I Know You Are, but What Am I? A Temporal Approach to Legal Classification


No real epistemological disagreement exists that legal knowledge can be represented and understood in categorical form. At issue is the extent to which categorical analysis captures the full complexity of legal reasoning. Can legal reasoning be represented as a taxonomy of mutually-exclusive classes, a taxonomy considered necessary if legal certainty and the rule of law are to prevail, or does the complexity of the process defy attempts at exhaustive classification?

The author agrees with those who argue that multiple legal concepts must often be applied simultaneously to resolve legal problems. The author also acknowledges that simultaneous application of multiple concepts appears to exclude the possibility of representing legal knowledge as mutually-exclusive classes. The objective of this analysis is to reconcile the ostensible incompatibility between these two propositions by arguing that concurrency of legal concepts does not preclude determinacy in categorical analysis.

Notwithstanding conventional wisdom to the contrary, the reality of legal reasoning, which involves the application of overlapping concepts, can indeed be reconciled with the fact that the utility of legal classification as a way of representing legal knowledge depends upon the determinacy of legal classes. Briefly stated, reconciling concurrency and determinacy is simply a matter of perspective.

If we are to take seriously the epistemology of legal classification, that is to say, the question of whether classification can provide an account of the origins and nature of legal knowledge, we need to look not just at the product of legal classification but at the process itself. The fixed boundaries of spatial classification do not provide scope for concurrency and determinacy to exist simultaneously within a single class. We can, however, take account of both concurrency and determinacy within a single class by adopting a temporal rather than spatial perspective. From this perspective, we are able to expand our focus from legal classes as products to legal classification as a process. Such a perspective allows us to focus on the dynamic relationship of relativity between legal concepts as they operate in context, rather than the static relationship of demarcation that exists when legal classes are examined in the abstract.


Intellectual Property Law | Jurisprudence | Law | Property Law and Real Estate

Date of this Version

April 2006