Jurisprudence and (Its) History

September 19-20, 2014

Sponsored by the Program in Legal and Constitutional History and the Virginia Law Review.

The Jurisprudence and (Its) History Symposium featured seven invited speakers, who each present a paper, and seven commentators, who introduced each session with a comment on each paper.  Those papers and commentaries have been published in Volume 101, Issue 4 of the Virginia Law Review, and can be found here.

Symposium Description

The term “jurisprudence” typically refers to the philosophy of law. So understood, its aspirations are broad and deep; its aim is not to master some particular area of legal doctrine but to understand the nature and purpose of law in general. For the past several decades, however, jurisprudence has come to describe the more specific practice of using the techniques of analytic philosophy to clarify the meaning of familiar legal concepts, such as “right,” “duty,” “authority,” or “law” itself.  

One consequence of this narrowing of scholarly ambitions is that less attention has been paid to those legal philosophers from the past who have had different, and often broader, understandings of what philosophical inquiry into law properly entails. In part because of this neglect, today many law students, law teachers, and lawyers who are deeply interested in exploring the intellectual foundations of law have dismissed jurisprudence as an esoteric field of study whose practitioners are gripped by concerns remote from their own.  

The aim of this symposium is to consider whether the boundaries of jurisprudence might be broadened, and its insights deepened, by looking to the history of jurisprudential thought. Some papers examine the work of past legal philosophers, others consider the role that the history of legal provisions – particularly constitutional ones – plays in legal theory, and still others take up directly the methodological question of whether or in what way philosophical thinking has been or should be, influenced by its own intellectual history.  What all of the papers share, however, is a common concern with how history bears on philosophical thinking about law.