Normative legal theorists are typically concerned with issues of moral legitimacy—what restrictions on citizen behavior may, as a matter of political morality, justifiably be enforced by the police power of the state.
, jurisprudence is concerned with giving what is called a “conceptual analysis” of core legal concepts; that is, conceptual jurisprudence is concerned with explicating the core concepts of our legal practices, including the interrelations among them.
This essay attempts to provide an accessible introduction to the topic area of conceptual analysis of legal concepts (or “conceptual jurisprudence”) and its methodology.
I attempt to explain, at a fairly foundational level, what conceptual analysis is, how it is done (i.e.
its appropriate methodology) and why it is important in theorizing about the law.
Jurisprudence Essay Structure
I also attempt to explain how conceptual analysis is related to other areas in philosophy, such as metaphysics and epistemology.
For example, if concepts are representational mental states, a proper analysis of any concept would require saying something about the content of the representation as well as about the nature of the relevant state (which might be a compound state involving beliefs and dispositions of various kinds). We may not have a word associated with every concept we have.
But we have a large number of words to express, refer to, convey, or pick out concepts: we use “love” to think or talk about love; “law” to think or talk about law, and so on.
But it is clear that the possession or apprehension of a concept is a necessary condition for being able to think or talk about the thing of which the concept is the concept of that thing.1 There are different views about what concepts are: (1) concepts are psychological states representing ideas or things; (2) concepts are abilities of a special kind—namely, the ability to discriminate one kind of thing of which a concept is a concept from another kind of thing of which another concept is a concept (having the concepts of tree and bush simply is a matter of being able to distinguish trees from bushes); and (3) concepts are meanings or “senses” of words.
Obviously, the methodology of conceptual analysis must be responsive to what a concept is.