Begriffsjurisprudenz / Jurisprudence of Concepts
First publication: April 6, 2011
- The Concept
- History of the concept
- Did Begriffsjurisprudenz exist?
- Related topics
I. The Concept
Begriffsjurisprudenz is a polemical German term for a conceptual and mathematical orientation in jurisprudence, which is accused of being remote from reality. No jurist has ever called himself a follower of the Begriffsjurisprudenz (“Begriffsjurist”). Even if there is consensus that B. is objectionable, an authoritative definition of B. has never been reached. In general, Begriffsjurisprudenz is assigned to three interrelated elementary positions, which are criticized as being misleading: (1) that the given law contains no gaps, (2) that the given law can be traced back to a logically organized system of concepts (“pyramid of concepts”), (3) that new law can be logically deduced from superordinate legal concepts, which themselves are found inductively (“method of inversion”). The charges against these positions include epistemological and logical naiveté, obfuscation of values, remoteness from life, a lack of consideration of super-positive law and generally an overestimation of the purely dogmatic method. In a discourse-functional sense, Begriffsjurisprudenz still constitutes a flexible, widely applicable foil frequently used to highlight new methodological ‘discoveries’. The price of this is the emergence of a series of historical distortions, which complicate the understanding of 19th century legal scholarship.
II. History of the concept
The term B. was first used in 1884 by Rudolph von Jhering as a catchword against contemporary Pandektistik (pandectism). He convincingly associated it with a breach in his own thinking (“Damaskus”, Wieacker 1967, p. 461), since he himself had previously been seen as a prominent exponent of pandectism. Jhering used the term to target theoretical excesses in the creation of concepts (“construction”) as well as the perpetuation of antiquated solutions (“cult of mummies”). His polemic drew on new orientations in contemporary theory of science. After 1860, and with the slogan “Back to Kant” (Otto Liebmann), the value of a systematic disposition of knowledge was called into question, as was the benefit of historical research for current law.
Furthermore, the fact that Begriffsjurisprudenz was treated as a bête noire after 1871 illustrates the pressure for modernization weighing on the legal scholarship of the time, which was still working with ancient sources. The call for values, for taking into consideration the “demands of commerce” and what was called “proximity to life” was an expression of anti-formal tendencies prevalent in most parts of the western world around 1900. Comparable tendencies can be found, for instance, in the Belgian and French criticism of the école d’exégèse, and in their discussions of abus de droit (Ancel/Didry 2001, p. 51 ff.).
After 1900, a modification occurred within the criticism of B. While earlier on, it was focusing on the scholarly adaption of the casuistic ancient sources, the focus now shifted to the practical work of the judge with the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (civil code). The priority moved from the previous attempt to define an easily applicable and, for this purpose, conceptually precise law, to the need to leave room for interpretation in a conceptually rigid system of codification, in order to cope with the pressure of modernization. In this context, Philipp Heck criticized a development of law operating only with terms and concepts, and called for “thinking obedience” (Heck 1932, p. 107). His alternative model was based on the interpretation of the interests and values underlying law (Interessenjurisprudenz, jurisprudence of interests), while the Freirechtsschule (school of free law), which came into existence at roughly the same time, went even further, asking the judge to take account of non-codified values and of personal evaluation.
