Overview of Legal Positivism

December 13, 2023
Micheal James

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Legal Positivism is a significant theory in the field of law that focuses on how we understand laws. It suggests that whether a law is right or wrong doesn’t determine if it’s valid. Instead, it says that the most important thing about a law is where it comes from and who made it. This way of thinking about laws became quite important because it shifted the attention from thinking about laws based on what’s morally good or bad to thinking about them based on where they came from.

I. Foundations of Legal Positivism

Legal Positivism’s beginnings can be traced back to important thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. These smart people talked a lot about the importance of written laws made by people who have the power to make laws in a society. They believed that laws should be seen as rules made by recognized authorities. Legal Positivism’s main ideas include the belief that law and morality are not the same things. It focuses on laws that we can see or observe that are created by known sources.

II. Legal Positivism and the Nature of Law

Legal Positivism sees laws as rules made by humans, and it doesn’t tie the law’s validity to moral ideas. It says that what’s most important is whether a law is accepted by the people who have the power to make laws in a society. Legal Positivism thinks that the most crucial thing about laws is that they are made by groups like lawmakers or governments who have the authority to make laws in a society.

III. Key Elements and Components

Legal Positivism has a few main ideas at its core. It believes that laws are made by people in power, and these laws are valid because those in authority say so. It stresses that laws should be followed because they are made by known and accepted sources. Legal Positivism separates law from morality, focusing only on the rules created by respected authorities.

IV. Historical Context and Development

Legal Positivism has changed over time. Smart and influential thinkers like H.L.A. Hart and Joseph Raz made improvements to the theory. These thinkers worked on Legal Positivism, fixing its problems and making it better in the field of legal philosophy.

V. Legal Positivism in Practice

In the real world, Legal Positivism is seen in many legal systems around the world. Courts and people who study law often use established legal rules and laws as the main basis for their decisions. This idea helps judges decide what laws mean and how they should be used in real cases.

VI. Critiques and Challenges

Critics of Legal Positivism say that it doesn’t think about the moral side of laws. They argue that laws could be unfair even if they are made by recognized authorities. Some also say that Legal Positivism doesn’t explain the complexities of the law well enough.

VII. Comparative Analysis with Other Jurisprudential Theories

Legal Positivism differs from other theories like Natural Law and Legal Realism. Unlike Natural Law, it separates law from morality. When compared to Legal Realism, it thinks that the most important thing about laws is the formal rules made by respected authorities, not what judges think or what society believes.

VIII. Contemporary Relevance and Influence

Today, Legal Positivism continues to affect how laws are made and understood. Its idea about laws being made by respected sources remains important in deciding how laws are understood and used in courts and by legal experts.


Legal Positivism is a significant theory in legal philosophy. Despite some criticisms, it is important because it helps us understand laws by focusing on where they come from and who makes them. This way of thinking continues to play a big role in how laws are seen and used in our societies.

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