Professor Kenneth Ehrenberg

Professor of Jurisprudence and Philosophy
+44 (0)1483 686131
33 AB 05

Academic and research departments

School of Law.



Professor Kenneth Ehrenberg started with the School of Law in 2017 and is Co-Director of the Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy. Prior to that he held appointments in philosophy and law at the University of Alabama and at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 2010, he was HLA Hart Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Ethics and Philosophy of Law. He holds a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University and a JD from Yale Law School.

Research interests

Professor Ehrenberg's primary interests are in general jurisprudence - especially jurisprudential methodology, legal ontology, legal authority and normativity, and legal validity - and the epistemology of evidence law.

University roles and responsibilities

  • University Ethics Committee
  • Co-Director, Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy

    Affiliations and memberships


    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2024)How exclusionary reasons guide, In: Jurisprudence15(1)pp. 71-76 Routledge

    In ‘(Really) Defending Exclusionary Reasons’, Monti seeks to defend Raz’ notion of exclusionary reasons from the attack made by Daniel Whiting. Monti agrees with Whiting that exclusionary reasons cannot motivate and so suggests that they operate by guiding rather than motivating. However, Monti’s account of guiding omits the key feature that they can guide even when one’s action is the opposite to what the exclusionary reason seems to recommend. An amended account of what it is to be guided by exclusionary reasons is needed to give the Razian account the explanatory power it is due.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2024)You Might be an Anarchist if ..., In: Oxford Journal of Legal Studies Oxford University Press

    I show that conceptual philosophical anarchism, the claim that law cannot give reasons for action, is entailed by several popular theories about law. Reductionists about practical authority believe that all supposedly legitimate practical authority reduces to forms of theoretical authority. They tend to embrace anarchism, but some readers might not be clear why. Trigger theorists about reason-giving believe that all reason-giving merely activates pre-existing conditional reasons. Natural lawyers hold that all legal reasons are sourced in the natural law, which entails that positive law cannot provide reasons for action. If you are attracted to any of these theories and still think that positive law creates new practical reasons, you might have to give up one or the other position. If anarchism is entailed by believing the normativity in law's directives pre-dates the directive, only a few may be able to avoid it, Hans Kelsen, Mark Greenberg, and Joseph Raz being the most likely.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2015)Law's artifactual nature: how legal institutions generate normativity, In: G Pavlakos, Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco (eds.), Reasons and Intentions in Law and Practical Agencypp. 247-266 Cambridge University Press
    Kenneth M Ehrenberg (2018)Law Is an Institution, an Artifact, and a Practice, In: Law as an Artifactpp. 177-191 Oxford University Press

    Seeing law as an artifact might raise concerns about a metaphysical clash between this view and one in which law is described as a practice. Many have argued that seeing law as an artifact is compatible with, or even demanded by, H.L.A. Hart’s legal positivism, in which law is based on a practice theory rule (and which this chapter shows to fit nicely with Raimo Tuomela’s understanding of social practices). However, Scott Shapiro has attacked Hart’s view for committing a category mistake, claiming rules and practices are ontologically distinct. Seeing law as a kind of artifact helps to show how practices can be normative in that artifacts come bundled with (weak) norms of usage and (stronger) norms of recognition. Lingering doubts about seeing law as a kind of artifact are addressed in this chapter by understanding its institutional nature.

    Kenneth M Ehrenberg (2022)Intentions in artifactual understandings of law, In: The Artifactual Nature of Lawpp. 16-36 Edward Elgar Publishing

