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Legitimate Expectations, Legal Transitions, and Wide Reflective Equilibrium

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Recent scholarly attention to ‘legitimate expectations’ and their role in legal transitions has yielded widely varying principles for distinguishing between legitimate and non-legitimate expectations. This article suggests that methodological reflection may facilitate substantive progress in the debate. Specifically, it proposes and defends the use of a wide reflective equilibrium methodology for constructing, justifying and critiquing theories of legitimate expectations and other kinds of normative theories about legal transitions. The methodology involves three levels of analysis — normative principles, their theoretical antecedents, and considered judgements about their implications in specific cases — and iteration between these three levels in an effort to ensure coherence. The payoffs from applying this methodology to the legitimate expectations debate are illustrated through a discussion of examples from the existing literature. Some proposed innovations to the methodology, including the incorporation of insights from the ideal/non-ideal theory debate, are likely to be of wider interest to political theorists.


I am grateful to Eric Brandstedt, Kai Spiekermann, Joe Mazor, two anonymous reviewers and the guest editors of the present special issue for helpful comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the conference on Justice and Legitimate Expectations, held in Graz during June 2016, at which I benefited from discussions with the conference participants, among whom I wish especially to thank Sabine Hohl, who formally responded to my presentation, and Alex Brown.


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Published Online: 2017-9-26
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

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