John Dewey on Law
Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, Forthcoming
18 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 17, 2019
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
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