    The primary aim of this chapter is to show that several missteps made by others in their thinking about law as an artifact are due to misconceptions about the role of intentions in understanding law as an artifact. I first briefly recap my own contention that law is a genre of institutionalized abstract artifacts (put forth in The Functions of Law (OUP 2016) and subsequent papers), mostly following Searle's understanding of institutions and Thomasson's understanding of public artifacts. I highlight the central place that this theory affords law's functions, without requiring the theorist to say that possession or performance of the function is either necessary or sufficient for inclusion in the class of law. Some of the most common misunderstandings are exemplified in Brian Leiter's paper 'Legal Positivism about the Artifact Law'. He thinks that holding an intentionalist view of artifacts commits the theorist to privileging drafters' intentions when interpreting law. (It doesn't.) He also has confusions about the differences between artifact tokens and artifact types leading him to a problematically broad understanding of artifacts. Another problem can be seen in thinking that functional understandings of artifacts are vulnerable to the same problems that arise in functional explanations for biological systems. I go on to consider the work of Luka Burazin and Corrado Roversi, addressing worries that making intentionality central to artifacts implies too much conscious thought is required to make one, noting that several theories of intentionality do not require conscious thought in the execution of intentional action. While those who think a central place for intentionality threatens to leave us unable to explain customary law, this can be dealt with by noting the important distinction between customary rules and customary laws (where the latter requires a decision to enlist public aid in redressing violations). I claim that authors' intentions are communicated requests for the artifacts' audiences to see the artifacts as members of their putative kinds. Finally, I address the question of whether or not legal systems are themselves artifacts and institutions, given that they may or may not have been intentionally created. An early lawgiver might have created a legal system by accident in the process of handing down the first laws. I raise the possibility that we might want to impute intentionality to necessary by-products of artifact creation, seeing those by-products as artifacts as well.

    Kenneth M Ehrenberg (2023)An Artefactual Theory of Precedent, In: Philosophical Foundations of Precedentpp. 268-280 Oxford University Press

    This chapter provides an explanation of precedent as a kind of artefact, in keeping with broader accounts of law that do so, specifically the author’s account of law as a genre of institutionalized abstract artefact. The chapter develops its explanation by responding to an argument by Dan Priel against seeing the common law as an artefact when understood to be a form of custom. The chapter shows that customs can themselves be artefacts but also that the precedential elements of common law are not necessarily quite as customary as sometimes considered, showing that the common law built from precedents fits within a distributed design model of artefacts and that stare decisis has a wider systemic function of upholding certain rule of law principles. It ends with some considerations about the institutional nature of precedents, specifically that judicial decisions are most often both applications and developments of legal norms, but also determinations of legal validity.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2015)Less evidence, better knowledge, In: McGill Law Journal/Revue de droit de McGill60(2)pp. 173-214 Faculty of Law of McGill University

    In his 1827 work Rationale of Judicial Evidence, Jeremy Bentham famously argued against exclusionary rules such as hearsay, preferring a policy of “universal admissibility” unless the declarant is easily available. Bentham’s claim that all relevant evidence should be considered with appropriate instructions to fact finders has been particularly influential among judges, culminating in the “principled approach” to hearsay in Canada articulated in R. v. Khelawon. Furthermore, many scholars attack Bentham’s argument only for ignoring the realities of juror bias, admitting universal admissibility would be the best policy for an ideal jury. This article uses the theory of epistemic contextualism to justify the exclusion of otherwise relevant evidence, and even reliable hearsay, on the basis of preventing shifts in the epistemic context. Epistemic contextualism holds that the justification standards of knowledge attributions change according to the contexts in which the attributions are made. Hearsay and other kinds of information the assessment of which rely upon fact finders’ more common epistemic capabilities push the epistemic context of the trial toward one of more relaxed epistemic standards. The exclusion of hearsay helps to maintain a relatively high standards context hitched to the standard of proof for the case and to prevent shifts that threaten to try defendants with inconsistent standards.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2013)Law's Authority is not a Claim to Preemption, In: W Waluchow, S Sciaraffa (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of the Nature of Lawpp. 53-74 Oxford University Press

    In recent years we have witnessed major developments in philosophical inquiry concerning the nature of law and, with the continuing development of international and transnational legal institutions, in the phenomenon of law itself. This volume gathers leading writers in the field to take stock of current debates on the nature of law and the aims and methods of legal philosophy. The volume covers four broad themes. The essays within the first theme address and develop the traditional debates between legal positivism, natural law theory, and Dworkinian interpretivism. Papers within the second theme focus on the power of coercion, often overlooked in contemporary legal philosophy. The third set of papers addresses the aims and methods of legal theory, and the role of conceptual analysis. The final section explores new methods and issues in the subject, and offers fresh starting points for future work in the field. Gathering many leading and up-and-coming writers in the subject, the volume offers a snapshot of the best current work in general jurisprudence.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2013)Pattern Languages and Institutional Facts: Functions and Coherences in the Law, In: M Araszkiewicz, J Šavelka (eds.), Coherence: Insights from Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Artificial Intelligence Springer Dordrecht Heidelberg

