Legal Realism: In Search of a Science of law

Henrik Palmer Olsen, Stuart Toddington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Legal Realism is a critique of Legal Formalism’s account of how legal validity emerges from the process of adjudication. Formalism sees legal validity as a product of the self-sufficiency of doctrinal materials interpreted in the light of a unique form of normative logic – Legal Reasoning. Realism is right to resist this formalistic introversion, but in its desire to range substance and content against the circularity of formalism, contemporary Realism has confused the tangible and the actual with the essential and the real. The critical rejection of formalism, however, calls for even greater conceptual and theoretical effort than
before, not an ultra-positivistic abrogation of critique that acknowledges only the empirical as scientific subject matter. Legal Realism’s critique of Formalism cannot be coherently or relevantly configured methodologically as an amalgamation of Legal Positivism and Logical Empiricism. Rather, we argue that only when an empirical inquiry into legal phenomena is combined with an ethically informed verstehende sociology can we break the circle of formalism and establish legal theory as a science of legal validity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-37
Number of pages16
Issue number155/4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2016


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