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.
Walter B. Gallie‘Essentially Contested Concepts’Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society56 (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 Rhetoric11 (1978) 156at 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 Paul B. de Laat‘Copyright or Copyleft? An Analysis of Property Regimes for Software Development’Research Policy34 (2005) 1511and Siva Vaidhyanathan Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York: New York University Press 2011).
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.).
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’).