After 1918 the accusation associated with Begriffsjurisprudenz changed once again. Julius Binder criticized the neglect of the material ties in the system of pandects and introduced the term “pyramid of concepts” (Binder, 1925, p. 439 ff.). Binder was part of an upheava l in the philosophy of law, in which many legal philosophers ceased to see themselves as being represented by the legislator, whom they had submitted to before 1900 as “legal positivists”. With their call for natural law, they now endorsed anti-liberal counter-positions. Since the 1920s (Schwarz 1928; Beyerle 1939, p. 1 ff.), this new version of B. was associated with the view that pandectism had “silently resumed” Christian Wolff’s geometrical system thinking (Haferkamp 2010/1). Hence, jurisprudence had definitely lost sight of the reality of life (Wieacker 1942, p. 1441 f.). As a result of the deduction of positive law by a method of “formal logic” the “ethical content of the original concept” had “faded beyond recognition” (Larenz 1960, p. 20). Given that the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch was considered a product of Begriffsjurisprudenz, the argument even reached into the present (Haferkamp 2010/2). The critics, on the other hand, asked the judge to introduce social ethics into civil law. The proposals for the content of such social ethics ranged from social equality to a nationalist and racist hypertrophy of the community during National Socialism. There were different answers to the question of where these various social values should come from. Some scholars called for an exploration of the “objective spirit of the system of values” (Larenz 1969, p. 318), others for an “evaluation of social reality” (Esser 1940, p. 135), or, to use a Marxist phrase, for a quasi-empirical orientation on “social reality” (Wilhelm 1958, p. 83). Thus, the image of Begriffsjurisprudenz has been inextricably linked to pivotal and fundamental questions of methodology and legal philosophy to this day.
III. Did Begriffsjurisprudenz exist?
Historically, B. is usually associated with the „historical school of law“ and 19th century „pandectism“, and the names most frequently mentioned are Puchta and Windscheid. For a long time, the accusations were apparently felt to be self-evident. The image was only more closely related to the sources by Wilhelm in 1958. These results are increasingly prone to criticism, although a comprehensive account is still missing.
First of all, it is noticeable that none of the detailed studies of the legal dogmatists support the diagnosis of Begriffsjurisprudenz. Jhering satirized particular exaggerations, while he himself held a leading role in promoting the creation of new dogmatic paradigms. From the methodological programmes analysed by later critics, it cannot be concluded that their application must have displayed deficits of justice. This would be an illegitimate inference from the form to the content. Considering the history of dogmatism, the remoteness from reality which dogmatic Pandestik is traditionally charged with cannot be confirmed. On the contrary, 19th century jurisprudence has established important foundations of modern civil law, which were influential throughout the world, such as their solutions for the problems of property, agency, assignment, impossibility, action negatoria, culpa in contrahendo or mortgage. Moreover, they developed a liberal system of private law, which seamlessly continued the liberal credo of the years before 1878.
Likewise, new enquiries into the method and the dogmatism of particular exponents of Begriffsjurisprudenz consistently yielded the result that closeness to everyday life was constantly addressed and aimed at by these scholars. Bernhard Windscheid regularly supplied his dogmatism with a control of justice, and also left considerable room for “judicial discretion”. Likewise, Georg Friedrich Puchta never lost sight of “practical needs” in his private law. Like Windscheid, he also relied on the judge as a key figure. Besides, the basic value of his legal theory was not the justice of juridical logic, but essentially the justice of Roman law.
Meanwhile, the theoretical foundations of this orientation within jurisprudence increasingly came into focus. Before 1848, it had primarily sought support in philosophy, especially in the works of Kant, in early philosophical Romanticism, Hegel and Schelling. All those approaches agreed that binding law could not be created by deduction from superior concepts. Christian Wolff had lost his influence on the leading scholars. Likewise, the argument from super-positive law has become rare in the 19th century. In general, law was perceived as being something positive, a phenomenon firmly anchored in reality, although not entirely. By concentrating on particular properties of law, notably its faculty to develop an organic system, while remaining a fundamentally historical object of knowledge, scholars tried to find true law in existing law. Among Hegel’s followers (Eduard Gans, Lorenz v. Stein), this attempt was conducted in a rational way, while t he approach among Savigny’s disciples was rather contemplative and empathetic (“Herausfühlen der leitenden Grundsätze”, Savigny 1814, p. 22). Puchta worked with Schelling’s “duplicate rationality” (Peetz 1995, p. 299ff.); he tried to find positive law through historical investigation (in Schelling’s terms: Positive Philosophy) and to understand it through causal connection (Schelling: Negative Philosophy). From this point of view, law remained free in its development. Nevertheless, once fully constituted, it had to face the demands of rationality: a law defying reason is “madness” (Puchta 1841, p. 6). Yet, as the national spirit remained the “obscure forge” where law was created, new causal chains could be set in motion at any time. In this sense, reason only caught hold of law “by a leap”.
