German Legal Philosophy

Annexed as an appendix to the translation of Kohler’s Philosophy of Law is an appreciation of the work by Adolf Lasson, 1 who complains that he himself once wrote a philosophy of law which has sunk into oblivion, probably for the reason, as he modestly suggests, that he knew so much of systematic philosophy that he had no time to acquire any “special scientific learning either in the law or any other special department of knowledge.”2 This complaint is a confession, child-like and amusing in its vanity, which could be dismissed without comment, were it not something that is wholly German, very German of very German, I hope I mar say without irreverence; for German legal philosophers are plainly separable into two classes, the very large class to which Lasson admits that he belongs, who know nothing of law, and the very small class, who know something of law but are not philosophers. It is not an accident that these wise men who “profess” law as their special province call themselves mainly either Neo-Hegelians or Neo-Kantians. Neither Kant nor Hegel was a faint skiagraph of a jurist, yet both essayed a philosophy of law,3 based upon a much wider system of metaphysics. And it is generally true that the German philosophy of law is a mere side issue of a pretentious transcendental theory of the Prussian state.