Essentially Oxymoronic Concepts

in Global Journal of Comparative Law
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Can someone be guilty and innocent, or an act be lawful and unlawful, at the same time? Or is it possible to express something which is at the same time “stupid” and “smart”? As a matter of fact, the present paper argues that these things are not only possible but also happen nowadays more frequently as there is currently a rise in the formulation and usage of what I term “essentially oxymoronic concepts” in various scientific discourses and public debates as well as in daily conversations. These concepts are used to describe and analyse a wide range of increasingly complex phenomena that are caused by, inter alia, a general perception of an acceleration of change framed in a system delimited by apparently antagonistic concepts. The article first explores the potential impact of these concepts on legal science and their relevance for it. Then it advocates the idea that – in contrast to essentially contested concepts – essentially oxymoronic concepts elevate conflicts from the external and interpersonal to the internal and intrapersonal level of the mind.

Essentially Oxymoronic Concepts

in Global Journal of Comparative Law




H. Patrick Glenn‘Are Legal Traditions Incommensurable?’The American Journal of Comparative Law 49(1) (2001) 133 at 142 (footnotes omitted).


Walter B. Gallie‘Essentially Contested Concepts’Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56 (1956) 167; see also Walter B. Gallie ‘Art as an Essentially Contested Concept’ The Philosophical Quarterly 6(23) (1956) 97.


 See also Eugene Garver‘Rhetoric and Essentially Contested Arguments’Philosophy and Rhetoric 11 (1978) 156 at 168 (‘The term essentially contested concepts gives a name to a problematic situation that many people recognize: that in certain kinds of talk there is a variety of meanings employed for key terms in an argument and there is a feeling that dogmatism (“My answer is right and all others are wrong”) scepticism (“All answers are equally true (or false); everyone has a right to his own truth”) and eclecticism (“Each meaning gives a partial view so the more meanings the better”) are none of them the appropriate attitude towards that variety of meanings’).


 See also Bart KoskoFuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic (New York: Hyperion1993).


 See Paul B. de Laat‘Copyright or Copyleft? An Analysis of Property Regimes for Software Development’Research Policy 34 (2005) 1511and Siva Vaidhyanathan Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York: New York University Press 2011).


 See Habibul H. Khondker‘Globalisation to Glocalisation: A Conceptual Exploration’Intellectual Discourse (13)(2) (2005) 181.


 See Joseph A. SchumpeterCapitalism Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper1942).


 See Byron FisherThe Supply and Demand Paradox: A Treatise on Economics (North Charleston: BookSurge Publishing2007).


Marquis de SadeThe 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings (New York: Grove Press1966) (Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver trans.); and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Venus in Furs (New York: Penguin 2000) (Joachim Neugroschel trans.).


Joel KohlMarital Bliss and Other Oxymorons (Los Angeles: CCC Publications1994).


Charles HandyThe Age of Paradox (Boston: Harvard Business School Press1995).


 See e.g. Jeremy Waldron‘Is the Rule of Law an Essentially Contested Concept (in Florida)?’Law and Philosophy (21)(2) (2002) 137.


 See Robert Cover‘The Supreme Court, 1982 Term: Foreword: Nomos and Narrative’Harvard Law Review (97)(4) (1983) 4 at 4 (footnote omitted).


 See Benjamin N. CardozoThe Paradoxes of Legal Science (New York: Columbia University Press1928) 4–5.


 See Neil MacCormickRhetoric and the Rule of Law: A Theory of Legal Reasoning (Oxford: Oxford University Press2005) 32–48.


 See e.g. Giovanni SartorLegal Reasoning: A Cognitive Approach to the Law (Dordrecht: Springer2005) 50–85.


Mircea EliadePatterns in Comparative Religion (Lincoln, NB, and London: University of Nebraska Press1996) 460.


Éliphas LévyParadoxes of the Highest Science (Berwick: Ibis Press2004) 1–2.


OvidMetamorphoses (Cambridge: Harvard University Press2005) (Frank Justus Miller trans.).


James N. Rosenau‘Governance in the 21st Century’Global Governance (1) (1995) 13 at 13.


 See e.g. Richard E. NisbettThe Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently … and Why (New York: Free Press2003).


 See Charles M. BakewellSource Book in Ancient Philosophy (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons1907) 32.


 See Nathan Isaacs‘The Law and the Facts’Columbia Law Review (22)(1) (1922) 1 at 1.


 See Mark L. Johnson‘Mind, Metaphor, Law’Mercer Law Review (58) (2006) 845 at 845.


Henri BergsonCreative Evolution (London: The Electric Book Company2001) 294–295.


 See Paul Nora‘Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire’Representations (26) (1989) 7 at 15.


George P. Fletcher‘Paradoxes in Legal Thought’Columbia Law Review (85) (1985) 1263 at 1292.


 See Rostam J. Neuwirth‘Law as Mnemonics: The Mind as the Prime Source of Normativity’European Journal of Legal Studies (2)(1) (2008) 143.


 See Ludwig WittgensteinTractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Kegan Paul1922) at para. 3.02 (‘A thought contains the possibility of the situation of which it is the thought. What is thinkable is possible too’).


Alois M. HaasSermo mysticus: Studien zu Theologie und Sprache der deutschen Mystik (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag1989) 27–28 (translation from German by author}.


Robert L. StevensonThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (London: Longmans & Green1886).

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