Philosophy Legal Philosophy
Thom Brooks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0176


Legal philosophy is about the analytical and normative study of law and legal concepts. This includes questions of “what is law?” concerning the nature of law and fundamental questions about the law’s reach and authority. Legal philosophers critique the standard assumptions made by many legal practitioners to move beyond doctrinal legal analysis to reveal new insights and how potential problems might be resolved. This entry surveys the major approaches in legal philosophy, such as natural law theory, legal positivism, legal realism, the economic analysis of law, and alternative approaches. The entry then provides an overview of important issues in legal philosophy, such as adjudication, legal reasoning, and the philosophy of criminal law.

General Overviews

There are several general overviews on legal philosophy. Marmor 2011 provides a useful introduction to basic issues concerning the nature of law. Himma 2009 offers an excellent general introduction to legal philosophy and its main jurisprudential schools. A brief general introduction to select topics in legal philosophy is offered in Wacks 2006. Other recommended general overviews are comprehensive edited volumes that are each outstanding for the range and quality of contributions. The most comprehensive general overview on the subject is Coleman and Shapiro 2002. Patterson 1996 is similarly a collection of essays covering a wide number of topics in legal philosophy. A third recommended comprehensive collection is Golding and Edmundson 2005. A more scholarly overview covering several topics in legal philosophy is Brooks 2013.

  • Brooks, Thom, ed. Law and Legal Theory. Boston: Brill, 2013.

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    More scholarly overview of field covering several topics in legal philosophy.

  • Coleman, Jules, and Scott Shapiro, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Most comprehensive general overview of legal philosophy covering all main approaches and topics.

  • Golding, Martin P., and William A. Edmundson, eds. The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470690116E-mail Citation »

    Impressive collection of essays covering a wide range of approaches and ideas.

  • Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Philosophy of Law.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2009.

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    An excellent general introduction to the legal philosophy.

  • Marmor, Andrei. “The Nature of Law.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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    A useful introduction to basic issues concerning legal philosophy.

  • Patterson, Dennis, ed. A Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

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    Comprehensive collection of essays covering approaches and issues to legal philosophy.

  • Wacks, Raymond. Philosophy of Law: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780192806918.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Brief general introduction to select topics in legal philosophy.

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