Law, Morality and Everything Else: General Jurisprudence as a Branch of Meta-Normative Inquiry

38 Pages Posted: 8 May 2017 Last revised: 28 Jun 2017

See all articles by Scott J. Shapiro

Scott J. Shapiro

Yale University - Law School

David Plunkett

Dartmouth College

Date Written: May 5, 2017


The part of legal philosophy that is standardly known as general jurisprudence is often glossed as the study of “the nature of law”. General jurisprudence isn’t about the nature of any particular legal system: it is about the nature of law in general. While this description conveys the gist of general jurisprudence, taken literally it is deeply misleading. For when one looks at the leading works in general jurisprudence one finds a broad range of claims, not only metaphysical ones about the nature of law, but also including conceptual (e.g., about the concept LAW), semantic (e.g., about the meaning of legal statements), and epistemological ones (e.g., about our knowledge of the law).

This paper proposes a different account of general jurisprudence, one which seeks to explain the philosophical unity of the field given the diversity of its questions. The account situates general jurisprudence within the broader philosophical project of metanormative inquiry and shows how general jurisprudence is parallel to another well-known sub-part of that project — a core subset of metaethics. The paper argues that these projects all center on the same task: explaining how a certain part of thought, talk, and reality fit into reality overall. Metalegal inquiry aims to explain how legal thought, talk, and reality fit into reality. In turn, general jurisprudence is the part of metalegal inquiry that focuses on universal legal thought and talk. The paper concludes by illustrating how this framework for characterizing general jurisprudence makes sense of both actual and possible positions within the field and provides directions for future research.

Keywords: General Jurisprudence, Metaethics

Suggested Citation

Shapiro, Scott J. and Plunkett, David, Law, Morality and Everything Else: General Jurisprudence as a Branch of Meta-Normative Inquiry (May 5, 2017). Ethics, Vol. 127, No. 4, 2017, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 603, Available at SSRN:

Scott J. Shapiro (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

David Plunkett

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics