Sociological jurisprudence is a general label uniting several different approaches that examine law within its social context. The following quotation from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is consistent with such approaches: The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.


The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. Despite these approaches’ common outlook, there is no distinctive sociological definition of law. If one were attempted, it might go as follows: Law is a process of social ordering reflecting society’s dominant interests and values . By examining examples of sociological legal thinking, we can add substance to the definition just offered. The “dominant interests” portion of the definition is exemplified by the writings of Roscoe Pound, an influential 20th-century American legal philosopher.


Pound developed a detailed and changing catalog of the social interests that press on government and the legal system and thus shape positive law. An example of the definition’s “dominant values” component is the historical school of jurisprudence identified with the 19thcentury German legal philosopher Friedrich Karl von Savigny. Savigny saw law as an unplanned, almost unconscious, reflection of the collective spirit of a particular society. In his view, legal change could only be explained historically, as a slow response to social change.