Legal Theory and Value Judgments

Author: Villa, V.

Source: Law and Philosophy, Volume 16, Number 4, July 1997 , pp. 447-477(31)

Publisher: Springer

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The aim of the paper is that of putting into question the dichotomy between fact-judgments and value judgments in the legal domain, with its epistemological presuppositions (descriptivist image of knowledge) and its methodological implications for legal knowledge (value freedom principle and neutrality thesis). The basic question that I will try to answer is whether and on what conditions strong ethical value-judgments belong within legal knowledge.

I criticize the traditional positivist positions that have fully accepted the value-freedom principle and value-neutrality thesis, but I also submit to critical scrutiny the new post-positivist views, that, even if they show interesting conceptual developments on the matter, end up, nevertheless, by presupposing the same epistemological image, while I call descriptivism. I stress that only by giving up descriptivism and accepting constructivism as a general image of knowledge is it possible to see the problem of value-ladenness of legal knowledge in a new light.

On the basis of the constructivist image, I present two theses: firstly, at a much broader epistemological level, I advance the minimalist thesis on value-judgments, which simply removes the general ban on treating values as present within knowledge; secondly, I advance the strong thesis on legal value-judgments, which consists in arguing for the necessary presence of ethical value-judgments in legal knowledge. I draw, in the end, some important implications from acceptance of the strong thesis. One of these implications is a new distinction that replaces the traditional distinction between fact-judgments and value judgments, namely, the distinction between value-judgments exhibiting a cognitive function and value-judgments exhibiting a creative function.

Keywords: constructivism; descriptivism value freedom principle; legal knowledge; value-judgments

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Dipartimento di Studi su `politica, diritto e societá', Piazza Bologni, 8, 90134 Palermo, Italy

Publication date: July 1, 1997

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