From the Latin term juris prudentia, which means "the study, knowledge, or science of law"; in the United States, more broadly associated with the philosophy of law.
Legal philosophy has many branches, with four types being the most common. The most prevalent form of jurisprudence seeks to analyze, explain, classify, and criticize entire bodies of law, ranging from contract to TORT to CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. Legal encyclopedias, law reviews, and law school textbooks frequently contain this type of jurisprudential scholarship.
The second type of jurisprudence compares and contrasts law with other fields of knowledge such as literature, economics, religion, and the social sciences. The purpose of this type of study is to enlighten each field of knowledge by sharing insights that have proven to be important in advancing essential features of the compared discipline.
The third type of jurisprudence raises fundamental questions about the law itself. These questions seek to reveal the historical, moral, and cultural underpinnings of a particular legal concept. The Common Law (1881), written by OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR., is a well-known example of this type of jurisprudence. It traces the evolution of civil and criminal responsibility from undeveloped societies where liability for injuries was based on subjective notions of revenge, to modern societies where liability is based on objective notions of reasonableness.
The fourth and fastest-growing body of jurisprudence focuses on even more abstract questions, including, What is law? How does a trial or appellate court judge decide a case? Is a judge similar to a mathematician or a scientist applying autonomous and determinate rules and principles? Or is a judge more like a legislator who simply decides a case in favor of the most politically preferable outcome? Must a judge base a decision only on the written rules and regulations that have been enacted by the government? Or may a judge also be influenced by unwritten principles derived from theology, moral philosophy, and historical practice?
Four schools of jurisprudence have attempted to answer these questions: formalism proposes that law is a science; realism holds that law is just another name for politics; POSITIVISM suggests that law must be confined to the written rules and regulations enacted or recognized by the government; and naturalism maintains that the law must reflect eternal principles of justice and morality that exist independent of governmental recognition.
Modern U.S. legal thought began in 1870. In that year, Holmes, the father of the U.S. legal realist movement, wrote his first major essay for the American Law Review, and CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS LANGDELL, the father of U.S. legal formalism, joined the faculty at Harvard Law School.
Legal formalism, also known as conceptualism, treats law like a math or science. Formalists believe that in the same way a mathematician or scientist identifies the relevant axioms, applies them to given data, and systematically reaches a demonstrable theorem, a judge identifies the relevant legal principles, applies them to the facts of a case, and logically deduces a rule that will govern the outcome of a dispute. Judges derive relevant legal principles from various sources of legal authority, including state and federal constitutions, statutes, regulations, and case law.
For example, most states have enacted legislation that prohibits courts from probating a will that was not signed by two witnesses. If a court is presented with a number of wills to probate for the same estate, and only one of those wills has been witnessed by at least two persons, the court can quickly deduce the correct legal conclusion in a formalistic fashion: each will that has been signed by fewer than two witnesses will have no legal effect, and only the will executed in compliance with the statutory requirements may be probated.
Formalists also rely on inductive reasoning to settle legal disputes. Whereas deductive reasoning involves the application of general principles that will yield a specific rule when applied to the facts of a case, inductive reasoning starts with a number of specific rules and infers from them a broader legal principle that may be applied to comparable legal disputes in the future. GRISWOLD V. CONNECTICUT, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965), provides an example. In Griswold, the Supreme Court ruled that although no express provision of the federal Constitution guarantees the right to privacy, and although no precedent had established such a right, an individual's right to privacy can be inferred from the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the cases interpreting them.
English jurist SIR EDWARD COKE was among the first to popularize the formalistic approach to law in Anglo-American history. Coke believed that the COMMON LAW was "the peculiar science of judges." The common law, Coke said, represented the "artificial perfection of reason" obtained through "long study, observation, and experience." Coke also believed that only lawyers, judges, and others trained in the law could fully comprehend and apply this highest method of reasoning. The rest of society, including the king or queen of England, was not sufficiently learned to do so.
Langdell invigorated Coke's jurisprudence of artificial reason in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Langdell compared the study of law to the study of science, and suggested that law school classrooms were the laboratories of jurisprudence. Judicial reasoning, Langdell believed, parallels the reasoning used in geometric proofs. He urged professors of law to classify and arrange legal principles much as a taxonomist organizes plant and animal life. Langdell articulated...