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What is Jurisprudence?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Jurisprudence is the study of law, specifically legal philosophy and science. It has numerous branches that focus on a range of issues, from whether or not law should exist to what sort of penalties are appropriate for violations of the law. The field is largely dominated by Western laws and ethics, although students of Eastern law do exist. The term is also used to refer to a specific branch of law, such as environmental or medical jurisprudence.

The concept of jurisprudence has been around for quite a long time. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans considered the philosophy of law, and earlier societies probably did as well. The term itself is derived from a Latin phrase, juris prudentia, meaning “knowledge of the law.” As long as humans have had laws governing their activities, philosophers and commentators have been thinking about these laws and considering how they fit in with the societies which they are supposed to codify and protect.

Some of its well known branches include natural law, normative jurisprudence, and analytic jurisprudence. Natural law is a school of legal philosophy which believes that there are certain innate laws which are common to all human societies, whether or not they are spelled out in legal materials. Normative jurisprudence looks at the purpose of legal systems, and which sorts of laws are appropriate. Analytic jurisprudence is meant to be an objective study of law in neutral terms, differentiating it from natural law, which evaluates legal systems and laws through the framework of natural law theory.

Since law can often be slippery and incomprehensible, it may come as no surprise to learn that jurisprudence is extremely complex and sometimes very confusing. Many of the world's most famous scholars and philosophers have at least dabbled in its study, producing dense tomes, complicated arguments, and tricky rhetoric. The study of jurisprudence is also important for a good lawyer, because it ensures that he or she deeply understands the law and the philosophical approaches which have been involved in its creation.

Studying law does not necessarily make someone a lawyer, although it is an important part of a legal education. For judges and other people who must interpret, defend, or reject the law, jurisprudence is a very important field, along with more general studies of history, society, and philosophy. Since laws are such an important underpinning of society, their study can also provide valuable information about a nation and its people.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On May 23, 2011

The branches or areas of jurisprudence seem limitless. There is even something called therapeutic jurisprudence. It looks at how law impacts people emotionally. There is really no end to the issues and subjects you can study in relation to law!

By turquoise — On May 21, 2011

I think the world has gotten smaller and jurisdiction that is based in the West is slowly going to have to change to keep up with globalization.

We had a speaker at one of our lectures last year who talked about how difficult it was for legal action to be taken across countries. Each country has its own laws, jurisdiction and jurisprudence. But people are moving across borders so often and so quickly, that these legal systems are becoming more of a hindrance rather than help.

That's why I think that we need a wider, general, modern jurisprudence that can be applied more universally. Otherwise, it's going to become harder and harder for international law to function.

By bear78 — On May 19, 2011

I think a very important field of jurisprudence in the United States and the one that is most interesting is political jurisprudence.

It's basically about how law, courts and judges are political actors. The easiest way to understand it is to think about the many interest groups in the United States. They are always interacting with politicians and courts, hoping to get political and legal outcomes that favor their position.

So politics and law is really interrelated in the U.S. That's why I think it's really important for those studying and working with law to look into political jurisprudence.

By anon33308 — On Jun 04, 2009

What are the scope, nature and subject matter of jurisprudence?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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