People talk about Legal Theory and I do not understand what it is. The Theory Part.

In Physics, Chemisty, Geology, Economy, Sociology... Theory is an explanation of a phenomenon( why it occurs and numbers and variables are permitted it is often the case that a Theory is highly quantitative). A theoretic scientist deals with ideas, concepts and tries to explain the observations. An experimental scientist is the one that provides the theoretic one with the observations

In Computer Science, Philosophy, Languages... Theory is an explanation of how the phenomenon occurs, i.e how to produce it.

  • "Legal theory" is essentially the field traditionally known as "jurisprudence". There is a Wikipedia article on that very subject, which may be a good starting point for you
    – WS2
    Oct 11, 2019 at 22:22
  • @WS2 I have read the article but I have not been able to concisely determine how it is defined, what it is. The concept the idea in itself. Is Legal theory an explanation of something(why or how or something else) like it is for other sciences or is it something else? Even if it is an explanation it is an explanation of what? Oct 11, 2019 at 22:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on philosophy.stackexchange.com Oct 11, 2019 at 22:34
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    @BlueDogRanch I don't see any harm in it being on the law site. But you are right - it concerns the philosophy of law. And all fields of knowledge - even carpentry - must have a body of philosophy relating them to the remainder of human experience. Where exactly does law fit in society? On what assumptions does it proceed etc. Hobbes, for example held that a "sovereign" was indispensable to protect humankind from the "state of nature" - which otherwise would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". (continued)
    – WS2
    Oct 12, 2019 at 12:41
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    (B Fwd) "Is this a valid reason for law" might be the type of question that jurisprudence would seek to answer. But not everyone agrees with Hobbes. And he was in any case only born in the late 1500s (at the time of Francis Drake and the Spanish armada). And there was an awful lot of law before that. Jurisprudence is a vast field of study.
    – WS2
    Oct 12, 2019 at 12:44

2 Answers 2


From US Legal:

Legal theory refers to the principle under which a litigant proceeds, or on which a litigant bases its claims or defenses in a case. It can also be the law or body of rules of conduct which are of binding legal force and effect, prescribed, recognized, and enforced by a controlling authority.

It can also be used as a synonym for Jurisprudence or Philosophy of law.

Which it is has to be determined from the context.


If you are studying law as an academic subject which, I gather from other posts, you are, then Legal Theory is the main part of Jurisprudence.

Legal Theory asks what is the nature of law?

There are a number of particular theories propounded by various jurists which attempt to answer this question. Some of the more well-known ones are

The Command Theory of Law (Austin)

The Pure Theory of Law (Kelsen)

Hart's Concept of Law

Finnis' restatement of natural law

In the academic subject of Legal Theory the various theories are studied and critiqued.

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