Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Mortimer Sellers, Stephan Kirste

Descriptive Legal Theory

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6730-0_52-1


A tradition of thought in legal theory woven through the work of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin in the nineteenth century, and that of Hans Kelsen and H.L.A. Hart in the twentieth, contends that it is possible to construct successful theories of law which are – in a certain sense discussed more fully below – descriptive in character. According to this approach, it is an important task of legal theory to identify and explain what law is, and this project can be undertaken relatively independently of, and prior to, attempting to morally evaluate or justify law. Bentham, Austin, Kelsen and Hart also share the methodological goal of attempting to explain the nature of law. That is to say, their theories attempt to identify and adequately explain law’s essential properties: those features of law which make it into what it is. These theorists, then, are seeking a descriptive account of the nature of law and believe that it is possible to answer questions such as: Is it in the...


Contemporary Legal Theory Waluchow Adequate Explanatory Theory Social Thesis Moral Evaluation 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Somerville CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.Faculty of LawUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Patricia Mindus
    • 1
  • Sebastian Andres Reyes Molina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden