Legal Hermeneutics and Metaethics

Legal Hermeneutics and Metaethics

Metaethical Contributions to the Legal Indeterminacy Debate

The interdisciplinary project in legal philosophy examines the relevance and impact of metaethics on the legal indeterminacy debate. The first chapter (A.) shows the widely accepted argument that, in the so-called hard cases in which the application of legal materials is even for experts highly controversial, the law is indeterminate. How­ever, prominent contemporary legal philosophers deny legal indeterminacy in hard cases by claiming that a con­nec­tion between law and morality can ultimately provide single right answers. According to that argumen­ta­tion, moral objectivity is a necessary and sufficient condition for the right answer thesis, raising legal scholarship’s interest for metaethics, the subject whose object of investigation is morality itself. The second chapter (B.) offers an overview of the metaethical landscape by presenting on the one hand moral skepticism which argues that moral judgments depend at best on subjective preferences and social conventions, which would undermine ab initio the right answers thesis; on the other hand, moral objectivism assumes that some moral judgments are truth-apt in­dependent from subjective preferences or social conventions, which would theoretically corroborate the right an­swer thesis. In contrast to both metaethical accounts, the third chapter (C.) holds that even if moral objectivism is successful, it is nevertheless no sufficient condition for the right answer thesis given two main reasons: (i) moral optionality, since hard cases may fall into areas of moral insignificance or moral permissibility; (ii) moral indeter­mi­nacy, embracing both epistemic (underdetermination and overdetermination) and substantial (incompa­ra­bility and incommen­sura­bility) shortcomings. Bringing together two different areas of knowledge – law and moral philosophy –, the primary objective of the dissertation project is to explore the methodological plausibility of the right answer thesis by investigating to what extent moral objectivity could affect the legal indeter­mi­nacy debate. The substantive outcomes include additional knowledge indicating to what extent metaethics can improve studies in legal methodology and, by extension, contribute to an analytical reconstruction of legal hermeneutics.


Research outcome: doctoral thesis at the University of Freiburg (2020–2022)
Research focus: 1. Fundamentals: Theoretical Foundations and Doctrinal Structures
Project language: German
Graph: © Rafa­el Gior­gio Dal­la Bar­ba

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