    This book is a thorough treatise concerned with coherence and its significance in legal reasoning. The individual chapters present the topic from the general philosophical perspective, the perspective of legal-theory as well as the viewpoint of cognitive sciences and the research on artificial intelligence and law. As it has turned out the interchange of knowledge among these disciplines is very fruitful for each of them, providing mutual inspiration and increasing understanding of a given topic. This book is a unique resource for anyone interested in the concept of coherence and the role it plays in reasoning. As this book captures important contemporary issues concerning the ongoing discussion on coherence and law, those interested in legal reasoning should find it particularly helpful. By presenting such a broad scope of views and methods on approaching the issue of coherence we hope to promote the general interest in the topic as well as the academic research that centers around coherence and law.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2020)Medical complicity and the legitimacy of practical authority., In: Ethics, Medicine and Public Health12 Elsevier Masson SAS

    If medical complicity is understood as compliance with a directive to act against the professional's best medical judgment, the question arises whether it can ever be justified. This paper will trace the contours of what would legitimate a directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment (and in possible contravention of her oath) using Joseph Raz's service conception of authority. The service conception is useful for basing the legitimacy of authoritative directives on the ability of the putative authority to enable subjects to comply better with reasons that already apply to them. Hence, the service conception bases the legitimacy of practical authority on a certain kind of greater knowledge or expertise. This helps to focus the conundrum regarding complicity on the clash of expertise between the medical expert and the governing body tasked with coordinating behaviour and otherwise devising rules for the social good. The ethical dilemma presented by a hypothetically legitimate directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment also serves to highlight the moral dimension of one's duty to obey a legitimate authority.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2016)The Functions of Law Oxford University Press

    What is the nature of law and what is the best way to discover it? This book argues that law is best understood in terms of the social functions it performs wherever it is found in human society. In order to support this claim, law is explained as a kind of institution and as a kind of artefact. To say that it is an institution is to say that it is designed for creating and conferring special statuses to people so as to alter their rights and responsibilities toward each other. To say that it is an artefact is to say that it is a tool of human creation that is designed to signal its usability to people who interact with it. This picture of law's nature is marshalled to critique theories of law that see it mainly as a product of reason or morality, understanding those theories via their conceptions of law's function. It is also used to argue against those legal positivists who see law's functions as relatively minor aspects of its nature. This method of conceptualizing law's nature helps us to explain how the law, understood as social facts, can make normative demands upon us. It also recommends a methodology for understanding law that combines elements of conceptual analysis with empirical research for uncovering the purposes to which diverse peoples put their legal activities.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2011)Law is not (best considered) an essentially contested concept, In: International Journal of Law in Context7(2)pp. 209-232 Cambridge University Press

    I argue that law is not best considered an essentially contested concept. After first explaining the notion of essential contestability and disaggregating law into several related concepts, I show that the most basic and general concept of law does not fit within the criteria offered for essential contestation. I buttress this claim with the explanation that essential contestation is itself a framework for understanding complex concepts and therefore should only be applied when it would yield a greater understanding of uses of the concept to which it is applied. I then show that, even if law meets some basic criteria of essential contestation, applying the appellation does not helpfully illuminate the most general concept of law and therefore it should not be used, while allowing that it might be more useful for the related concept of the rule of law.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2020)The Institutionality of Legal Validity, In: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research100(2)pp. 277-301 Wiley