For cases where there was no binding legal rule, Puchta and others provided the judge with the competence to devise such a legal rule by using a scientific method. Usually, they suggested that such a sentence should be derived from superior principles of the legal system. This method had long been known as the method of analogy, but in the 19th century, it was correctly described not as a mere conclusion by analogy from one legal rule to another, but as a construction based on a superior principle as its tertium comparationis (Schröder 1997, p. 34 ff.). Even the creation of the principles was thus not a maneuver of ‘formal logic’, but also not merely incomplete induction; it was rather a process sustained by the “power of scientific conviction” (Haferkamp 2004, p. 174 ff.). The accusation of the use of a “method of inversion” is thus beside the point. Moreover, a legal rule created in this way was almost consistently not considered as being on a par with customary or statutory law. For the most part, such methods were rather only perceived as derivative, and were not included in the doctrine of the sources of law (Ogorek 1986, p. 197 ff.). Others like Puchta did call them a source of law, but saw them only as a supporting hypothesis for the judge, which had to make way for any better conclusion and for other sources of law (Haferkamp 2004, p. 371 ff.). Thus, no binding law could be derived from superior tenets. As far as we know, the conception of a ‘pyramid of concepts’ cannot be found in the works of any legal scholar in the 19th century. The same goes for the related accusation that there was no ethical foundation of the legal system. When in the 1830s, the question of the legal concept was discussed among the followers of Savigny, the majority held the view that freedom in private law was necessary in order to promote the good. Inspired by tenets in the theology of resurrection, they believed that only the freedom “to commit evil acts” made it possible to act ethically (Haferkamp 2009, p. 71). For further restrictions on freedom in private law Savigny refered to the auxiliary function of public law (Rückert 1992, p. 247). After 1848, the science of pandectism also went “beyond Roman law” (Jhering 1856, p. 1 ff.) by implementing a liberal trade law corresponding to the zeitgeist. When, in 1878, Bismarck’s conservative turn changed the general course, the editors of the BGB continued to advocate the view that what was needed was not a fusion of private and public law, but a liberal core of civil law supplemented by corrective special laws (Planck 1889, p. 327 ff.). In any case, the retrospective view according to which a whole legal system was derived from nothing but a legal concept never occurred in these debates. Certainly, there were also no liberal arguments appealing to “life”, be it in an empirical and sociological sense or in the ideological sense of the doctrine of “concrete order” (Schmitt 1934, p. 10 ff.). The scholars of private law in the 19th century tried to reshape the ambiguous and contradictory Roman sources of law, in an attempt to construe an easily applicable, reliable and liberal law of goods traffic (Warenverkehrsrecht). Their work was both interpretative and innovative, and it followed its own method of justification. Thus, it defended the autonomy of jurisprudence against the throne, the altar and representatives of social interests. Puchta, in this context, spoke of freedom as the “seed of law” (Puchta 1841, p. 6), Max Weber of “the form as the twin of the truth” (Weber 1902, p. 41).
The term B. was used since 1884 to criticize many variations of the science of pandectism in the 19th century. From the point of view of the history of science, B. constitutes an important key for an understanding of the legal scholarship of the 20th century. For an understanding of the legal scholarship of the 19th century, however, it is rather an impediment.
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VI. Related Items
Binder, Julius | Interessenjurisprudenz | Jhering, Rudolph von | Methodenlehre | Pandektistik | Puchta, Georg Friedrich | Rechtswissenschaft | Savigny, Friedrich Carl von | Windscheid, Bernhard Joseph Hubert
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