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Law and the perils of philosophical grafts
  1. Richard E Ashcroft
  1. Correspondence to Professor Richard E Ashcroft, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS, UK; r.ashcroft{at}

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Charles Foster and Jonathan Herring are to be congratulated on their useful presentation of the roles played by concepts of personhood and identity in English medical law.1 However, I fear that the project they have undertaken here is misconceived. It is an interesting and important misconception, which is widely shared in the literature on medical law and ethics; but a misconception it remains.

The problem is this. What we call ‘the Law’ is in fact a complex assemblage of institutions, rules, accredited persons, practices and systems. What it is not is a self-sufficient, integrated and self-interpreting system of doctrine. As such it does not have a clear structure which we can excavate and the idea that we can find concepts which explain and unify that structure at some deep level is thus quixotic. To approach ‘the Law’ in that way is to pursue a chimaera. We should instead think of ‘the Law’ as Wittgenstein taught us to approach a language.2 We can find concepts through investigation of language in practical use, but the …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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