Pragmatism vs. Integrity

We are confronted with a tug of war between pragmatism and law as integrity in our present case discussion. The pragmatic view, very simply put, eschews adherence to precedent for the sake of precedent, and denies – at least to some extent – the existence of legal rights. The pragmatist would argue that cases at law should be decided in their own right, based upon that which is best for the community. Should a governing rule emanate from a jurisprudential decision, that rule would be based upon the future good of the community, and will be adhered to under the same terms. The theorist who aligns with the law as integrity argument – Ronald Dworkin – would argue that precedent is an integral part of jurisprudence, as it provides a solid framework upon which jurists may base their opinions.  Integrity in the law therefore requires a large level of “constructive interpretation:”

“The process of constructive interpretation is made up of three analytical stages: (1) Pre-interpretive stage, (2) Interpretive stage, (3) Post-interpretive stage. In the Pre-interpretive stage, a participant identifies the rules and standards that constitute the practice. Then, in the interpretive stage, the interpreter settles on some general justification for those elements identified at the pre-interpretive stage. At the post-interpretive stage, participant adjusts his sense of what the practice really requires so as to better serve the justification he accepts at the interpretive stage.” (SOURCE)

These concepts would seem to clash in our present case, in spite of the fact that they would likely have come to the same conclusion. The decision turned upon the moral abhorrence of slavery as a practice, to an extent, but it also turned upon a discussion of the contents of English law. To wit: there existed no common law ban nor permission for the practice, and Lord Mansfield saw that it was unfit for the common law to do so. In this, we see a dependance upon a lack of precedent, and an opportunity for a jurist to act with a clean slate for, in his mind – and I think we can agree, in our minds, the betterment of the English (and Welsh) community.  Furthermore, Lord Mansfield did not (and as a matter of English legal theory, could not) debar the Parliament from enacting a statute permitting the practice on the Island – in fact, he said that if it was to be deemed legal, such was the only way. In this regard, one might argue that the Lord took a pragmatic approach, by noting simply that the practice was currently not provided for by English law, and that the society would benefit from the common law’s not providing for it – but that the Parliament could simply see otherwise down the road.

The believer in integrity may have had to come to the same conclusion via a different road. Or maybe not. The ‘integritist’, such as Dworkin, would have reasoned that a reliance upon legal rights must have driven the case, as there was no relevant controlling law. In this, there are two possible outcomes:

  1. The contemporary integritist – that is, contemporary to the time – might have ruled in favor of Stewart instead of Somerset. This may be so because Stewart had certain legally given rights as a property owner. Remember, the court accepted the notion that English law protected the contracts pertaining to the sale of slaves. As such, at least in theory, English law can be argued to have supported the notion that the sale was valid. If this is true, Stewart had certain legal rights to Somerset. However, the integritist might have argued, on the other hand, that Somerset had his own legal and natural rights – such as self-determination, and as such could not be held as property.
  2. Realistically, there is no chance the Ronald Dworkin – as the originator of this theory of integrity – would have ruled any differently than Mansfield. It is likely that his basis of rationale would have flowed from a Natural Law viewpoint, espousing the ethical principles that are grossly violated by the practice.
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3 thoughts on “Pragmatism vs. Integrity”

  1. I think avoiding president for the sake of avoiding it is rather silly. If pragmatists do this.

    In my opinion, Holms answers the question of where precise nice fits into law. He says that you can pull the dragon out of the cave, see it’s claws, it’s teeth etc. only then will you know if it is a friend or a foe.

    What he is referring to is incident laws dogmatically enforced in both legislative and common law. Many of which are archaic or downright wrong under contemporary circumstances.

    Thus, a prudent juris would review precidence for guidance but disregard it when society will see a greater benefit from heading in a new direction. Indeed, it is for this reason Holmes says that judges should educate themselves on statistics and economics.

    I always viewed Holmes as pragmatic in this way but from what you say the definition given to pragmatism in legal philosophy seems to say otherwise.

    1. Oops. The irony of course is that this long term benefit presupposes a respect for precedent. Now, in this irony lies evidence that I may have misinterpreted the dynamic between the two.

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