Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis



Thesis Type

Honors College, College of Arts and Science Honors

First Advisor

Terence Cuneo


Legal Positivism, Natural Law, Reasons, Obligations, Normativity, Jurisprudence


In this thesis, I discuss and evaluate five theories of jurisprudence explaining how each one answers two central questions. The first, the Grounding Question, asks what it is that makes something a law. The second question, the Normative Question, asks why it is that laws ought to be followed. I use these questions to establish four desiderata for a theory of jurisprudence: a satisfactory theory must answer the Grounding Question and explain its answer, and it must do the same for the Normative Question.

The five theories fall into two historically opposed categorizations: legal positivism and natural law theory. In section 2, I explain three positivist and two natural law theories, highlighting how each answers the central questions. In section 3, I discuss two more desiderata that help to explain some of the motivations for holding each view. Finally, in section 4, I compare each theory’s answer to the central questions. I find that while each theory has a satisfactory answer to the Grounding Question, their answers to the Normative Question differ in strength. While the views have historically been opposed, I find that the strongest version of positivism and natural law theory are “inclusive” legal positivism and “weak” natural law theory, compatible theories that bear striking resemblances to one another.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.