H.L.A. Hart

H.L.A. Hart

H.L.A. Hart

H.L.A. Hart


In this substantially revised second edition, Neil MacCormick delivers a clear and current introduction to the life and works of H. L. A. Hart, noted Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University from 1952 to 1968.

Hart established a worldwide reputation through his powerful philosophical arguments and writings in favor of liberalizing criminal law and applying humane principles to punishment. This book demonstrates that Hart also made important contributions to analytical jurisprudence, notably by clarifying many terms and concepts used in legal discourse, including the concept of law itself.

Taking into account developments since the first edition was published, this book provides a constructively critical account of Hart's legal thought. The work includes Hart's ideas on legal reasoning, judicial discretion, the social sources of law, the theory of legal rules, the sovereignty of individual conscience, the notion of obligation, the concept of a right, and the relationship between morality and the law. MacCormick actively engages with current scholarly interpretations, bringing this accessible account of England's greatest legal philosopher of the twentieth century up-to-date.


If this book has one particular message, it is a message about method in legal study. Law is an aspect of human society, and 'human society is a society of persons' (p. 184 below) whose activities and institutions are understandable only through interpretation of their meaning to those engaged in them. the method of understanding legal and other human institutions by reference to their meaning from an insider's or an 'internal' point of view is central to Herbert Hart's work. That method I argue to be the correct one. Where I criticize more detailed aspects of his theories about law, I do so mainly on the ground that he has not always taken his own method far enough. the corrections and extensions which I propose, as against other critics, involve pressing Hartian arguments further than Hart pressed them.

His work has fascinated me since I first read The Concept of Law and attended his lectures in Oxford in the years 1963- 65 while adding legal studies to my prior studies at Glasgow in philosophy and literature. As a Fellow of Balliol College from 1967 till 1972,1 got to know Hart as a senior Oxford colleague whom I had cause both to like and to admire. If as a result my judgment of his work is flawed by the bias of friendship, there may be some offsetting gain by way of insight into his line of thought.

He very kindly gave me advice about the biographical part of the first chapter. I then had the pleasure of giving him a copy not only of that chapter but of the whole typescript, but this was not done with a view to my seeking nor, from his point of view, to his giving any kind of imprimatur. the book stands or falls as its author's, not its subject's, view of a leading contribution to jurisprudence.

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