    The most influential theory of law in current analytic legal philosophy is legal positivism, which generally understands law to be a kind of institution. The most influential theory of institutions in current analytic social philosophy is that of John Searle. One would hope that the two theories are compatible, and in many ways they certainly are. But one incompatibility that still needs ironing out involves the relation of the social rule that undergirds the validity of any legal system (H.L.A. Hart’s rule of recognition) to Searle’s notion of codification: the idea that institutions need official declarations of their constitutive rules in order to enjoy the full benefits of institutions. The incompatibility arises from the fact that, in order to do its institutional work, the basic validity rule must be codified in Searle’s sense—yet, given the particular role it has in legal positivism, it may be impossible to codify in the Searlean sense. In this paper I develop the incompatibility in detail, consider and reject consigning the basic validity rule to Searle’s “Background” capacities that support institutional facts, and conclude that the best route to eliminating it while doing a minimum of damage to the two theories is to make a slight emendation to Searle’s theory of institutions.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2009)Defending the Possibility of a Neutral Functional Theory of Law, In: Oxford Journal of Legal Studies29(1)pp. 91-113 Oxford University Press

    I argue that there is methodological space for a functional explanation of the nature of law that does not commit the theorist to a view about the value of that function for society, nor whether law is the best means of accomplishing it. A functional explanation will nonetheless provide a conceptual framework for a better understanding of the nature of law. First I examine the proper role for function in a theory of law and then argue for the possibility of a neutral functional theory, addressing issues raised by Leslie Green, Stephen Perry, Michael Moore and John Finnis.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2008)Archimedean Metaethics Defended, In: Metaphilosophy39(4-5)pp. 508-529 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    We sometimes say our moral claims are ‘‘objectively true,’’ or are ‘‘right, even if nobody believes it.’’ These additional claims are often taken to be staking out metaethical positions, representative of a certain kind of theorizing about morality that ‘‘steps outside’’ the practice in order to comment on its status. Ronald Dworkin has argued that skepticism about these claims so understood is not tenable because it is impossible to step outside such practices. I show that externally skeptical metaethical theory can withstand his attacks, thereby defending the possibility of this kind of metatheoretical method and showing that the additional objectivity claims still make sense as external claims. Four interpretations of the additional objectivity claims can still be understood externally: as secondary properties, as arguing for some form of causal correspondence, as explaining error, and under Blackburn’s expressivism. In the end, Dworkin’s argument can be turned against itself.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2011)Joseph Raz's Theory of Authority, In: Philosophy Compass6(12)pp. 884-894 Wiley

    Joseph Raz’s theory of authority has become influential among moral, political, and legal philosophers. This article will provide an overview and accessible explanation of the theory, guiding those coming to it for the first time as to its theoretical ambitions within the wider issues of authority, and through its intricacies. I first situate the theory among philosophical examinations of authority, and then explain the theory itself in detail.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2011)Critical Reception of Raz's Theory of Authority, In: Philosophy Compass6(11)pp. 777-785 Wiley

    This is a canvass to the critical reaction to Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority, as well as actual or possible replies by Raz. Familiarity is assumed with the theory itself, covered in a previous article. The article focuses primarily on direct criticisms of Raz’s theory, rather than replies developed in the context of a theorist’s wider project.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2013)Functions in Jurisprudential Methodology, In: Philosophy Compass8(5)pp. 447-456 Wiley

    This paper guides the reader through the use of functions in contemporary legal philosophy: in developing those philosophies and through methodological debates over their proper role. This paper is broken into two sections. In the first I canvass the role of functions in the legal philosophies of several mid to late twentieth century Anglo-American general jurisprudents whose theories are still common topics of discussion: Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart, Lon L. Fuller, John Finnis, and Joseph Raz. In the second, I examine contemporary arguments over the role of functions in the methodology of legal philosophy.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2016)Law as Plan and Artefact, In: Jurisprudence7(2)pp. 325-340 Taylor & Francis

    Scott Shapiro’s theory that law is a social plan is helpful in seeing law essentially as a tool of human creation and as such is sympathetic to understanding law in terms of the social functions it performs, a method I argue for elsewhere. I focus here on two problems with the theory as presented. The planning theory does not adequately explain the persistence of law beyond the utility of those who implement it. Generally, plans can cease to exist as soon as those engaged in them have no more use for them. Laws however, must usually be declared invalid or otherwise nullified for them to have no further effect. Shapiro’s use of self-certification to explain how law is differentiated from other forms of social planning is ad hoc and threatens circularity when he admits it to be a matter of degree. Both of these issues can be better solved by seeing law as an institutionalised abstract artefact, with a greater emphasis upon the nature of institutions doing much of the work done by the idea of planning.

