H. L. A. Hart

H. L. A. Hart (Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart) (1907-1992) is considered by many to be one of the most important legal philosophers of the twentieth century. He is the author of The Concept of Law and was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University. Hart developed a sophisticated theory of legal positivism within the framework of analytic philosophy.

Table of contents
1 Biographical Sketch
2 Philosophical Method
3 The Concept of Law
4 Other Work
5 Related Topics
6 External Links

Biographical Sketch

Hart was born in 1907, the son of a Jewish tailor of German and Polish origin. Educated at Bradford Grammar School and at New College, Oxford, where he studied Classical Greats. Hart became a Barrister and practiced at the Chancery Bar from 1932 to 1940. During World War II, Hart worked with MI5, a division of British military intelligence. In 1945, he was appointed a tutor at New College, Oxford. In 1952, he was selected the Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford. He resigned the Chair in 1969, and was succeeded by Ronald Dworkin.

Philosophical Method

More than any other individual, Hart revolutionized the methods of jurisprudence and the philosophy of law in the English speaking world. Influenced by J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hart brought the tools of analytic philosophy to bear on the central problems of legal theory, and, in particular, on the question of the nature of law. Hart's method combined the careful analysis of twentieth century analytic philosophy with the jurisprudential tradition of Jeremy Bentham, the great English legal, political, and moral philosopher.

The Concept of Law

Hart's most famous work is The Concept of Law first published in 1961 with a second edition including a new post script published posthumously in 1994. The book emerged from a set of lectures that Hart began to deliver in 1952, and it is presaged by his Holmes lecture, Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals delivered at Harvard Law School The Concept of Law developed a sophisticated view of legal positivism. Among the many ideas developed in this book are:

  • A critique of John Austin's theory that law is the command of the sovereign backed by the threat of punishment.
  • The distinction between primary and secondary legal rules, where a primary rule governs conduct and a secondary rule allows of the creation, alteration, or extinction of primary rules.
  • The idea of the rule of recognition, a social rule that differentiated between those norms that have the authority of law and those that do not.

Other Work

With Tony Honoré, Hart wrote Causation in the Law (1959, second edition 1985). As a result of his famous debate with Patrick (later Lord) Devlin the role of the criminal law in enforcing moral norms, Hart wrote Law, Liberty and Morality (1963) and The Morality of the Criminal Law (1965).

Related Topics

External Links




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