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Legal Philosophy

William & Mary Law School

Legal Theory

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On Hart's Category Mistake, Michael S. Green Sep 2013

On Hart's Category Mistake, Michael S. Green

Faculty Publications

This essay concerns Scott Shapiro’s criticism that H.L.A. Hart’s theory of law suffers from a “category mistake.” Although other philosophers of law have summarily dismissed Shapiro’s criticism, I argue that it identifies an important requirement for an adequate theory of law. Such a theory must explain why legal officials justify their actions by reference to abstract propositional entities, instead of pointing to the existence of social practices. A virtue of Shapiro’s planning theory of law is that it can explain this phenomenon. Despite these sympathies, however, I end with the suggestion that Shapiro’s criticism of Hart, as it stands, is …