Does Ireland need constitutional reform?

There has been much talk of constitutional reform in recent days (anyone interested in this area should be reading Here's the text of a short talk I'm giving at a symposium on constitutional reform in the IFSC on Friday, May 21st. Details of the symposium are here.


A constitution is a set of rules which define other rules: a rule-generator.  Those rules (the legal system) guide behaviour, and, when transgressed, activate the legal system-proper. Normally the ruleset is changed iteratively in a common law system via referenda for major changes, and via precedent through stare decisis for smaller changes. Is there a way to represent the Irish legal system graphically, given that we know legal reasoning and language to be one of Wittgenstein’s Language Games? If so, is the outcome of the evolution of the system decidable beforehand? If not, then the constitution cannot iterate sufficiently quickly, and is in fact ‘emergent’. Constitutional reform is therefore always and everywhere a suboptimal hill-climbing problem. We will never know what the best outcome of changing the constitution might be. The best we can do is map the likely changes, and compare them.

[Download the text of the talk]

4 Replies to “Does Ireland need constitutional reform?”

  1. Is there a registration for the symposium? Looks like an interesting lineup.


  2. As ever, interesting paper, Stephen and I do hope it provokes some thought at what I'm sure will be a good conference. Am intrigued by the notion of formal mapping of legal systems. Have an application in mind that I might chat to you about offline, namely trying to make sense of local government legislation in Ireland from say 1850ish on. It's headwrecking stuff trying to get a clear picture of something so (sort of ) incoherent, but I think some semanticy stuff (not to be too technical about it might be the way to go. While it's less ambitious than doing the whole legal system, it's nevertheless a pretty complicated domain.

    Enjoy the conference


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