Pragmatism Regained

Jules Coleman’s The Practice of Principle serves as a focal point for current, newly intensified debates in legal theory, and provides some of the deepest, most sustained reflections on methodology that legal theory has seen. Coleman is one of the leading legal philosophers in the Anglo-American world, and his writings on tort theory, contract theory, the normative foundations of law and economics, social choice theory, and analytical jurisprudence have been the point of departure for much of the most interesting activity in the field for the last three decades. Indeed, the origin of this book lies in Oxford University’s invitation to Coleman to deliver the Clarendon Lectures in Law in 1998, one of the greatest honors for legal scholars. Moreover, unlike many law school “legal theorists,” Coleman’s high standing within the legal academy is fully matched in the professional philosophical world. Practice will surely be mined for years for its many and subtle discussions of the nature of law and legal argument. The book is a wonderful achievement, both for Coleman himself, and for the development of rigorous philosophical study of the law. Coleman’s first publication, “On the Moral Argument for the Fault System,” appeared in the flagship Journal of Philosophy at a time when work on first-order problems of law – as opposed to secondorder questions about the nature of law – was frequently disparaged by professional philosophers as mere “application.” Coleman’s early writings helped significantly to change that, by showing that deep philosophical issues of responsibility and justice were raised by our legal practices and that our concepts of justice and fault could not be fully understood apart from those practices. What Coleman brought to the field of legal philosophy was both the conceptual rigor of his graduate training at Rockefeller University as well as an interest in and sensitivity to the way risk and responsibility are actually allocated through tort law. In his own work, and in fostering the work of others, Coleman has greatly expanded the range and interest of legal philosophy, moving beyond the mainstays of jurisprudence and constitutional law to the private law of tort and contract.