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JSI Seminar Series: The Force in Law: Rethinking the Legal Relevance of Coercion


9 March 2017

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The Force in Law: Rethinking the Legal Relevance of Coercion

Speaker: Triantafyllos (Tria) Gkouvas, Monash University

Analytic jurisprudence’s familiarity with recasting metaphysical disputes in modal terms is old enough to merit a legacy of its own. Traditionally investigations of modality concentrate on propositions about which things could or could not have been true in a variety of ways—metaphysical, epistemic, nomic, biological, normative. In the spirit of evaluating the truth of propositions by reference to how “secure” it remains in scenarios that are alternative to the way things actually are, legal philosophers of an analytic predilection are keen on testing the tenacity of jurisprudential truths across a broad spectrum of alternative ways in which governance by law can be manifested.  Familiar scenarios include cases where the enforcement of law is undertaken by a morally wicked regime or, conversely, cases where an angelic society is governed by laws which are not backed by legal sanctions. In the former scenario an ubiquitous enforcement mechanism sees to it that to every legal requirement there corresponds a sanction-based prudential requirement with overlapping content, whereas the latter scenario features an ostensive absence of official enforcement precisely because there is no prudential reason to disobey the law. This paper aspires to add some clarity and content to the idea that part of what halts substantial progress in the recently revived disagreement about the relationship between law and coercion is the fact that the standard treatment of this relationship is a component of the modalist tradition of regimenting the relationship between law and practical normativity.

In the first part, Tria Gkouvas shall argue that at least part of what makes the modal avenue a suboptimal option is the fact that modal claims about the relationship between law and coercion are systematically ambiguous with respect to whether they purport to have implications for our understanding of the efficacy or, conversely, the normativity of law. The second part of the paper offers a route for obviating the methodological confusion brought about by this constant oscillation between competing modal variants of the legal relevance of coercion. The punchline of Dr Gkouvas’s argument in favor of abandoning engagement with these parallel counterfactual disputes is that the hypothesis that both variants seem to suppress is that coercion is not primarily a problem about the normativity of legal obligations or the efficacy of legal institutions but a problem of their relationship. In this regard, the relevant disagreement can be recast as a problem about whether and how the possibility of coercion affects the production rather than the actual or prospective enforcement of legal obligations by the actions of legal institutions.

About the speaker

Triantafyllos (Tria) Gkouvas is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Monash University. He obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Antwerp. His doctoral thesis defends the possibility of metajurisprudential disagreement about the existence and the normative force of law. His current research is part of an ARC-funded project entitled "Construing Statutes: The Interaction Between a Statute's Linguistic Content and Principles of Statutory Interpretation", focusing on questions of metaphysical grounding in law and the nature of legal interpretation.

CPD Points: 2


Time: 6-8pm

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown, University of Sydney

Cost: Complimentary, however registration is essential

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 5d2d30403c3c230144372d1c1d130803215d1154061d1b12