Grounding-based formulations of legal positivism

Abstract

The goal of this paper is to provide an accurate grounding-based formulation of positivism in the philosophy of law. I start off by discussing some simple formulations, based on the ideas that social facts are always either full or partial grounds of legal facts. I then raise a number of objections against these definitions: the full grounding proposal rules out possibilities that are compatible with positivism; the partial grounding proposal fails, on its own, to vindicate the distinctive role that is played by social facts within positivist accounts of law. Then, I present a more adequate and insightful formulation capable of solving their problems, which crucially relies on a robust notion of a social enabler. Finally, I model inclusive and exclusive positivism on the resulting template, and set out the advantages of the ground-enablers proposal.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    As usual (see e.g. Greenberg 2004, 2006; Plunkett 2012), by ‘legal facts’ I mean facts about the content of the law in a legal system, at a time.

  2. 2.

    LP and AP are sometimes glossed as making claims about the nature of law. However, it is an open question how determination claims are related to claims about the nature of things (see Audi 2012; Fine 2012; Rosen 2010; Trogdon 2013). For related reasons, Plunkett and Shapiro (2017) compellingly argue that labeling the LP/AP debate as concerning the ‘nature of law’ can be inaccurate or misleading. Further arguments against conceiving views in jurisprudence as concerned with the nature of law are provided by Bayón (2013).

  3. 3.

    For the idea that law being a social construction is the defining feature of positivism, see e.g. Coleman (2009: 383), Marmor (2007: 36) and Schauer (2005: 496). Green calls it ‘Hart’s Message’ (see his introduction to Hart 2012: xvii).

  4. 4.

    See Coleman (2009), Marmor (2004), Moreso (2012), Raz (1979) and Waluchow (2001).

  5. 5.

    Here I take determination and dependence to be converses of one another.

  6. 6.

    See Greenberg (2004), Moreso (2012), Plunkett (2012), and Shapiro (2011) for formulations of the sources thesis as involving the determination of legal facts by social facts.

  7. 7.

    See e.g. Dworkin (1977, 1986), Finnis (1980), and Greenberg (2004, 2006, 2014).

  8. 8.

    Waluchow (1994) introduced the labels ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ to refer to these variants of positivism. The first version of ILP is usually traced to Coleman (1982), while the first of ELP to Raz (1979).

  9. 9.

    See Greenberg (2004: 158, 2006: 283–284), Plunkett (2012: 148; 2013: fn. 18; 2019) and Shapiro (2011: 267).

  10. 10.

    We shall see that one of the main difficulties in formulating ILP lies with specifying what this ‘making’ or ‘granting’ amounts to. As I shall argue in Sect. 4, one of the advantages of my proposed definition is that it provides a satisfactory way of answering this vexed question.

  11. 11.

    See Plunkett (2019).

  12. 12.

    See especially Dworkin (1977), who forcefully raised this type of argument. There are of course several other arguments for and against LP and AP. Here I’m only offering an illustrative sample.

  13. 13.

    On the connection between grounding and understanding, see Schaffer (2017b).

  14. 14.

    To be clear, LP and AP support different conclusions on how judicial disputes legally should be solved. Many positivists have noted that this may come apart from how disputes morally, or all-things-considered, should be solved. Thanks to Daniel Wodak for suggesting this clarification.

  15. 15.

    Dworkin’s writings (e.g. 1977, 1986), for instance, are ripe with applications of his anti-positivist view to real-life cases.

  16. 16.

    For some of the most important early work on grounding, see Correia (2005, 2010), the essays in Correia and Schnieder (2012), Fine (2001, 2012), Rosen (2010), and Schaffer (2009, 2016). For critical discussion, see Wilson (2014).

  17. 17.

    For arguments in favor of ground-theoretic interpretations of positivism and anti-positivism, see Rosen (2010), and Chilovi and Pavlakos (2019). Relatedly, Greenberg (2004) presents an influential argument against modal formulations of these views.

  18. 18.

    The present project parallels analogous efforts to frame dependence views in ground-theoretic terms. Grounding-based formulations of physicalism have been proposed by Dasgupta (2014) and Schaffer (2017a). Grounding-based formulations of naturalism have been given by Rosen (2017a). Applications of grounding to social ontology have been proposed by Epstein (2015), Griffith (2017), and Schaffer (forthcoming).

