Philosophy of Law

The law shapes politics, economics and history in a variety of ways. It regulates people’s interactions with one another, provides a basis for settling disputes and protects people’s liberties and property. It can be found in a variety of legal systems, such as civil law (where legislative statutes and regulatory laws are binding) or common law (where judge-made precedent is a form of binding “law”).

Various debates have taken place about the nature of law. Some philosophers, such as early legal positivists, have emphasized law’s coercive aspect, asserting that it is an essential feature of law. Others, such as H.L.A. Hart, have argued that the coercive aspect is not essential to law, or even necessarily central to its many important functions.

Other philosophical views about law have centered around the question of whether or not it is possible to have a coherent, general account of law. On this sort of view, theories of law are like forms of conceptual analysis: they attempt to systematize people’s intuitions about some concept of law and its cognates. These theories succeed, on this view, to the extent that they give a unified, consistent account of the conditions under which the relevant concept of law applies. However, this approach has met with skepticism from some legal philosophers. These scholars have argued that general jurisprudence is more like metanormative inquiry than conceptual analysis, and should be considered continuous with other fields such as metaethics.

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