and Artifact (November 11, 2015). Jurisprudence, 7(2):325-40 (2016), Available at SSRN:

Kenneth M. Ehrenberg (Contact Author)

University of Surrey - School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom

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