I'm curious what would happen in a court of law if a defendant (for instance) raised a philosophical objection to the accusations. There are lots of commonsense notions (like causality, or intentionality) that are problematic philosophically.

For instance, suppose someone argued that he wasn't guilty of first degree murder because he didn't believe that premeditation was possible? Would that argument just be discarded? Could a jury be forced to consider the question? Or does each legal system have pre-specified philosophical ground rules within which trials are held?

3 Answers 3


As a defendant, one can argue almost anything in defense of one's self and one's case, as long as one (as a pro se defendent, or one's legal representation) is truthful (see Officer of the court - Wikipedia). There is no legal barrier to any argument or framework of an argument, be it religion or philosophy when one is arguing a case. (But there are limits; arguing that you're a sovereign citizen - or that you're the second coming of Christ - and laws don't apply to you might get you jailed for contempt).

I can argue that I'm entitled to take food from the grocery store without paying because I am entitled to it because I am, well, I am me, the greatest person in the history of mankind, and as such, I don't have to buy food. Because I am me.

Would that argument just be discarded?

But the "I am me" argument isn't going to fly in court (and possibly very quickly because the court will not be happy about a frivolous argument not based in the law) against a charge of theft because we're talking about the rule of law, which is established and adopted as a framework of justice in the interest of a legal system fair to all, and not a speculative framework, such as philosophy, or a religious framework based on concepts of faith. The rule of law is a general agreement (subject to change, of course; see below) that certain things are wrong, and there is a price to pay, and that price to pay is written down and established as a norm and formalized through the lawmaking arm of the government, which can change that rule of law in a lawful way. See Rule of law - Wikipedia.

Could a jury be forced to consider the question?

A jury can't be forced to consider a philosophical (or religious) idea. A judge might encourage a jury to consider a philosophical or religious theory as a way to arrive at a verdict, but to arrive at verdict based in the law, not based on that philosophy or religion. A jury can certainly take a defendants' arguments into consideration; that's the basis of their debates. The members of jury may talk among itself about theories and philosophies in order to debate and arrive at a verdict based in the law. Some members of the jury may only refer to philosophy or relgion, and solely and hold out and prevent a verdict from being arrived at, because that juror(s) are pursuing something based in ideology, or they are confused about the rule of law. Those jurors could be removed from the jury (under the rule of law) in order to arrive at a verdict.

Or does each legal system have pre-specified philosophical ground rules within which trials are held?

It could be argued that our rule of law is derived from a set of philosophical (and arguably religious, too) ground rules that began with the United States Constitution - Wikipedia, and the rule of law as codified as a necessity excludes other philosophical ground rules in the interest of even-handed and fair justice for all.

There are many other rules of law which are based in other legal, philosophical and religious traditions. And those rules of law may include written "ground rules" that are referred to as objective and based on something like a Constitution; or they may include judgements derived from the warm entrails of animals.

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    "there is no legal barrier to any argument or framework of an argument" - I'm not convinced that is true. If you want to raise self-defense, you must convince the judge that you have evidence before he'll let you argue that to the jury, in my state. And I don't think they'd let you utter the words "jury nullification" in front of the jury without holding you in contempt and declaring a mistrial.
    – D M
    Mar 7, 2018 at 16:14
  • I sort of cover that in the second paragraph, "(and possibly very quickly because the court will not be happy about a frivolous argument not based in the law)" but jury nullification and sovereign citizen arguments do happen. Mar 7, 2018 at 17:03
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    The legal system I live within sure as heck doesn't begin, end or involve at all the US constitution. Even that isn't the start of law in the USA, which still adheres to common law precedents in many cases.
    – user4657
    Mar 8, 2018 at 5:29

Generally, the only time it is proper to argue anything other than what the facts will show is in closing arguments. At any other time, this kind of argument would be objected to and shut down immediately.

If a pro se defendant argued philosophically for an interpretation of what basically amount to legal issues, like "can premeditation exist?" in a manner contrary to prevailing case law, the judge would probably instruct the jury that notwithstanding the defendant's argument that whatever, that the defendant has misstated the law and that the jury should ignore this argument and instead rely solely upon the jury instructions given by the court.


Although these are philosophical arguments, they are aimed at the assumptions underlying the legal system, and they are therefore legal arguments.

It would therefore not necessarily be inappropriate to make these arguments, but they would be directed to a judge, rather than a jury. The jury decides factual questions (did you intentionally stab your mother, did the stabbing cause her death); while the judge decides legal questions (what does it mean to act intentionally, how attenuated can the causal link be).

So if your argument is aimed not at what the facts are, but about what the facts mean in a legal context, you make it to the judge, probably in a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, or motion for directed verdict/judgment as a matter of law.

On the questions that you specifically cited -- causation and intentionality -- there's still plenty of room for debate about the exact parameters, but they're pretty firmly rooted in the Anglo-Saxon legal system. So if your motion seeks to overturn 500 years of case law, it had better be pretty thoroughly developed. If it is not, the court may deem it frivolous and impose some kind of sanctions on the person making it.

Additional reading: https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2888&context=californialawreview

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