Law and Philosophy

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 355–374 | Cite as

The role of coherence in legal reasoning

  • Barbara Baum Levenbook


Many contemporary philosophers of law agree that a necessary condition for a decision to be legally justified, even in a hard case, is that it coheres with established law. Some, namely Sartorius and Dworkin, have gone beyond that relatively uncontroversial claim and described the role of coherence in legal justification as analogous to its role in moral and scientific justification, on contemporary theories. In this, I argue, they are mistaken. Specifically, coherence in legal justification is sometimes specific to a branch of law, and there is nothing isomorphic to this in the models of moral and scientific justification. Although Dworkin and Sartorius rely on the concept of coherence, they do not explicate it. In the course of examining their views, this essay offers a partial analysis of coherence on their models. Finally, two canons of relevance, governing when global coherence considerations are appropriate to legal justification, are presented.


Social Issue Hard Case Partial Analysis Legal Reasoning Contemporary Philosopher 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Baum Levenbook
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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