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Conference Theme


Hans Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law: Conceptions and Misconceptions

Hans Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law provides a particular approach to law and normativity. It offers a grammar and a vocabulary that helps us to identify some legal concepts and problems as essential and to dismiss others as alien to the main tasks of legal scholarship. Far more fundamentally, it also is and claims a theory of what legal scholarship is, can or should be. This approach to what it means to engage in scholarship is often implicit and seldom discussed in literature – this lack of sustained attention means that it is also one of the more problematic parts of the Pure Theory inviting critique and dissent.

The Pure Theory of Law has not lost its potential to spark interest and controversy in the more than one hundred years since Kelsen first expounded it.

However, it also still generates, as it always has, a fair amount of perplexity but also of misinterpretation. The international scholarly community has long discussed and continues to discuss some writings and some notions, yet large tracts of his work and many strands of argument are relatively unknown. In addition, while Kelsen's own writings are frequently read and discussed, this is not the case for other members of the Vienna School of Jurisprudence. The conference wants to broaden the debate on the Pure Theory between legal cultures by also including some of its less well-known aspects.
The conference thus attempts to bridge legal-cultural, linguistic and professional divides and will explore the relevance of the Pure Theory's arguments today. It will go beyond the exegesis of Kelsen's oeuvre and aims at open conversations about the merits and flaws of the Pure Theory of Law in confrontation and communication with fundamentally diverging views. Which of its conceptions are still helpful today, which of its misconceptions – or misconceptions about it – are best avoided?