On the Conceptual Confusions of Jurisprudence

7 Wash. U. Jur. Rev. 77 (2014)

UC Hastings Research Paper No. 65

30 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2013 Last revised: 18 Jun 2015

See all articles by Aaron J. Rappaport

Aaron J. Rappaport

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Date Written: November 1, 2014


For more than half a century, legal theorists have tried to identify and describe the concept of law, employing a method called “conceptual analysis” to pursue this goal. Yet the details of that methodology remain obscure, its merits largely accepted without careful analysis. A reassessment is long past due.

This paper offers the first comprehensive survey of the way conceptual analysis has been used in legal theory. The paper identifies four different forms of conceptual analysis – the empirical, intuitive, categorical and contingent methods of analysis. After clarifying the core assumptions of each approach, the paper evaluates whether any of the four methods represent an appealing way of doing legal philosophy. The assessment, though preliminary, yields a sharply negative conclusion. Properly understood, the methods of conceptual analysis offer little appeal. Dramatic claims made by leading practitioners turn out to be, on closer inspection, either banal or wildly implausible.

This conclusion, if accurate, raises deep concerns about the state of legal theory today. It means that theorists face a critical challenge – to identify a new methodology that can replace conceptual analysis as the dominant approach to jurisprudence. The paper concludes with a few thoughts on what that methodology might be, and how it might generate a more fruitful, more interesting, form of legal philosophy.

Keywords: concept of law, jurisprudence, legal theory, cognitive science

Suggested Citation

Rappaport, Aaron J., On the Conceptual Confusions of Jurisprudence (November 1, 2014). 7 Wash. U. Jur. Rev. 77 (2014), UC Hastings Research Paper No. 65, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2317570 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2317570

Aaron J. Rappaport (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States
415-565-4697 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics