The Place of Legitimacy in Legal Theory

33 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2010 Last revised: 17 Jul 2011

See all articles by Dan Priel

Dan Priel

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: March 8, 2010


In this essay I argue that to understand debates in jurisprudence one needs to distinguish clearly between four concepts: validity, content, normativity, and legitimacy. More specifically I show that debates between legal positivists and Dworkin should be understood not, as it is often said, as debates on the conditions of validity, but rather as debates on the right way of understanding the relationship between these four concepts. After presenting the two different ways in which legal positivists and Dworkin understand this relationship, I argue that the Dworkinian approach is superior to the positivist one. The positivist account begins with an attempt to explain the conditions of validity and to leave the question of assessment of valid legal norms to the second stage of inquiry. But though appealing, I argue that the notion of validity cannot be given sense outside a preliminary consideration of legitimacy.

Keywords: legal positivism, Dworkin, legitimacy, legal validity, jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Priel, Dan, The Place of Legitimacy in Legal Theory (March 8, 2010). McGill Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 1, 2011, Warwick School of Law Research Paper No. 2010/04, Available at SSRN:

Dan Priel (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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