    Kenneth M Ehrenberg (2019)Replies to comments on The Functions of Law, In: Jurisprudence10(2)pp. 255-280 Taylor & Francis

    I am immensely thankful for and humbled by the time and effort these excellent contributors have expended in commenting upon my book. They have given me much to think about and made me realise that there were several places where my thoughts could have used more development or clarification. I will do my best here to provide those. Sometimes, it will be a matter of pointing out other places in the book where the issue was addressed, with the acknowledgment that if my interlocutor missed the connection, it is entirely my fault for not having drawn it more clearly.

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (1999)Social structure and responsibility, In: Loyola Poverty Law Journal5(Spring) Loyola University School of Law
    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2007)The Ideal and Non-Ideal in Behavior Guidance: Reflections on Law and Buddhism in Conversation with the Dalai Lama, In: Buffalo Law Review55pp. 675-679 FACULTY OF LAW AND JURISPRUDENCE, STATE UNIVERSITY
    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2003)Procedural justice and information in conflict-resolving institutions, In: Albany Law Review67(1)pp. 167-209 Albany Law School
    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2011)The Anarchist Official: A Problem for Legal Positivism, In: Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy36pp. 89-113 Australian Society of Legal Philosophy

    Many legal theorists have expounded conceptions of law or legal systems that depend heavily upon a key role to be played by legal officials. In most cases, it is not just the actions, but the beliefs of those legal officials that make the difference between a legal system and simple control by coercion. In H.L.A. Hart’s positivist theory, legal officials create legal facts by accepting legal rules (especially a central validity rule) from an internal point of view. Since these legal facts are social facts, their dependence upon the acceptance of legal officials makes it possible for ordinary citizens to have legal obligations without those citizens ever accepting that they do..

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2016)Ontology and Reason Giving in Law, In: T Gizbert-Studnicki, A Dyrda, P Banas (eds.), Metaphilosophy of Lawpp. 147-158 Hart Publishing

    John Gardner has noted that legal positivism is more a theory of legal validity than it is a theory about law ’ s nature. 1 This is true in that one can be a legal positivist and hold a variety of different theories about law ’ s nature, but not to the extent that ‘ anything goes ’ ontologically speaking. Rather, it seems fairly diffi cult to be a legal positivist and not say that the law is a kind of social fact. That being said, however, there are a variety of ways of creating social facts so there is some room for disagreement when it comes to the nature of law within the wide umbrella of legal positivism. If our focus is legal validity, then we may not have too much reason to wade into these deeper metaphysical waters. However, I believe that legal positivism has a challenge that is not (as) present in other theories of law: the problem of explaining law ’ s normativity. I contend that one of the best hopes for meeting this challenge is to be found in getting more clarity about what it is that yields these special social facts, although I remain open to the possibility that the challenge can also be met in other ways. Let us fi rst get a bit more clarity on the challenge itself, then we will see how settling the metaphysical questions about law can help to meet the challenge, and then I can suggest how my preferred answer to the metaphysical questions meets the challenge...

    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2008)Philosophy of Law (in Chinese, ZhaoYun Pan trans.), In: JiYuan Yu, ZhiWei Zhang (eds.), Philosophypp. 296-322 China Renmin University Press
    Kenneth Ehrenberg (2008)House v Tritter: On the Clash of Theoretical and Practical Authority, In: H Jacoby (eds.), House and Philosophypp. 174-186 John Wiley & Sons
    Kenneth Ehrenberg, GP Terravecchia (2010)La pretesa di prevenire: una discussion della teoria di Raz sull'ontologia legale [The Claim of Pre-Emption: A Discussion of Raz's Theory of Legal Ontology], In: A Allegra (eds.), Confronti con la filosofia analiticapp. 183-194 University of Padua Press