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In the long-standing debate between positivism and non-positivism, legal validity has always been a subject of controversy. While positivists deny that moral values play any role in the determination of legal validity, non-positivists affirm the opposite thesis. In departing from this narrow point of view, this book focuses on the notion of legal knowledge. Apart from what one takes to constitute the grounds of legal validity, there is a more fundamental issue about cognitive validity: how do we acquire knowledge of whatever is assumed to constitute the elements of legal validity? When the question is posed in this form, a fundamental shift takes place. Given that knowledge is a philosophical concept, for anything to constitute an adequate ground for legal validity it must satisfy the standards set by knowledge. The author argues that knowledge is the outcome of an activity of judging, which is constrained by reasons (reflexive). While these reasons may vary with the domain of judging, the reflexive structure of the practice of judging imposes certain constraints on what can constitute a reason for judging. Amongst these constraints are found not only general metaphysical limitations but also the fundamental principle that one with the capacity to judge is autonomous or, in other words, capable of determining the reasons that form the basis of action. One sees, as soon as autonomy has been introduced into the parameters of knowledge, that law is necessarily connected with every other practical domain. The author shows, in the end, that the issue of knowledge is orthogonal to questions about the inclusion or exclusion of morality, for what really matters is whether the putative grounds of legal validity are appropriate to the generation of knowledge. The outcome is far more integral than much work in current theory. Neither an absolute deference to either universal moral standards or practice-independent values nor a complete adherence to conventionality and institutional arrangements will do. In suggesting that the current positivism versus non-positivism debate, when it comes to determining law's nature, misses the crux of the matter, Our Knowledge of the Law provokes a fertile new debate in legal theory.
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George Pavlakos is Research Chair in Globalisation and Legal Theory at Antwerp University. He was previously the City Solicitor's Trust Lecturer in Jurisprudence at Queen's University Belfast. He has published widely in the areas of legal theory and philosophy; his other books include a monograph in German entitled Rechtsontologie und praktische Vernunft (Nomos Verlag, 2007) and an edited book entitled Law, Rights and Discourse: The Legal Philosophy of Robert Alexy (Hart Publishing, 2007).Review:
Pavlakos' book aims to provide an original solution and a better understanding of the fundamental puzzles that should guide legal philosophical inquiry...[it] is creative and innovative, and readers will enjoy the freshness of his approach and insights. It has been said that general jurisprudence is a moribund subject. If this is true, it is regrettable because it means that we have abandoned the kind of critique that is developed through a general quest...To resuscitate the subject we need to be guided by and engaged with important questions, as Pavlakos has meritoriously done. Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco Modern Law Review 72 (2009), 327 Pavlakos develops a highly sophisticated and carefully elaborated theory of legal knowledge... All in all this is an excellent work. Prof. Jan-R. Sieckmann Archiv fuer Rechts-und Sozialphilosophie Vol. 94 (2008) [an] excellent work that will repay long consideration and reflection. Neil MacCormick Edinburgh Law Review Volume 12 (2008) George Pavlakos's Our Knowledge of the Law ... deserves particular notice as a very considerable contribution, not just to jurisprudence but to philosophy itself. Pavlakos ... provides his own closely argued resources for an exciting new future in the theory of law. This is a very important book. Jonathan Gorman Social and Legal Studies Volume 18 (2009)
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