Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law
Law & Philosophy
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Recently some philosophers have argued, under the name of “metaphysical quietism,” that philosophers should give up asking metaphysical questions about whether and how the terms of a given discourse “hook up” with the world and that they should instead ask what function particular terms or whole vocabularies serve in human social life. A similar hostility to metaphysical inquiry is latent in much legal scholarship, though rarely under the quietist label. This paper criticizes metaphysical quietism by casting doubt on the possibility and desirability of dissolving the traditional philosophical questions and replacing them with anthropological ones. Drawing on the example of the concept of “negligence” in Anglo-American law, I show how the functional accounts envisioned by quietists generate the same kinds of metaphysical questions that quietists seek to avoid. I further argue that such questions are not only natural and perhaps inevitable but are also ones worth asking.
Charles Barzun, Metaphysical Quietism and Functional Explanation in the Law, 34 Law & Philosophy 89-109 (2015).