Pragmatism vs. Integrity: Round Two

One who belongs to the integrity as law school of thought will espouse the belief that the administration of justice requires consistency in jurisprudence (Dworkin, 166). The pragmatist, however, might argue that consistency for the sake of it is not equal to the administration of justice, and that justice is best administered through an interpretation, by a judge, of what is best for the community in the long term.

It is interesting that these schools of thought are found in equal measure in Somerset. Consider the lack of precedent upon which both sides of the dispute hang so much import. Lord Mansfield sees that there is no precedent in the English common law upon which to justify the legality of slave ownership within the geographic United Kingdom. The absence of precedent forces him to decide what is, in his view, the best possible solution for the Empire’s future. Alternatively, one might make the argument that he chose to respect the integrity of English common law. To wit: no favorable precedent exists, and one will not be brought into being here. While no negative precedent previously existed, one is not necessarily created here when one bears in mind the supremacy of Parliament in the English legal system – this court says no, but that does not necessarily make it perpetually binding.

This is perhaps the greatest flaw in considering the debate between these two schools of thought. The distinction, in many cases, between pragmatism and integrity in the law can be one that is merely imagined. In Somerset, for example, it is impossible to say whether or not Lord Mansfield was concerned with with continuity – in fact, given his statement at the end of the opinion that his decision is final, “what ever the consequences.” One might ague that this decision was made, from Mansfield’s point of view, for the better of the future, or with insouciance toward it.


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