Naturalism in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Law

40 Pages Posted: 21 May 2007 Last revised: 4 Jun 2011

See all articles by Mark Greenberg

Mark Greenberg

UCLA School of Law and Department of Philosophy

Date Written: May 20, 2011


In this paper, I challenge an influential understanding of naturalization according to which work on traditional problems in the philosophy of law should be replaced with sociological or psychological explanations of how judges decide cases. W.V. Quine famously proposed the “naturalization of epistemology.” In a prominent series of papers and a book, Brian Leiter has raised the intriguing idea that Quine’s naturalization of epistemology is a useful model for philosophy of law. I examine Quine’s naturalization of epistemology and Leiter’s suggested parallel and argue that the parallel does not hold up. Even granting Leiter’s substantive assumption that the law is indeterminate, there is no philosophical confusion or overreaching in the legal case that is parallel to the philosophical overreaching of Cartesian foundationalism in epistemology. Moreover, if we take seriously Leiter’s analogy, the upshot is almost the opposite of what Leiter suggests. The closest parallel in the legal case to Quine’s position would be the rejection of the philosophical positions that lead to the indeterminacy thesis.

Keywords: epistemology, foundationalism, justification, legal philosophy, legal realism, Leiter, naturalism, naturalization, normativity, natural science, indeterminacy, Quine, psychology, replacement, science, sociology

Suggested Citation

Greenberg, Mark, Naturalism in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Law (May 20, 2011). Law and Philosophy, 2011, UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 07-17, Available at SSRN:

Mark Greenberg (Contact Author)

UCLA School of Law and Department of Philosophy ( email )

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