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Legality [Hardcover]

by Scott J. Shapiro
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 2, 2011 0674055667 978-0674055667

What is law? This question has preoccupied philosophers from Plato to Thomas Hobbes to H. L. A. Hart. Yet many others find it perplexing. How could we possibly know how to answer such an abstract question? And what would be the point of doing so? In Legality, Scott Shapiro argues that the question is not only meaningful but vitally important. In fact, many of the most pressing puzzles that lawyers confront—including who has legal authority over us and how we should interpret constitutions, statutes, and cases—will remain elusive until this grand philosophical question is resolved.

Shapiro draws on recent work in the philosophy of action to develop an original and compelling answer to this age-old question. Breaking with a long tradition in jurisprudence, he argues that the law cannot be understood simply in terms of rules. Legal systems are best understood as highly complex and sophisticated tools for creating and applying plans. Shifting the focus of jurisprudence in this way—from rules to plans—not only resolves many of the most vexing puzzles about the nature of law but has profound implications for legal practice as well.

Written in clear, jargon-free language, and presupposing no legal or philosophical background, Legality is both a groundbreaking new theory of law and an excellent introduction to and defense of classical jurisprudence.

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Editorial Reviews


An outstanding contribution--almost certainly the most important book on its topic since Dworkin's Law's Empire. Legality develops a novel and forceful account of the nature of law, but the engagements with other prominent accounts are so resolutely fair and powerfully presented that, were I to suggest one book for someone wanting to understand contemporary debates in jurisprudence, this would be it. (Arthur Ripstein, University of Toronto)

A strikingly original, highly accessible, and well-worked-out theory of the nature of law. Shapiro is on the positivist side, but a tremendous strength of the book is that it engages deeply and sympathetically with natural law and anti-positivist theorists. Everyone serious about the philosophy of law needs to read this book. (Mark Greenberg, UCLA)

Shapiro has produced a work of enduring significance. (Frederick Schauer Yale Law Journal 2010-12-01)

I feel confident that Legality is one of the very best boks in general jurisprudence in many, many years...I suspect that Legality will become a standard work for students of law and philosophy...Everyone who engages in the academic study of law should read Legality--it is that important. (Lawrence B. Solum Legal Theory blog 2010-12-11)

This book is...imaginative, incisive, fair to interlocutors, and written with elegance and wit...It is essential reading for philosophers of law. (Mark C. Murphy Law and Philosophy 2011-05-01)

Rich and vibrant with jurisprudential ambition...There are lots of riches in Scott Shapiro's book...I have not been able to convey how well this book is written or how much light the author is able to shed along the way on various issues in the philosophy of law...It shows that the idea of planning can indeed cast light on the problems of jurisprudence without necessarily blinding us to other analogies and other sources of insight. (Jeremy Waldron Michigan Law Review 2011-04-01)

[Legality] is a sympathetic, accessible, and highly readable exposition of the theories that have preceded it. It is now one of the best single-authored introductions to the subject. It is also a significant contribution. Moreover, it is an apologia for the subject itself, and for the method of conceptual analysis as a way of uncovering the nature and grounds of law...Both as a defense and example of analytic jurisprudence...this book is unrivalled. (William A. Edmundson Jurisprudence 2011-06-01)

Scott Shapiro's Legality is a rich and ambitious discussion of law's fundamental nature. Almost every page is provocative, touching upon many of the most interesting, complicated and controversial areas within this area of inquiry. (Stefan Sciaraffa Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 2011-09-01)

It cannot be doubted that Shapiro's book, which clarifies and advances analytical jurisprudence, is bound to be a classic text. (Ekow Yankah Jotwell 2011-09-12)

Highly recommended. (Choice 2011-08-01)

Legality makes a contribution to the field that no student of jurisprudence can ignore. (Judith Baer Political Science Quarterly 2011-12-01)

Legality is the most important contribution about the nature of law in recent years and a book that raises the bar for future work in jurisprudence. With admirable clarity, Shapiro argues that legal systems should not be understood simply in terms of rules, but instead as highly complex tools for creating and applying plans. His account offers an illuminating alternative to the literature and challenges much received wisdom. (Thom Brooks Times Higher Education 2013-02-07)

About the Author

Scott J. Shapiro is Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at Yale Law School.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (February 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674055667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674055667
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.9 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book! January 4, 2012
By J. Fh
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase

This book defends a very sophisticated view of positivism. First of all, it is remarkable how comprehensive, loyal and clear the book is while stating the arguments of authors that are against positivism. For instance, Shapiro dedicates a very good part of the book criticizing Ronald Dworkin for his very closed and strict sense of morality.


Shapiro's main thesis is that laws are plans and they are designed to make sure people can plan safely the outcomes of their actions. They are not derived from some metaphysical source of rights, they are created in an intersubjetive way, which makes them at a large extent contingent. Therefore, it is vital that law remains predictable and established in advance.


Shapiro says most positivists were wrong when defending that laws have nothing to do with morality. Of course they do, he says, because as plans they aim at several goals, some of them are economic (promoting welfare, for example), but many of them are, in fact, moral (like preserving fairness).
That doesn't mean that morality is something given a priori, something away from us that falls over our heads. Moreover, this conclusion of his makes laws in general defeasible, but not in order to cope with some ideal vision of morality, based on what judge Hercules thinks (like Dworkin wants), but because laws are defeasible in their own terms. Since they are plans, they were made to be applied in certain circunstances, which means they shouldn't be enforced come what may, like some hardcore positivists want.


The law must be enacted in a democratic environment, so that people can decide as a community, in which everyone's vote has equal measure.
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