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Law Notes Jurisprudence Notes

Legal Positivism Notes

Updated Legal Positivism Notes

Jurisprudence Notes


Approximately 417 pages

Jurisprudence notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB core jurisprudence readings from Hart to Dworkin to Raz to Mill and Kelsen and much much more. These notes are perfect for anyone studying either law or the philosophy of law, no matter where they are based.

These notes are formed from readings of the primary texts (i.e. the original books) and academic papers, then condensed down as much as possible. Everything is split up by topic and y...

The following is a more accessible plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Jurisprudence Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:


  • Law is a matter of social fact, separate & prior to its evaluation

  • Moral claims & evaluations are brought into the process in the 2nd stage: 1st is to identify law as a social fact and 2nd is to ask what the law should be

Separation thesis

  • Proper description of the law is a task that needs to be kept separate from moral judgments re value of the present law &normative questions as to how it should be developed or changed

  • Operates at one of 3 levels (which overlap but raise distinct issues)

  1. whether legal validity of a rule/norm can be separated from moral evaluation of its content

  2. whether legal status of a rule or norm system can be separated from moral evaluation of its content

  3. the role of moral standards in constructing a theory of law

No necessary connection b/w law & morality distinguish 2 interpretations

  1. exclusive legal positivismmoral criteria is not sufficient or necessary condition for legal status of a norm;existence & content of every law is fully determined by social sources.

  • Austin – existence of the law is one thing, its merit or demerit another. Whether it be or not be is one enquiry, whether it be conformable to an assumed standard is a different enquiry.

  1. inclusive legal positivismmoral terms can be part of necessary & sufficient criteria for legal validity in a legal system but use of such criteria is contingent on & derived from choices of legal officials rather than as part of the nature of law(MacCormick, Hart’s postscript)

  • allows to accept a lot of Dworkin’s criticism w/out abandoning core tenets of doctrine

  • Hart – social institutions can be studied in objective fashion, free from bias & ideology. Such separation doesn’t deny that something identified as a valid law or valid legal system may sometimes be sufficiently evil or unjust that it shouldn’t be obeyed.

  • But law is a practice so infused w/moral sounding claims (e.g. citizens ought to do X) & terminology (e.g. legal rights & obligations) that a strictly descriptive theory of law seems either difficult or inappropriate for the same reason that descriptive theory of morality would sound strange.

  • But the process of determining which norms are legally valid often seems to involve moral analysis. Morality plays so many roles in legal practice that narrow understanding of legal positivism’s separation thesis would almost certainly be false.

Bentham’s Command Theory

  • What is law” Austin derived ideas from Bentham and, whilst both had ideas of sovereign & commands, Bentham expounded his more subtly & flexibly + appreciated law was more than just unqualified commands addressed to individuals; e.g. shut the door (usually conditional etc) + looked at aspects of law neglected by Austi

  • His definition of law included a command idea similar to Austin but can’t be identified w/it b/c Bentham only sees commands as one of 4 aspects which legislator’s will expressed in a law or mandate may bear to the acts w/concern to which he’s legislating acc to him, laws must either

  1. Prohibit

  2. Command

  3. Permit action

  4. Refrain from action

  • Division into imperative & permissive?

  • He appreciated laws are more complicated than unqualified commands addressed to individuals to do a particular act, such as shut the door – they’re usually conditional, requiring or permitting certain kinds of acts only under certain circs

  • Any natural law theory is vulnerable to:

  1. anarchist danger –people will mix up law & morality, and judgements of what law is &what it ought to be, and think b/c something doesn’t live up to alleged “higher” moral standards, it’s not “really” law. For Bentham, instead we should say – this is law, it is bad and we should do something about it. But 1st stage, identifying it as law, should be done descriptively, not thinking about what ought to be.

  • E.g. people might think the law on immigration and asylum seekers in the UK is so morally problematic that it’s not really law at all.

  1. conservative danger- danger that people will mix up descriptions of law as it is & evaluations of law as it ought to be, and will say, “b/c this is law already, therefore it is as it ought to be”. This assumption, that law as we have it is somehow natural, or inevitable, or must be morally correct, sounded major alarm bells for Bentham. The conservative danger is that by not separating the question “is it law?” from “is it any good?” we will not be able to criticise the law and to see its flaws. So we must not mix up law as it is and law as it ought to be.

Austin’s Command theory

  • Law is best understood as orders of a sovereign backed by threat of sanctions – one man is forced to do what another tells him b/c he threatens him w/unpleasant consequences if he refuses

  • Tying law to de facto commands of a Sovereign “humanises” it. Law is just what a given person/institution happens to have commanded. It doesn’t come to us from God or some other “higher” source – it is de facto commands of a person/group of people who have assumed political power for the moment.

  • Really emphasised the coercive nature of the law

Hart’s Response to Command Theory

  • Command theory weaknesses:

  1. Not all laws are enacted nor are they all expressions of someone’s desire like the general orders (custom)

  2. Laws, even if deliberately made statutes, need not be orders given only to others (they often bind the legislator)

  3. Must enacted laws really express any legislator’s desire, intentions or wishes? (e.g. would those who passed the Finance Act really understood every each provision)

  4. The whole conception of supreme and independent sovereign habitually obeyed, on which the model rests, is misleading, since there is little in the legal system that it actually corresponds with

  5. Concept of sovereign creates difficulty in explaining continuity&persistence of the law (when someone new takes over, that person has no history of being habitually obeyed)how would either explain revolution?

  6. Significant...

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