The term, “jurisprudence” is a portmanteau of the Latin words, “ius” and “prudentia.” Langenscheidt’s pocket Latin dictionary uses “law,” “justice,” “permission,” “liberty,” and “authority” to describe “ius” and “foreseeing,” “knowledge,” and “discretion” as definitions for “prudentia.” Thus, jurisprudence is literally an understanding of the law. As it functions in modern American society, jurisprudence has four primary definitions: “the science or philosophy of law,” “a body or system of laws,” “a department of law,” and, in civil law, “decisions of courts, especially of reviewing tribunals”—in short, “a catchall term for entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions.”
Positivist jurisprudence posits that the only valid law is expressly written law and that ideas of universal morality should not come into play when interpreting laws (predictably, positivists promote judicial restraint); whereas naturalist jurisprudence proposes that all law is based on a natural morality that is intuitive to all humans.
Medical jurisprudence is a field of study that relates the practice of medicine to the practice of law, especially in the realm of forensics. DNA evidence is gathered from crime scenes, autopsies are conducted, and paternity tests are carried out under the umbrella of medical jurisprudence. When blood spatters are found on a murder scene, medical forensic experts determine who it belonged to and how it was shed in order to determine how the crime was committed. Blood under the fingernails of the victim may also incriminate a suspect. The manner in which this evidence is gathered influences its admissibility in a court of law.
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There are four main fields of jurisprudence: the aforementioned positivism and naturalism, formalism, and realism. Formalism is the belief that law stands apart from other institutions and should be interpreted and applied without regard to public policy and the long-term consequences of the case at hand. Realism is the diametrical opposite (i.e., the belief that court rulings should be made with respect to their effect on society at large).
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