Keywords: Comparative Law; Classification of Legal Systems; History and Theory of Taxonomy; Methodological Pluralism; Identity-Building.
Taxonomy of legal systems has always been a major concern for comparative law scholars. Despite the serious critiques raised both against the taxonomic process as such, as well as against its results, handbooks and monographs still rely on a cartographical representation of the legal variety. This essay shall try to answer three main questions: when and why did comparativists start to make recourse to taxonomic reasoning? Are classifications of legal systems still useful? What are the criteria according to which taxonomies should be built and used? The first part of this paper deals with the history of taxonomy, highlighting the relations of legal theory with natural sciences and comparative philology in the XIXth century, and discussing the use of taxonomy in the 1900 Paris Congress. The second part focuses on the theory of taxonomy, discussing the crisis of value-neutral models of description of social phenomena, and making a case for a relativistic and pluralistic approach to the logic of classification.