Monash University

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Damaged law: Theodor Adorno and the critique of jurisprudence

posted on 2017-02-16, 03:09 authored by Finney, Timothy Michael Luke
This thesis addresses the possibility, form and key features of a jurisprudence or theory of law based on the philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno. The theory of law I propose draws on Adorno's critique of the thoroughgoing abstraction of contemporary society, which considers existence only in terms of universal concepts. I contend that the field of law provides a paradigmatic example of the operation of identity-thinking. In making this argument I draw on the jurisprudential theories of Ronald Dworkin, Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Alan Norrie in particular. I also draw on the work of J. M. Bernstein in proposing an brand of normative ethics based on Adorno's philosophy. I argue that the space between law's abstract itemisation of situations and subjects over which it passes judgment and the full, non-identical particularity of those situations and subjects forms a gap between the operation of law and the possibility of justice. By training its gaze to the gap itself and maintaining a self-reflective attitude towards its own distorting effects, I argue that an "Adornian" jurisprudence can more successfully avoid doing "violence" to the world it seeks to adjudicate. In particular, this jurisprudence would need to negotiate the space between the law's current reliance on universal ethical principles and a more substantial engagement with the situation presented for judgment, so as to ask how such a situation might give rise to its own, particular ethical response.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Benjamin

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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