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Jurisprudence and legal theory

Module information>

Academic Direction
Laws Consortium
Modes of Study

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.
  • A study in depth of a case study prescribed by the examiners on which there will be one compulsory question in the examination.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully you should be able to:

  • Understand 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 orally and in written form.


4hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

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