Inquiry into the Constitutive Role of Language and Concepts in Global Legal Governance

Inquiry into the Constitutive Role of Language and Concepts in Global Legal Governance

Séminaire PILAGG
  • Jacques DerridaJacques Derrida

Professor Fuad Zarbiyev and Vincent Réveillère, with Astrid Von Busekist.

The legal scholar as a parrhesiaste: the courage of truth and the force of tradition in legal scholarship

Professor Fuad Zarbiyev

Roland Barthes famously described the “impotence to imagine the Other” as a defining feature of petit-bourgeois mythology. It would not be a stretch to say that every scholarly tradition, including legal scholarship suffers from the same impotence. What does this entail for the legal self? A relatively conventional thinking in this regard goes like this: as “a thought collective” or a community formed around “paradigms”, the legal community simultaneously enables its members to think like a lawyer and delimits the boundaries of the thinkable. We have learned from Derrida that no language is a subject’s own language. If law is a language, the legal self as a thinking subject is inscribed in that language, is brought into being or interpellated into subjecthood by that language. The limits of her language being the limits of her world (Ludwig Wittgenstein), the legal self cannot think outside the boundaries of the legal language.

Such an account is necessarily incomplete because it would mean that legal scholarship is hermetically closed to alterity. If that were to be the case, how could we account for the fact that despite all its powers, the legal tradition cannot always resist alternative approaches to law? This talk explores the concept of parrhesia discussed in Michel Foucault’s late works as one possible response. Defined as truth-telling that involves a risk for the truth-teller, parrhesia reflects a particular ethical stance towards truthfulness. My argument is that by acting as a parrhesiaste, a legal scholar can operate as a founder of a new discursivity and broaden the field of sayable, ultimately overcoming the tradition’s resistance. How such a thing happens in practice and what are its conditions of success is hard to conceptualize in the form of a formulaic theory, but my claim is that the very possibility of parrhesia constitutes a powerful threat to the tradition as an engine of change.


Vincent Réveillère

Drawing on works in pragmatic philosophy and anthropology, I propose to focus on the conceptual practices of legal actors. Legal concepts are not mere tools, totally under control, used to achieve certain ends defined in other terms, outside the law. They are far more intriguing and fascinating than that. They enable and limit what participants to a language-game can do, and they can even influence what they may want to do. Legal controversies, like every conceptual practice, occur in a certain grammar, which both enables and constrains legal actors, and which differs from one forum to another. I will examine what this implies for legal actors who have to argue in different intellectual contexts and focus on conceptual translation.

The program of the seminars is available on the PILAGG website.

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Event Date: 
Friday, 28 February, 2020 - 12:30 - 14:30
Event Location: 
Sciences Po Law School, 13 rue de l’Université, 75007 Paris, Room 410T
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