Knowledge Construction in Legal Reasoning: A Three Stage Model of Law’s Evolution in Practical Discourse

  • Olaf Tans


Seeing that socio-legal theory has produced a number of compelling grand theories about law’s development as a body of knowledge, this contribution analyzes legal evolution on the micro-level of decision-making in concrete cases. To that end, law finding is reconstructed as a three stage process of reason-based rule-construction. Legal evolution is argued to stem from the argumentative jumps that are made in this process in order to use what is initially drawn from the body of legal knowledge in new cases. These jumps are justified by additional reasoning that plays a crucial role in that it brings new information to the law finding process. It is explained how this new information gets incorporated in the body of knowledge as a result of discursive maneuvers of legal practitioners.


Legal reasoning Knowledge construction Rule-guided decision-making Defeasibility Evolution of law Autopoiesis 



For their feedback and inspiration. I wish to thank Roland Luttens, Wouter Werner, Claudius Messner, Wibren van der Burg, Phyllis Oduro-Kwarteng, Laura Prins and the anonymous reviewers.


  1. 1.
    Alexy, R. 1989. A theory of legal argumentation. The theory of rational discourse as theory of legal justification. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Beltrán, J.F., and G.B. Ratti. 2010. Validity and defeasibility in the legal domain. Law and Philosophy 29: 601–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Belvesi, F. 2014. Legal argumentation and justice in Luhmann’s system theory of law. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 27: 341–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Berger, P.L., and Th Luckmann. 1996. The social construction of reality, a treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New York: Doubleday & Company.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Boer, L. 2017. International law as we know it. Cyberwar discourse and the construction of knowledge in international legal scholarship. Dissertation, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bobbitt, Ph. 1982. Constitutional fate, theory of the constitution. New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bonjour, L. 1985. The structure of empirical knowledge. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard UP.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Boonin, L.G. 1966. Concerning the defeasibility of legal rules. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 26 (3): 371–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bourcier, D., and G. Clergue. 1999. From a rule-based conception to dynamic patterns. Analyzing the self-organisation of legal systems. Artificial Intelligence and Law 7: 211–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bourdieu, P. 1987. The force of law: Toward a sociology of the legal field. The Hastings Law Journal 38: 814–853.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Brooks, P., and P. Gewirtz. 1996. Law’s stories: Narrative and rhetoric in the law. Yale UP: New Haven/London.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cotterrell, R. 1995. Law’s community. Legal theory in sociological perspective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Derrida, J. 1989–1990. Force of law: The ‘mystical foundation of authority’. Cardozo Law Review 11: 920–1045.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Durkheim, E. 1984. The division of labour in society (trans: Halls, W.D.). New York/Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan. First published in 1893.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dworkin, R. 1986. Law’s empire. Belknap: Cambridge Mass.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Fallon, R. 2005. Legitimacy and the constitution. Harvard Law Review 118: 1787–1853.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Fiorito, L. 2006. On performatives in legal discourse. Metalogicon XIX 2: 101–112.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Foucault, M. 1972. The archeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Gärdenfors, P. 1990. The dynamics of belief systems: Foundations v. coherence theories. Revue Internationale de Philosophie 172 (1): 24–46.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Goodrich, P. 1987. Legal discourse: Studies in linguistics, rhetoric and legal analysis. New York: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hage, J. 1996. A theory of legal reasoning and a logic to match. Artificial Intelligence and Law 11: 199–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hage, J. 1997. Reasoning with rules. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Hage, J., and A. Peczenik. 2000. Law, morals and defeasibility. Artificial Intelligence and Law 13: 305–325.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hart, H.L.A. 1961. The concept of law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Jori, M. 1994. Legal performative. In The encyclopedia of language and linguistics, Vol. 4, 2092. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Kevelson, R. 1988. The law as a system of signs. New York and London: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Latour, B. 2010. The making of law. An Ethnography of the Conseil d’Etat. Cambridge/Malden MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Luhmann, N. 1985. A sociological theory of law. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Luhmann, N. 1988. Closure and openness: On reality in the world of law. In Autopoietic law: A new approach to law and society, ed. G. Teubner, 335–348. Berlin: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Luhmann, N. 2004. Law as a social system. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    MacCormick, N. 1987. Legal reasoning and legal theory. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    MacCormick, N. 2005. Rhetoric and the rule of law. Oxford: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Maturana, H.R., and F.J. Varela. 1980. Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Messner, C. 2014. Luhmann’s judgment. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 27: 359–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Murray, J. 2006. Nome law: Deleuze & Guattari on the Emergence of Law. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 19: 127–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Nöth, W. 2012. Charles S. Peirce’s theory of information: A theory of the growth of symbols and knowledge. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 19 (1–2): 137–161.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Nussbaum, M. 1995. Poetic justice: The literary imagination and the public life. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Pavlakos, G. 2007. Our knowledge of the law. Portland/Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Peczenik, A. 1989. On law and reason. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Peczenik, A. 1996. Jumps and logic in the law. What can one expect from logical models of legal argumentation? Artificial Intelligence and Law 4: 297–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Peirce, C.S. 1931–1958. Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss, and A. Burks. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, A. 2014. Critical Autopoiesis and the Materiality of Law. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 27: 389–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Potts, A., and A.L. Kjaer. 2016. Constructing achievement in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY): A corpus-based critical discourse analysis. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 29 (3): 525–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Prakken, H., and G. Sartor. 2004. The three faces of defeasibility in the law. Ratio Juris 17: 118–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Raz, J. 1990. Practical reason and norms. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Schauer, F. 1991. Playing by the rules. A philosophical examination of rule-based decision-making in law and in life. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Tans, O. 2006. The fluidity of warrants. Using the Toulmin model to analyse practical discourse. In Arguing on the Toulmin model: New essays on argument analysis and evaluation, ed. D. Hitchcock, and B. Verheij, 219–230. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Tessuto, G., V. Bhatia, G. Garzone, R. Salvi, and C. Williams (eds.). 2016. Constructing legal discourses and social practices: Issues and perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Teubner, G. 1989. How the law thinks: Toward a constructivist epistemology of law. Law & Society Review 23 (5): 727–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Torpman, J. 2003. Learning to change: The production of contingency in modern legal systems. Law and Critique 14: 71–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Toulmin, S. (2003). The uses of argument, 2nd updated edition. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge UP. First published in 1958.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Turrisi, P.A. 1990. Peirce’s logic of discovery: Abduction and the universal categories. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 26 (4): 465–497.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Tur, R. 2001. Defeasibilism. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 21: 355–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    van der Burg, W. 2014. The Dynamics of Law and Morality. A Pluralist Account of Legal Interactionism. Farnham/Burlington: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    van Hoecke, M. 2002. Law as Communication. Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Wagner, A., W. Werner, and D. Cao (eds.). 2007. Interpretation, law and the construction of meaning: Collected papers on legal interpretation in theory, adjudication and political practice. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Wagner, A. (2005). Semiotic Analysis of the Multistage Dynamic at the Core of Indeterminacy in Legal Language’. In Vagueness in Normative Texts, ed. V. Bhatia, J. Engberg, M. Gotti and D. Heller, 173-200. Bern: Peter Lang, coll. Linguistic Insights, vol.23.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Waismann, F. 1951. Verifiability. In Logic and language: First series, ed. A.G. Flew, 117–144. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Weber, M. 1978. Economy and society. An outline of interpretive sociology. Berkeley, Cal.: California UP. First published in 1922.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Wittgenstein, L. 1958. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. First Published in 1953.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesAmsterdam University CollegeAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Centre for the Politics of Transnational Law (CePTL), Faculty of LawVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations