Describing Law

33 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 85 (2020)

22 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2019 Last revised: 3 Mar 2020

See all articles by Raff Donelson

Raff Donelson

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law

Date Written: February 18, 2020


Legal philosophers make a number of bold, contentious claims about the nature of law. For instance, some claim that law necessarily involves coercion, while others disagree. Some claim that all law enjoys presumptive moral validity, while others disagree. We can see these claims in at least three ways: (1) We can see them as descriptions of law’s nature (descriptivism), (2) we can see them as expressing non-descriptive attitudes of the legal philosophers in question (expressivism), or (3) we can see them as claims that must be assessed on the basis of practical reasons (pragmatism). Ultimately, this paper argues that we should understand these claims in the pragmatist way; as such, jurisprudential claims are about what to do, e.g., what to treat as law and how to order society.

Keywords: Jurisprudence, jurisprudential methodology, pragmatism, expressivism, description, natural kinds, philosophy of language

Suggested Citation

Donelson, Raff, Describing Law (February 18, 2020). 33 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 85 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Raff Donelson (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law ( email )

150 S College St
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics