Belgrade Legal Theory Group organized its second event of the autumn semester of 2023 with Prof. Brian Tamanaha (Washington University) on the topic of sociological approaches to jurisprudence.

Prof. Tamanaha opened with general remarks about pragmatism, with a focus on its core meaning. He stated pragmatism concerns itself with experience and action, i.e. with what law does, how people perceive it and what real social consequences of the law are, while designating law as a set of social institutions that evolve over time in a layered context. Pragmatism also relies on evolutionism and perceives all human conduct as part of the natural world, making it compatible with naturalism. On top of that, it accepts only beliefs that are reliable and verifiable, although scientific theories are not necessarily eternal and unchangeable. Prof. Tamanaha quoted J. Dewey, saying a pragmatist rejects the abstract, a priori, universal truths. Naturalism, in the same manner, points towards contextualization and variations of human relations, but at the same time – some proponents outline similarities among societies based on common human traits. They emphasize natural, biological aspects of human life that lead to the creation of societies and even instinctive moral intuitions.

Prof. Tamanaha then moved on to analytical jurisprudents, who, on the other hand, do not agree with the pragmatist approach, since they focus on universally true features applicable to every society. He gave an example of J. Raz’s assessment of the philosophy of law as dealing with necessary truths about law and its essence, with a tendency to assume truisms and even extend analytical arguments about law to non-human societies.

Afterward, Prof. Tamanaha moved on to a comparison between historicism and holism, as well as general notions of social constructionism.

Following was the Q&A part of the event, with substantial interest from the audience that was mainly focused on the potential place and role of analytical jurisprudence and conceptual analysis in our attempts to understand what law is, as well as conventionalism and problems with our attempts to understand law in past societies through contemporary lenses.

Ending the meeting, Mila Đorđević thanked everyone for an excellent discussion, as well as Prof. Tamanaha for the interesting lecture.