John Dewey on Law

Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, Forthcoming

Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-06-13, June 2019

18 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2019

See all articles by Brian Z. Tamanaha

Brian Z. Tamanaha

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: June 17, 2019

Abstract

John Dewey wrote a handful of essays on various legal topics, and he made sprinkled references to law in his voluminous body of work. He did not elaborate a special theory of law, but rather analyzed legal matters from a pragmatic standpoint, treating law like other social institutions. This entry therefore begins with a summary of pragmatism. Then it addresses, in order, three topics Dewey covered with enduring significance: his critique of natural law, his account of judicial decision making, and his social theory of law. Beyond the specific insights conveyed in this essay, the enduring significance of Dewey’s work lies in his overall mindset—his belief in empirically informed intelligent inquiry and in the human capacity to engage in actions that bring improvements to the lives of individuals and society, through the courage to act and make empirical and value judgments in the face of disagreement, uncertainties, and the absence of absolute truths or universal standards.

Keywords: Legal theory, Jurisprudence, Philosophy of law, Natural law, Pragmatism, Legal Instrumentalism, Law and humanities, Legal history, Legal sociology, Judicial decision making, Legal development, Legal change

Suggested Citation

Tamanaha, Brian Z., John Dewey on Law (June 17, 2019). Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, Forthcoming; Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-06-13, June 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3405400

Brian Z. Tamanaha (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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