  19. 19.

    See, e.g., Plunkett (2012), Plunkett and Shapiro (2017), Rosen (2010), and Stavropoulos (2014).

  20. 20.

    Though these assumptions about grounding are very widespread, they haven’t gone unchallenged. The view that grounding statements are best regimented through a non-truth-functional sentential connective has been endorsed by Correia (2010) and Fine (2012). On transitivity, see Litland (2013), Loss (2017), Schaffer (2012), and Tahko (2013).

  21. 21.

    I use capital roman letters denote facts, and Greek capitals to denote pluralities of facts.

  22. 22.

    See Audi (2012), Fine (2012), and Rosen (2010).

  23. 23.

    Minimality, the stronger principle that adding something to a full ground never yields another full ground, is very controversial and will not be assumed here. See Dixon (2016) for criticism of this principle, and Audi (2012) for a defense.

  24. 24.

    That is, it allows that there be some fact A and pluralities Γ and Δ such that A is fully grounded in Γ, A is fully grounded in Δ, and there is no fact that is both among Γ and among Δ.

  25. 25.

    Notice that in order to falsify the claim that facts of type A are fully grounded in facts of type B, it is not enough to show that facts of type A are grounded in facts that are not of type B.

  26. 26.

    See, for instance, Alchourrón and Bulygin (1971). This closure principle could be fine-tuned in ways that don’t affect the present discussion. In particular, a non-classical notion of entailment may be needed to avoid that logical truths be legally valid.

  27. 27.

    I will return to this distinction in Sect. 4.

  28. 28.

    Relatedly, Greenberg (2004) allows that positivism may appeal to descriptive facts of any sort. However, it should be stressed that Greenberg makes this concession while arguing against positivism, and his remarks should be read as part of his argument that positivism would fail even if it appealed to descriptive non-social facts. In other words, Greenberg is not claiming that the best way of understanding positivism is liberal in this way; rather, he is merely helping his case by maintaining that positivism would fall prey to his objection even if it enriched its explanatory resources in this way.

  29. 29.

    See Greenberg (2004: 158) and Plunkett (2012: 148, 2019).

  30. 30.

    I present my preferred answer to this question in Sect. 4.

  31. 31.

    Later in this section, we will see that the notion of enabler I use differs significantly from the one that figures in causation and reasons theory.

  32. 32.

    On causal enablers, see especially Lombard (1990).

  33. 33.

    See Bader (2016) and Dancy (2004).

  34. 34.

    For an early expression of this commitment, see Hart (1958: 601).

  35. 35.

    See Mackie (1991) for this point in connection to causal enablers. See Bader (2016) and Cohen (2018) for discussion on whether enablers can in general be grounds.

  36. 36.

    Advocates of the view that full grounds necessitate what they ground include Audi (2012), Correia (2005), deRosset (2013), Loss (2017), Rosen (2010) and Trogdon (2013). For discussion, see Chilovi (2018), Leuenberger (2014), and Skiles (2015). In fact, I think that the connection between grounding and modality is best modeled via a supervenience relation that is weaker than necessitation. However, the point I make here can analogously be made through the principle that grounding entails my favored kind of supervenience, so I frame it through the grounding-necessitation link only for the sake of simplicity.

  37. 37.

    See Chilovi and Pavlakos (2019).

  38. 38.

    Thanks to Jonathan Schaffer for discussion of this parallel.

  39. 39.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting that I discuss this option.

  40. 40.

    The terms ‘global’ and ‘local’ asymmetry were suggested to me by an anonymous reviewer.

  41. 41.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for inviting me to address this objection.

  42. 42.

    See Rosen (2017b), and the authors mentioned in fn. 36.

  43. 43.

    The conception of ILP on which it would be making a claim of iterated grounding is among the options recently canvassed by Plunkett (2019). The present paper may thus be read as offering an elaborated argument in favor of this interpretation.

  44. 44.

    See Bennett (2011) and deRosset (2013).

  45. 45.

    See Dasgupta (2014), Fine (2012), Rosen (2010), and Trogdon (2013).

  46. 46.

    See Litland (2017).

  47. 47.

    See Sider (forthcoming).

