Review: Jurisprudence

Jurisprudence by Suri Ratnapala
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this book took me back to my undergraduate studies philosophy, a subject that wasn’t quite my ‘cup of tea’. I am, however, very thankful that I did persist with those philosophical studies if for no other reason than they allowed me to appreciate the contents of this book.

Jurisprudence, the ‘science’ of legal theory and philosophy, is the type of subject that anyone interested in contemporary society and the way it works should have some exposure to. Reading this book by Ratnapala has not only captured my imagination, it has answered some of the ‘big questions’ I often considered about Australian society and the way it works, but also raised more ‘big questions’ that will require further reading, thought and consideration.

Although the subject matter dealt with can be dense at times, it is worth persisting with the insightful commentary and exposition that Ratnapala provides. Doing so allows for an appreciation of the broad scope of issues that all too often are swept into the phrase ‘the law’.

From the back cover:

Jurisprudence offers a comprehensive and accessible overview of legal theory and philosophy. Written in plain English, it examines and demystifies the discipline’s major ideas, promoting a deeper understanding of the social, moral and economic dimensions of the law. It critically assesses the major schools of jurisprudential thought throughout history and to the present, from Plato and Aristotle to Enlightenment thinkers, postmodernists and economic analysts. The book challenges students to reconsider their moral intuitions about the law in light of established and emerging theories.

This edition examines recent debates and literature in legal philosophy. It features new material on scientific advances in cognition and human behaviour in relation to the law. The book expands significantly on its discussion of natural law theory, evolutionary jurisprudence and theories of justice. Special attention is paid to the revival of theological natural law, challenges to legal positivism, assessments of Scandinavian realism, critiques of law and economics from the Austrian economic perspective and the continuing relevance of Enlightenment moral philosophy.

Fully revised and updated, this book remains an essential resource for students of jurisprudence and legal philosophy.

Suri Ratnapala is Professor of Public Law at the University of Queensland and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.

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