Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 31]

Rationalism and empiricism

Disciplines like law, political science and international relations are sciences of realities and, therefore, sciences of experience. To be more precise, they are human-made[1] and, therefore, they are sciences of human cultural experience and not of natural or caused experience.

The previous post introduced briefly two accounts of cosmopolitanism and sovereignty: a factual conception and an ideal conception. The multidimensional theory[2] differs from both rationalism and empiricism. The former maintains that the object to be known is ideal and, therefore, it is not apprehended by our five senses but by our reason or intellect. For this view, for example, legal science would be a science of ideal objects because norms are known by using our intellect (as we do with the objects of mathematics) but they are not perceived by our five senses. 

The empiricism opposes this ideal view of law and accepts its inter-socio and psychological realities. Consequently, knowledge is based on what the sociological or psychophysical experience reveal. Empiricism does not recognize any other contact with experience than that by means of sensible intuition. This way of knowing helps us understand the nature with which legal knowledge dissolves the distinction between the knowledge of our data by reference to another event that occurs. For example, by interpreting the law it may be possible to know the real intention of those who are sanctioned based on the mere link of existence present between the fact and the law. 

Consider a state’s declaration of independence. For rationalism, law may be interested in the document itself and its formal elements (e.g. signatures). For empiricism, however, political science may be interested in circumstantial socio-environmental elements such as the relationship between the Empire and the former colony.

The multidimensional analysis accepts that ideal or abstract elements and facts are not at odds. The object to be known by the jurist, political scientist or expert in international relations is not the norm or the naked fact, but human behavior center of legal norms.

The view focuses on a particular angle in the same way that the object of knowledge of the astronomer are the stars and not the relevant laws. This does not mean that, for example, Newton’s laws are not of use to the astronomer. These laws are concepts, intellectual constructions by which it is possible to know the stars.

Similarly, for legal and political sciences and international relations the object of knowledge is not either the norm or the fact, but human behavior in its interference or interrelations with others. Abstractions such as norms and concepts are, therefore, simply the means with which we think and understand that behavior.  In that sense, for example, legal norms are ideal objects of a logical type like Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law.

A multidimensional view considers human behavior is an object of experience radically different from that of natural objects. While natural objects constitute an experience of necessity governed by the relationship between cause and effect, human behavior constitutes an experience of freedom where the creation of something axiologically original emerges at every moment.

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Science as culture: understanding different objects and methods.

Author of:

Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Friday 11th June 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] The author uses intentionally gender-neutral language.

[2] See the blog series Law as multidimensional phenomena available at accessed 11/06/2021.

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