References

  1. Alchourrón, C. E., & Bulygin, E. (1971). Normative systems. Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Audi, P. (2012). Grounding: Toward a theory of the in-virtue-of relation. The Journal of Philosophy, 112, 685–711.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bader, R. (2016). Conditions, modifiers and holism. In E. Lord, et al. (Eds.), Weighing reasons (pp. 27–55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bayón, J. C. (2013). The province of jurisprudence underdetermined. In B. Ferrer, et al. (Eds.), Neutrality and theory of law (pp. 1–16). Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bennett, K. (2011). By our bootstraps. Philosophical Perspectives, 25, 27–41.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chilovi, S. (2018). Grounding entails supervenience. Synthese. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1723-x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chilovi, S., & Pavlakos, G. (2019). Law-determination as grounding: A common grounding framework for jurisprudence. Legal Theory, 25(1), 53–76.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Cohen, S. W. (2018). Not all partial grounds partly ground: Some useful distinctions in the theory of grounding. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12524.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Coleman, J. (1982). Positive and negative positivism. The Journal of Legal Studies, 11, 139–164.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Coleman, J. (2009). Beyond inclusive legal positivism. Ratio Juris, 22, 359–394.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Correia, F. (2005). Existential dependence and cognate notions. Munich: Philosophia Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Correia, F. (2010). Grounding and truth-functions. Logique et Analyse, 53, 251–279.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Correia, F., & Schnieder, B. (Eds.). (2012). Metaphysical grounding: Understanding the structure of reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Dancy, J. (2004). Ethics without principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Dasgupta, S. (2014). The possibility of physicalism. The Journal of Philosophy, 111, 557–592.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Dasgupta, S. (2017). Constitutive explanation. Philosophical Perspectives, 27, 74–97.

    Google Scholar 

  17. deRosset, L. (2013). Grounding explanations. Philosophers’ Imprint, 27, 74–97.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dixon, T. S. (2016). Grounding and supplementation. Erkenntnis, 81, 375–389.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dworkin, R. (1977). Taking rights seriously. London: Duckworth.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dworkin, R. (1986). Law’s empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Epstein, B. (2015). The ant trap: Rebuilding the foundations of the social sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Fine, K. (2001). The question of realism. Philosophers’ Imprint, 1, 1–30.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Fine, K. (2012). Guide to ground. In F. Correia, et al. (Eds.), Metaphysical grounding (pp. 37–80). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Finnis, J. (1980). Natural law and natural rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Greenberg, M. (2004). How facts make law. Legal Theory, 10, 157–198.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Greenberg, M. (2006). Hartian positivism and normative facts: How facts make law II. In S. Hershovitz (Ed.), Exploring law’s empire. Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Greenberg, M. (2014). The moral impact theory of law. Yale Law Journal, 123, 1288–1342.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Griffith, A. M. (2017). Social construction and grounding. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 97, 393–409.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hart, H. L. A. (1958). Positivism and the separation of law and morals. Harvard Law Review, 71, 593–629.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hart, H. L. A. (1961) The concept of law, (1st edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hart, H. L. A. (2012). The concept of law (2nd edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Leuenberger, S. (2014). Grounding and necessity. Inquiry, 57, 151–174.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Litland, J. E. (2013). On some counterexamples to the transitivity of grounding. Essays in Philosophy, 14, 19–32.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Litland, J. E. (2017). Grounding ground. In K. Bennett, et al. (Eds.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, (Vol 10, pp. 279–299).

