“Jurisprudence” derives from the Latin words juris, or law (genitive), and prudentia, or practical wisdom, discretion or understanding. Jurisprudence then, is practical wisdom about the nature of law. In Anglophone contexts, it can refer to Legal Theory or Legal Philosophy.
Contemporary jurisprudence divides, roughly and with grey areas, into two types: those theories that regard law as pure social construction or entirely a matter of social convention. These are called positivist and also (somewhat confusingly since they are, in truth, anti-realist accounts of law) realist theories of law. When combined with moral scepticism, these theories lead to wholesale doubt, not merely about law’s practical connection with justice but about the reality of justice itself. Alternatively, there are those accounts that hold that the nature of human law is, at least in part, to do justice and that anything less degenerates into mere oppression and cannot, in certain cases, bind the human conscience. On this view, there are at least some objective, universal and timeless moral truths which human law must mirror if law is to retain its binding force. Oppression and injustice can never amount to true law however well supported by custom, convention and state sanction, the ordinary markers of law. These theories fall into the natural law tradition. There are Marxist analyses, both old and new, as well as feminist and other contemporary critiques. Even within these schools of thought, the question of the status of the unjust law remains a matter that divides thinkers. Is justice real or is it a human construct? What is the connection between justice and human law? And what, in turn, are their origins and nature?
This site is intended to provide a useful resource for students of jurisprudence and philosophy. There’s a list of references, easy-to-navigate philosophy links to significant works, recent journal articles from certain select journals, external discussion of contemporary ethical debates and a helpful page of news updates, just for fun.
Image: Bodleian Library, Oxford.