Realism and positivism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Several scholars advance the ‘LR-LP thesis’: the claim that American Legal Realism presupposes Legal Positivism. Brian Leiter and Frederick Schauer, prominent scholars of Realism, delimit that thesis to a Razian version of Exclusive Legal Positivism (‘ELP’). This article nevertheless argues that Leiter and Schauer’s respective accounts of Legal Realism are difficult to square with Razian ELP. Indeed, the Realist hypotheses about alternative drivers of official decision, concerning ‘working’ rules, ‘real’ rules, and ‘situation-types’, if correct, actually threaten Razian ELP. Problems arise for the LR-LP thesis (as delimited to Razian ELP) irrespective of whether those three Realist alternative drivers are classified as legal or non-legal norms. If they are non-legal, merits-based norms, then (a) those alternative drivers do much more work within official decision than ELP suggests is the case for those sorts of norms, and (b), Inclusive Legal Positivism may better, and might even be required, to explain them. Alternatively, if those Realist alternative drivers are better understood as source-based legal norms, then they cannot fulfil (or even be claimed by the law to fulfil) certain core functions that ELP attributes to legal norms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-612
Number of pages44
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Jurisprudence
  • Legal philosophy
  • Legal Realism
  • Official decision
  • Judicial decision-making
  • Legal Positivism

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