  35. Lombard, L. B. (1990). Causes, enablers, and the counterfactual analysis. Philosophical Studies, 59, 195–211.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Loss, R. (2017). Grounding, contingentism and transitivity. Ratio, 30, 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Mackie, P. (1991). Causing, enabling, and counterfactual dependence. Philosophical Studies, 62, 325–330.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Marmor, A. (2004). Exclusive legal positivism. In J. L. Coleman, et al. (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of jurisprudence & philosophy of law (pp. 104–124). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Marmor, A. (2007). Law in the age of pluralism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Moreso, J. J. (2012). Legal defeasibility and the connection between law and morality. In F. Beltrán, et al. (Eds.), The Logic of Legal Requirements: Essays on Defeasibility (pp. 225–237). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Plunkett, D. (2012). A positivist route for explaining how facts make law. Legal Theory, 18, 139–207.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Plunkett, D. (2013). Legal positivism and the moral aim thesis. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 33, 563–605.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Plunkett, D. (2019). Robust normativity, morality, and legal positivism. In D. Plunkett, et al. (Eds.), Dimensions of normativity: New essays on metaethics and jurisprudence (pp. 105–136). Oxford: Oxford Universty Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Plunkett, D., & Shapiro, S. (2017). Law, morality, and everything else: General jurisprudence as a branch of metanormative inquiry. Ethics, 128, 37–68.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Raz, J. (1979). The authority of law: Essays on law and morality. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Rosen, G. (2010). Metaphysical dependence: Grounding and reduction. In B. Hale, et al. (Eds.), Modality: Metaphysics, logic, and epistemology (pp. 109–136). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Rosen, G. (2017a). Metaphysical relations in metaethics. In T. McPherson, D. Plunkett (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of metaethics (pp. 151–169). Routledge.

  48. Rosen, G. (2017b). Ground by law. Philosophical Issues, 27, 279–301.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Schaffer, J. (2009). On what grounds what. In D. Chalmers, et al. (Eds.), Metametaphysics (pp. 347–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Schaffer, J. (2012). Grounding, transitivity, and contrastivity. In F. Correia, et al. (Eds.), Metaphysical grounding (pp. 122–138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Schaffer, J. (2016). Grounding in the image of causation. Philosophical Studies, 173, 49–100.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Schaffer, J. (2017a). The ground between the gaps. Philosophers’ Imprint, 17, 1–26.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Schaffer, J. (2017b). Laws for metaphysical explanation. Philosophical Issues, 27, 302–321.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Schaffer, J. (forthcoming). Anchoring as grounding: on Epstein’s the ant trap. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

  55. Schauer, F. (2005). The social construction of the concept of Law. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 25, 493–501.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Shapiro, S. (2011). Legality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Sider, T. (forthcoming). Ground grounded. Philosophical Studies, 1–21.

  58. Skiles, A. (2015). Against grounding necessitarianism. Erkenntnis, 80, 717–751.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Stavropoulos, N. (2014). Legal interpretivism. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/law-interpretivist/.

  60. Tahko, T. E. (2013). Truth-grounding and transitivity. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 2, 332–340.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Trogdon, K. (2013). Grounding: Necessary or contingent? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 94, 465–485.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Waluchow, W. J. (1994). Inclusive legal positivism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Waluchow, W. J. (2001). Legal positivism, inclusive versus exclusive. In Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.

  64. Wilson, J. (2014). No work for a theory of grounding. Inquiry, 57, 535–579.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Gloria Andrada, Juan Carlos Bayón, Fernando Broncano-Berrocal, Pedro Caballero, Jorge Cerdio, Fernando De los Santos Menéndez, Javier Gonzalez de Prado, Roberto Loss, Ezequiel Monti, Michele Palmira, George Pavlakos, Pablo Rapetti, Luis Rodríguez Abascal, Alfonso Ruiz Miguel, Julián Sauquillo González, Germán Sucar, Enrico Terrone, Jesus Vega, Lisa Vogt, and Daniel Wodak; to the participants to the Seminar in Metaphysics at the University of Barcelona; to the audiences of the Legal Philosophy Seminar at ITAM, of the Legal Philosophy Seminar at UAM, of the Applied Epistemology Seminar at UAM, and of the Law and Philosophy PhD Seminar at UPF. Special thanks are due to Esa Díaz-Leon, Stephan Leuenberger, Dan López de Sa, José Juan Moreso, David Plunkett, Jonathan Schaffer, and two anonymous reviewers. This research was financially supported by the UPF-based research group Law and Philosophy (Grup consolidat de Filosofia del Dret, Projectes AGAUR 2017 SGR 00823), and by the research project Social Metaphysics (PGC2018-094563-B-I00, MINECO FEDER).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Samuele Chilovi.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chilovi, S. Grounding-based formulations of legal positivism. Philos Stud 177, 3283–3302 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-019-01370-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Grounding
  • Dependence
  • Fundamentality
  • Enablers
  • Legal positivism
  • Nature of law