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Jurisprudence and legal theory LA3005

Jurisprudence poses the fundamental questions about the nature of law, its place in society and how a legal system operates as a system of rules and as a social institution engaging with ideals of justice and often conflicting moral codes.​

Topics covered

  • The nature of jurisprudence: Subject matter. Philosophical method and analytical philosophy.
  • Natural law theory and its critics: The history of natural law. The natural law theories of Fuller and Finnis. The moral theory of law of Dworkin.
  • Legal positivism and its critics: Imperative and sanction theories of law, including the theories of Austin and Kelsen. Hart’s theory of law. The ‘Hart-Fuller’ debate. The ‘Hart-Dworkin’ debate. Raz’s theory of law. Practical reason, and authority.
  • Moral interpretivist theories of law and their critics: Dworkin’s theory of law as integrity and its critiques by selected theorists.
  • Legal reasoning: Raz’s theory of practical reason and norms. Theories of adjudication, in particular that of Dworkin.
  • Liberalism and law.
  • Marxist theories of law and state.
  • Feminist jurisprudence.
  • An indepth case study prescribed by the examiners on which there will be one compulsory question in the examination.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Knowledge of some of the most influential legal and political philosophies and their theses on law
  • Understand a range of topics and debates in legal and political philosophy and especially the main methodological, ontological, and normative questions concerning law and its legitimacy
  • Construct philosophical argument
  • Critically assess legal and political theories and question their internal consistency and coherence as well as their foundational assumptions
  • Apply abstract philosophical argument to real problems and contexts
  • Present a sustained and well-constructed argument.


3hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

You should use the following textbook. While there are many other available jurisprudence textbooks containing similar or overlapping material, especially extracts of primary source material, this is the essential textbook this year:

  • Freeman, M. (ed.) Lloyd’s introduction to jurisprudence. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2014) ninth edition [ISBN 9780414026728].