Our Knowledge of the Law: Objectivity and Practice in Legal Theory by George Pavlakos

AuthorVeronica Rodriguez‐Blanco
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2009.00746_5.x
Publication Date01 Mar 2009
In conclusion, there are a few elements in this text that should be read with a
rhetoricalpinch of salt, especially when Zucca departs from his comparative ana-
lysis and criticises jurisprudentialauthors at the expenses of the clarity of his own
argument. But these are minor concerns which do not detract from the overall
quality of what is, ¢nally, a highly sophisticated comparative analysis. Constitu-
tional Dilemmas is to be strongly recommended as an addition to the library of
constitutional lawyersand public law theorists, who might usefully insertextracts
into the reading lists for their postgraduate seminars.
Vito Breda
n
George Pavlakos, Our Knowledge of the Law: Objectivity and Practice in
Legal Theory
,Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007, 267 pp, hb d37.80.
When a judge sentences or when legal o⁄cials apply the law, are they merely
following legal conventions or are they attempting to grasp legal facts? Do we
know legal facts in the same way that we have come to know natural facts? It is
arguable that we cannot because natural facts are known to us through exper i-
ments, observations, generalizations and explanatory laws and so on, whereas
legal facts guide our actions and are therefore normative in character. The law
makes demands upon us, it commands us to take certain actions and it proscribes
certain others. Since legal facts belongto the domain of reasons and norms, unlike
natural facts which belong to the domain of causes, how then can we identify
them ^ and identifying them, apply them?
These questions are at the heart of Pavlakos’ book Our Knowledge of the Law:
Objectivity and Practice in Legal Theory a nd he argues that contemporary legal
theories have provided unsatisfactory responses to it. On one hand, Harts legal
theory, Pavlakos says, replaces legal facts with conventionalist criteria‘by repre-
senting legal practice as a £at enterprise which is exhausted by facts of behaviour
identi¢ed through a s econdary rule of obligation’(185). On the other hand, Pavla-
kos says that Dworkin’s legal theory adheres to a dualist understanding of legal
facts, which asserts that legal propositions are true in virtue of an independent
reality (198). For Dworkin, according to Pavlakos, legal knowledge can be
obtained because there are legal facts, characterized as properties in the world,
independent of our language and practices. He argues, furthermore, that Dwor-
kin cannot explain how these properties are individuated and they must, there-
fore, remain mysterious (204).We can say that this interpretation amounts to an
essentialist readingof Dworkin’s notion of objectivity. But is this an accurate read-
ing? In his article‘Truth and Objectivity;You’dBetter Believe It’ ((1996) Philosophy
andPublicA¡airs87), Dworkin explicitly rejects objectivity grounded on ‘essential
properties’ and asserts that the idea of normative objectsand properties impinging
upon us is ludicrous and mysterious. It appears, then, that Pavlakos’ view of
n
School of Law, Cardi¡ University
Reviews
327
r2009 The Authors. Journal Compilationr20 09 The Modern LawReview Limited.
(2009) 72(2) 313^329

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