EWI: Philosophy and Law   no comments

Posted at 12:11 pm in Law,Uncategorized

So I had a bit of a read this week around some of the philosophy texts. There are a number of different ways of interpreting or describing how philosophy is divided up into a discipline. This is, I suppose, a consequence of what philosophy is like in general. Philosophers hardly ever agree on anything, even when it comes to describing what it is that they do. Some people think that all of philosophy can be divided into two basic categories: realism, and the rest. Realism is the view that there is stuff that is real. The rest is, well, lots of other things. However this way of dividing up philosophy is controversial. The Cambridge philosopher Siumon Blackburn for instance in his book ‘Think’ suggests that it is perhaps not very helpful to divide up philosophy as a disicipline into these neat little categories. It is rather too dependent on the ability to taxonomise the arguments that are actually made. But there is no objectively correct way to do this that everyone can agree on. A philosopher’s job is to think about stuff. No wonder they can never agree on anything, including their own job description!

An alternative way of dividing up philosophy is to describe the different kinds of subjects that philosophers look at. This taxonomical approach has the advantage that it does not try to divide up philosophical approaches according to the arguments that are made: it is merely divided up by subject, not by the views taken on that subject. For instance, we might say that there are philosophers interested in questions of epistemology (knowledge), logic, politics, aesthetics, metaphysics, morality, and so on. This way of dividing it up does not say anything about what views the philosophers are taking on these different questions. So you could have the realists and the non-realists all lumped together into one category: the question of logic, say. However there are also problems with this way of describing philosophy as a discipline. Many of these areas overlap into each other, and there doesn’t seem to be any particularly objective reason, other than the causal whim of the observer, why we would divide these categories up in this particular way rather than any other.

From a personal perspective, I am inclined to describe the subject of philosophy in the way that it is often divided up in the university faculties, and the way that it is often divided up in the textbooks. You have things like philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of politics, philosophy of history, and so on. The discipline doesn’t have to be divided up this way necessarily; it just happens to be that it often is.

The particular area of philosophy that I am really interested in for this course is philosophy of law, and especially how this speaks to the internet. To some extent internet is still in its formative period. This is a time when internet legislative and constitutional precedent does not yet exist for the most part. So now is our opportunity to try to make decisions about what these precedents should look like. This is an area that I have never studied before and while there is a large amount of literature of philosophers commenting on law and legal procedures (sometimes known as jurisprudence) I do not know whether there is any substantial commentary by philosophers on internet law specifically. I did find one book by the philosopher Gordan Graham, ‘The Internet: A Philosophical Enquiry’. The book is quite out of date unfortunately (1999) but it is the only text I have been able to find so far on this subject. In general I liked the book and would recommend it. It is reasonably well written, though it is very wide-ranging and swings from one thing to another. But I think this is OK. Graham talks a little about the history of the internet, some of the technical aspects (not so relevant now perhaps) and puts this in the context of the history of technological development generally. Then he really lets it rip and has lots of fun talking about obscure and pretty much unrelated things like democracy and the internet (offering a dashing sweeping critique of democracy along the way), the nature of reality (is the internet a new form of ‘the real’?) and questions of the changing human experience (what has internet done to human individuality and community?). While this does seem a little bit all over the place, I think there are many really interesting ideas in here. The main point I take away from the book is the question of: to what extent should law on the web be different from law in the ‘real’ world (by which I mean the world off the web)? I mean, laws in the non-webby world are supposed to legislate over non-webby things, right. But the question is, how great is the disparity between webby stuff and non-webby stuff? And how great is the disparity between webby law and non-webby law? At this early stage, I am inclined towards the view that perhaps the disparity is a very big one indeed, much bigger than we had thought. This is something that we should probably find quite disconcerting. Do we need a set of laws for the ‘real’ world, and another set of laws for the virtual world that we have created?

Written by Eamonn Walls on October 15th, 2012

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