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Law is not (Best Considered) an Essentially Contested Concept

Kenneth M. Ehrenberg, SUNY Buffalo

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I argue that law is not best considered an essentially contested concept. After first explaining the notion of essential contestability and disaggregating the concept of law into several related concepts, I show that the most basic and general concept of law does not fit within the criteria generally offered for essential contestation. I then buttress this claim with the additional explanation that essential contestation is itself a framework for understanding complex concepts and therefore should only be applied when it is useful to gain a greater understanding of uses of the concept to which it is applied (adducing criteria for making such judgments of usefulness). With that in mind, I then show that applying the appellation of essential contestation to the concept of law does not helpfully illuminate the most general concept of law (usually of most interest to legal philosophers) and therefore it should not be used, while allowing that it might be more useful for the related concept of the rule of law.

Suggested Citation

Kenneth M. Ehrenberg. "Law is not (Best Considered) an Essentially Contested Concept" International Journal of Law in Context 7 (2011): 209-232.
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