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Knowing What the Law Is

Legal Theory in a New Key

By: Alexander Somek
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Published: 07-10-2021
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 192
ISBN: 9781509951291
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £85.00
Online price : £76.50
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Loren Epson

About Knowing What the Law Is

This book provides a selective and somewhat cheeky account of prominent positions in legal theory, such as American legal realism, modern legal positivism, sociological systems theory, institutionalism and critical legal studies. It presents a relational approach to law and a new perspective on legal sources.

The book explores topics of legal theory in a playful manner. It is written and composed in a way that refutes the widespread prejudice that legal theory is a dreary subject, with a cast of characters that occasionally interact in order to illustrate the claims of the book.

Legal experts claim to know what the law is. Legal theory-or jurisprudence-explores whether such claims are warranted. The discipline first emerged at the turn of the 20th century, when the self-confidence of both legal scholarship and judicial craftsmanship became severely shattered, but the crisis continues to this day.

Table Of Contents


1. Legal Knowledge
2. Mild and Wild Formalism
3. American Legal Realism
4. Modern Legal Positivism
5. The Demise of Modern Legal Positivism
6. Objective Spirit
7. Rupture
8. The Legal Relation



“This book is erudite, provocative and insightful. Somek evinces complete mastery of the diverse traditions in legal philosophy as he advances a novel account of the nature of legal knowledge. His work is compelling, engaging, and without equal in contemporary legal theory. This book is a must read.” –  Dennis Patterson, Professor of Law and Philosophy, Rutgers University, USA

“Somek's Knowing What the Law Is is the best introduction to the philosophy of law to date. It tackles the deepest problems with a 'jaunty irony' which will at the same time engage newcomers and challenge the long initiated.” –  David Dyzenhaus, University Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Toronto, Canada

“Alexander Somek, at the height of his powers, has already enjoyed a long and distinguished career. He is, unlike most of us, altogether at home in both worlds - the Anglophone world with its myopia and the Continental European world with its vast perspectives but, all too often, with analysis that falls short of the mark. Somek brings the best of both worlds together, and this is abundantly clear in his new book.” –  Stanley L Paulson, Co-Director, Hans Kelsen Research Centre, Germany

“In this timely work, Alexander Somek ... provides three things: an elegant introduction to the philosophy of law, a survey of its recent history, and an original contribution in his own right. This is one of the few books from which both the expert and the beginner have much to learn, and it is the place anybody new to the subject should begin.” –  William Ewald, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, USA

“This concise book will stand the divide between analytical and continental legal theory on its ear. With eloquence and characteristic wit Somek unearths common themes between the two traditions and unveils lines of enquiry that link Dworkin with Schmitt and American Legal Realism with Kelsen ... Like a skilled therapist, resorting to drama and role-play, Somek reminds us of the common roots of our discipline, when it cared to source legal knowledge in concrete legal problems.” –  George Pavlakos, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Glasgow, UK

“Alexander Somek's new book offers an intriguing introduction to contemporary legal theory. Lucidly written, Knowing What the Law Is reviews the main accounts of the nature of law and legal knowledge, while introducing a novel conception of law. What Somek terms the 'legal relation' usefully defines a specific normative form of social interaction that is close to morality in its commitment to equality, yet differs in its external character and structural affinity with threat and coercion.” –  Herlinde Pauer-Studer, Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Vienna, Austria

“Somek is not reluctant to offer his own view on controversial matters, but is never stinting in his presentation of competing views. The book should awaken the jurisprude in every budding lawyer. It manages to at once tell the uninitiated what the subject is about and convey to the initiated his own special take on it.” –  Leo Katz, Frank Carano Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania, USA

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