The Philosophy of Law for a Naturalist: An Introduction to Artificial Law Theory

43 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020

See all articles by Dan Priel

Dan Priel

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: May 18, 2020


The aim of this essay is to provide an outline for a naturalistic approach to jurisprudence. It be-gins by arguing for certain re-orientations away from certain questions currently preoccupy legal philosophers but should not. The question of the nature of law is, as currently understood, a misguided question. The questions of the metaphysics and the normativity of law, by contrast, are problematic in a different sense: It is not clear that law raises any special questions with respect to them. Following on that I offer a more positive agenda for naturalistic jurisprudence. Starting with methodology, I argue that there is no basis for the assumption that the only prop-er way of explaining law is in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions is unwarranted. Turning then to substance, I present a view I call “artificial law theory.” This view challenges the popular idea that law should match morality, arguing instead that law is an artificial creation whose aim is to improve and replace morality, due to the latter’s limitations as a means for regulating behavior. I focus in particular on the need for law to improve and replace morality due to technological change.

Keywords: naturalistic jurisprudence, jurisprudence, naturalism, legal positivism

Suggested Citation

Priel, Dan, The Philosophy of Law for a Naturalist: An Introduction to Artificial Law Theory (May 18, 2020). Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Dan Priel (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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