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Moral Philosophy and Politics

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Legitimate Expectations, Legal Transitions, and Wide Reflective Equilibrium

Fergus Green
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  • Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK
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Published Online: 2017-09-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mopp-2016-0029


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.

Keywords: legitimate expectations; transitions; methodology; reflective equilibrium; non-ideal theory


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-09-26

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Moral Philosophy and Politics, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 177–205, ISSN (Online) 2194-5624, ISSN (Print) 2194-5616, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mopp-2016-0029.

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