The Concept of Law

The Concept of Law

The Concept of Law

The Concept of Law

Synopsis

The Concept of Law is the most important and original work of legal philosophy written this century. First published in 1961, it is considered the masterpiece of H. L. A. Hart's enormous contribution to the study of jurisprudence and legal philosophy. Its elegant language and balanced arguments have sparked wide debate and unprecedented growth in the quantity and quality of scholarship in this area--much of it devoted to attacking or defending Hart's theories. Principal among Hart's critics is renowned lawyer and political philosopher Ronald Dworkin who in the 1970s and 80s mounted a series of challenges to Hart's Concept of Law. It seemed that Hart let these challenges go unanswered until, after his death in 1992, his answer to Dworkin's criticism was discovered among his papers. In this valuable and long-awaited new edition Hart presents an Epilogue in which he answers Dworkin and some of his other most influential critics including Fuller and Finnis. Written with the same clarity and candor for which the first edition is famous, the Epilogue offers a sharper interpretation of Hart's own views, rebuffs the arguments of critics like Dworkin, and powerfully asserts that they have based their criticisms on a faulty understanding of Hart's work. Hart demonstrates that Dworkin's views are in fact strikingly similar to his own. In a final analysis, Hart's response leaves Dworkin's criticisms considerably weakened and his positions largely in question. Containing Hart's final and powerful response to Dworkin in addition to the revised text of the original Concept of Law, this thought-provoking and persuasively argued volume is essential reading for lawyers and philosophers throughout the world.

Excerpt

My aim in this book has been to further the understanding of law, coercion, and morality as different but related social phenomena. Though it is primarily designed for the student of jurisprudence, I hope it may also be of use to those whose chief interests are in moral or political philosophy, or in sociology, rather than in law. The lawyer will regard the book as an essay in analytical jurisprudence, for it is concerned with the clarification of the general framework of legal thought, rather than with the criticism of law or legal policy. Moreover, at many points, I have raised questions which may well be said to be about the meanings of words. Thus I have considered: how 'being obliged' differs from 'having an obligation'; how the statement that a rule is a valid rule of law differs from a prediction of the behaviour of officials; what is meant by the assertion that a social group observes a rule and how this differs from and resembles the assertion that its members habitually do certain things. Indeed, one of the central themes of the book is that neither law nor any other form of social structure can be understood without an appreciation of certain crucial distinctions between two different kinds of statement, which I have called 'internal' and 'external' and which can both be made whenever social rules are observed.

Notwithstanding its concern with analysis the book may also be regarded as an essay in descriptive sociology; for the suggestion that inquiries into the meanings of words merely throw light on words is false. Many important distinctions, which are not immediately obvious, between types of social situation or relationships may best be brought to light by an examination of the standard uses of the relevant expressions and of the way in which these depend on a social context, itself often left unstated. In this field of study it is particularly true that we may use, as Professor J. L. Austin said, 'a sharpened awareness of words to sharpen our perception of the phenomena'.

I am heavily and obviously indebted to other writers; indeed much of the book is concerned with the deficiencies of a simple . . .

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