Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.


Legal concepts

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T019-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Concept-formation is an important component of law-formation. Well-developed legal orders are profoundly conceptual in nature. Throughout Western legal history, legislators have aimed at basing their law-making on concepts of a general scope (such as ‘property’, ‘possession’, ‘usufruct’, ‘criminal intent’ and many others) – and even more so legal scholars in their reconstruction and development of law. Legal thinking makes use of concepts with many different functions and varying logical status. A distinction can be made between concepts that are an integral part of law themselves (here called L-concepts) and concepts that belong to the professional vocabulary of lawyers and jurists in their handling of the law (J-concepts). Among the L-concepts there are on the one hand concepts whose meaning is totally determined by the rules of one single legal system and on the other hand concepts that pertain to two or more legal systems. The latter concepts have a comparative function.

J-concepts provide lawyers with a language enabling them to give an intellectual structure to the legal material, to characterize and discuss the professional-juridical handling of law and the methods used for performing that task, to specify the functions of law and to formulate the underlying values of (the handling of) the legal system.

There was a tendency in earlier legal philosophy to hypostasize legal concepts, for example, the concept of ‘right’ in classical natural-law doctrine: that is, to postulate real entities to which our concepts/terms refer. The legal philosophy of the twentieth century has to a large extent been a reaction against this tendency. This reaction has taken three different directions: (1) to reduce the abstract legal concepts to factual phenomena such as certain human behaviour or socio-psychological factors (mainly within US and Scandinavian realism); (2) to assign to legal concepts a normative ontological status, placing them in a world of norms, distinct from the world of facts; and (3) to analyse legal concepts in a contextual setting, that is, to find out how they function in actual legal discourse.

Citing this article:
Frandberg, Ake. Legal concepts, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T019-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles