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Welcome to the course

What do you do when the law runs out? Jurisprudence is the study of the theory behind the law. Dr Kenneth Ehrenberg explains the value of legal theory

What do you do when the law runs out?

Jurisprudence is the study of the theory behind the law. You might wonder, ‘Why bother with the theory behind the law? As long as you learn all of the rules, you know the law and can do your job as a lawyer.’ But you’d be wrong. Rules are written generally and vaguely. It’s not always clear how they apply to a given situation, especially one that hasn’t been seen before. When the law runs out (when you can’t see clearly how the rule applies), bad lawyers run out of things to say; good lawyers use the theory behind the law to argue how it should be applied to the new situation. This is what jurisprudence can help you with.

Unlike other courses in law or other disciplines, this course is not telling you what to believe or giving you a list of rules or cases to memorise. It is instead teaching you a way to think about the law that will be useful in being able to assess arguments in law and about the law.

What we will cover

Week 1

You will consider the relationship between law and morality. Do laws have to be moral in order to count as law? If not, what is the best way to understand the dependence of law upon morality?

Week 2

You will look at what brain science can teach us about responsibility in the law. You might wonder how that’s a theoretical issue. The question is whether what we are learning about the brain is being used correctly to change our understanding of responsibility in the law.

Week 3

You will learn more about how the law addresses personal responsibility. This time, the question is about whether it is appropriate for the law to hold you responsible for some actions you make inadvertently, when you are distracted, careless, or forgetful.

Week 4

You will learn about how some theorists look at the law through an economic lens. Specifically, they understand the law in terms of how it creates incentives for people to act in ways that are deemed socially desirable. In doing so, you will also address the question whether this is a good approach to thinking about the law.

Week 5

You will take a look at two contemporary social issues – consent to bodily harm and sexual harassment – both of which raise interesting questions about the law. Consent to bodily harm raises the question of the proper limits of the law. On the other hand, sexual harassment raises the issue of what it takes to make sure that the law adequately protects us from harm. You will look at the theoretical issues behind these themes, but you’ll also see how theory relates to practice and the value of theorising.

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Jurisprudence: Introduction to the Philosophy of Law

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