On the whole it can be said that legal theory should include elements of philosophy and derive its substance from political theory. According to Robbruch, the task of legal theory is the “clarification of legal values and postulates up to their ultimate philosophical foundation”.
In short, it can be said that religion, economics and science, each may, in turn, sustain a particular development of legal theory.
Religion colours the outlook of scholastic theorists, ethics inspires the legal philosophy of Kant, economics taints the legal doctrine of communism, and science inspires the realist movement in legal theory.
These different sources jointly contribute to the formation of philosophical and political principles which form the basis of legal theory.
Dr. Friedman states,
“Before the nineteenth century legal theory was essentially a by product of philosophy, religion, ethics or politics. The great legal thinkers were primarily philosophers, churchmen and politicians. The decisive shift from the philosophers or politicians to the lawyer’s legal philosophy is of fairly recent date. It follows a period of great development in juristic research, technique and professional training. The new era of legal philosophy rises mainly from the confrontation of professional lawyer in his legal works, with problems of social justice.”
Legal Theory or Jurisprudence has been understood in various senses as follows:
Science of Civil Laws:
According to Salmond, Jurisprudence is science as distinguished from arts and connotes in its wide sense all those subjects which directly or indirectly treat of the science of law. It is a study not of the law of one particular court, but of the general notion of the law itself.
Every law is based on certain fundamental principles and these principles are common in all legal systems. Jurisprudence thus confines itself to a systematic and scientific study of the rules of law.
Science of Just and Unjust:
The famous Roman juris-consult, Ulpian, says that jurisprudence is the “knowledge or concept of things, human and divine, the science of just and unjust.” This definition of Ulpian is vague and indefinite and characterises the notion of law that prevailed in the beginning of Roman civilisation.
Philosophy of law:
Some writers regard jurisprudence as the philosophy of law. Amongst them Ciccro is the foremost. He defines jurisprudence as “the philosophical aspects of the knowledge of law.”
Systematic and formulated knowledge:
So far as the dictionary meaning is concerned, Oxford Dictionary defines jurisprudence as “the systematic and formulated knowledge” or “the science of human law”. This means that whatever comes within the ambit of human law is included in jurisprudence.
Jurisprudence includes positive law:
According to Austin, the matter of jurisprudence is positive law, law simply and strictly so called; or law set by political superiors to political inferiors.
Science of law:
According to Gray, jurisprudence is the science of law, statement and systematic arrangement of the rules followed by the Court and the principles involved in those rules. From this definition of Gray, it appears that although Salmond too regards jurisprudence as science of law, Professor Gray adopts a different meaning with regard to the term ‘law’.
He associates the term “jurisprudence” with a scientific statement and arrangement of the rules followed by the Court and of the principles involved in these rules. Salmond deals chiefly with the theoretical or general jurisprudence and calls it as the science of the first principles of the civil la
Formal science of positive law:
Holland defines jurispedence as the “formal science of positive law”. It is wrongly app to actual systems of law, or to current views of laws or to suggest for its amendments, but is the name of science. The science is a formal or analytical rather than material one. It is the science of actual or positive law.
Thus, we have seen above that jurisprudence has been understood in various senses by various authors. It is, however, evident that jurisprudence is synthesis of the principles of law. It is a study relating to law.
Purpose of legal theory:
Legal theory is a branch of civil law. Sir John Salmond terms jurisprudence as the science of the first principles of civil law. It is concerned with the theory of law comprising the fundamental principles and conceptions rather than with its practical and concrete details. It lends to supply that theoretical foundation which the science of law constantly demands.
In his practical work a lawyer has to tackle new and difficult problems which might appear to him insoluble without knowledge of jurisprudence which trains the mind into legal ways of thought and enables him to bear on his work the legal acumen which is so essential for his task. A question might arise as to whether on account of lapse of time prescriptive rights have or have not been acquired in respect of a certain property.
It will be the province of jurisprudence to elucidate the meaning of prescription and its relation to ownership and actions. Jurisprudence thus provides a precise and unambiguous terminology, which enables a lawyer to have, a clear conception of the subject. Jurisprudence is the eye of law. It stands towards actual system in a relation like that of grammar to a particular language.
The principles of legal theory bring about homogeneity and accuracy in legal phraseology. The purpose of studying legal theory is to be capable of discovering legal fallacies which would otherwise remain unnoticed.
It provides as part of the training of lawyers, something which a mere technical training in the substantive law cannot give them, something which is not only an addition to their technical equipment but which is also an education in the broad sense of the term, that is to say an outlook on the law as it stands in relation to other fields of knowledge.
Legal theory is also of assistance lo a moralist inasmuch as in progressive societies the law marks the stage of moral growth by crystallizing the moral ideas. It grows as the people and develops with the people.
J.G. Phillimore says,
“Such is that exalted and noble science of jurisprudence, the knowledge of which sends the student into civil life full of luminous precepts and generous notions, applicable to every exigency of human affairs.
The moral world rests on a foundation that is immutable and the happiness of man must of necessity depend on his obedience to those rules of eternal justice which God has written on his soul and of which, though heaven and earth shall pass away, not a little can be altered.”