What is jurisprudence? Definition and examples

Jurisprudence or legal theory is the philosophy of law, i.e., the science of law. It is the study of the theories and principles on which a legal system is founded. Jurisprudence is the science. The term may also refer to a department of law, as in ‘medical jurisprudence.’

There are several different types and schools of jurisprudence. Some treat the subject like science or math. Others, however, take a different approach.

Wikipedia makes the following comment regarding the meaning of the term:

“Jurisprudence or legal theory is the theoretical study of law, principally by philosophers but, from the twentieth century, also by social scientists.”

Jurist vs. juror

We refer to scholars of legal theory as legal theorists or jurists. Do not confuse jurist with jurors, who are members of a jury in a court of law.

Jurists aim to gain a deeper understanding of the role that law plays in society. Jurists also strive to better understand legal reasoning, legal institutions, and legal systems.

Cambridge Dictionary has this simple definition of jurisprudence: “The study of law and the principles on which law is based.”

Etymology of jurisprudence

Etymology is the study of the history and origin of words, and also how their meanings and structures have evolved. Somebody who specializes in etymology is an etymologist.

The term first emerged in the English language in the 1620s with the meaning a ‘systematic knowledge of law.’ It came from the French word Jurisprudence.

The French word came directly from Late Latin Iurisprudentia, which means ‘the science of law.’ ‘Iuris’ meant ‘of right, of law,’ while ‘prudentia’ meant ‘knowledge, a foreseeing.’

It was not until 1756 that people used the English word with the meaning ‘philosophy of law.’

Jurisprudence – main aspects

Four main aspects

There are many aspects to the study of the philosophy of law. However, according to Cornell Law School, four of them stand out:

– This is where jurists seek to analyze, explain, and classify whole bodies of law. They also examine it carefully and criticize it. This is the form of jurisprudence with the greatest prevalence.

Legal encyclopedias and law school textbooks represent this kind of scholarship.

– This type of legal theory contrasts and compares law with social sciences and literature. It also compares law with economics and other fields of knowledge.

– There is also a type that seeks to reveal where a particular legal concept came from. Scholars look at it historically and also try to find cultural and moral connections.

– According to Cornell Law School: “This body of jurisprudence focuses on finding the answer to such abstract questions as ‘What is law?‘ and ‘How do judges (properly) decide cases?'”

Three main aspects

KidzSearch says that today there are three main aspects with which scholarly writing engages:

Natural Law

Natural law is the notion that some laws that govern us are unchangeable. Therefore, institutions should make sure that our institutions match these laws.

Analytical jurisprudence

This aspect includes questions such as “What is law?” or “What is the relationship between morality and law?” In other words, questions that legal philosophers might ask regarding the law.

Normative jurisprudence

This aspect overlaps with political and moral philosophy. It asks what law should be like. Should we obey the law? How should we punish law breakers and on what grounds? It also includes the proper limits we should have and uses of regulation.

When we precede a field of study with the word ‘normative,’ it usually means looking at how things should be. For example, normative economics is all about value judgments, i.e., how things should be or should have been.

Interesting related article: “What is a Lawyer?