“An Unjust Law Is Not a Law”

According to Augustine, Aquinas, and Martin Luther King, Jr., an unjust law is no law at all. I’ll call this thesis ULNL, relying more on Aquinas’s version of it than Augustine’s or MLK’s. ULNL is, famously or notoriously, a staple of natural law theorizing. Though sympathetic to what he calls “the minimal content of natural law,” H.L.A. Hart takes issue with ULNL in The Concept of Law on both theoretical and deliberative grounds. Continue reading

Halal Hart

I’m about to run another crazy H.L.A. Hart-inspired idea by you. It runs along the same lines as my last post, so let me just quote the first few paragraphs of that post as a preface to the thought itself:

According to H.L.A. Hart, law is a union of primary and secondary rules. A rule is a codified directive to someone. Primary rules are primary because they give directives directly to, or impose obligations directly on, those governed by the rule. Secondary rules are rules about the primary ones, specifying “the ways in which the primary rules may be conclusively ascertained, introduced, eliminated, varied, and the fact of their violation conclusively determined” (Hart, Concept of Law,  p. 94). Among the secondary rules is a “rule of recognition,” which specifies “some feature or features possession of which by a suggested rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 94).

The rules of recognition are both ultimate and supreme with respect to a legal system. They’re ultimate in the sense that they (collectively) provide the most fundamental criterion for determining the validity of any given rule within the system. They’re supreme in the sense that they override any competing norms apparently eligible for validity within the system. On Hart’s view, it’s a necessary and sufficient condition of law that within any putative legal system, the primary and secondary rules so conceived are generally obeyed by those governed by them, and the rules of recognition are “effectively accepted as common public standards of official behaviour” by the officials in charge of the system (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 116).

Continue reading

I Am the Law

(Post #3 in my ongoing series on H.L.A Hart’s The Concept of Law, keyed to the ongoing MTSP Discussion on that book.)

According to H.L.A. Hart, law is a union of primary and secondary rules. A rule is a codified directive to someone. Primary rules are primary because they give directives directly to, or impose obligations directly on, those governed by the rule. Secondary rules are rules about the primary ones, specifying “the ways in which the primary rules may be conclusively ascertained, introduced, eliminated, varied, and the fact of their violation conclusively determined” (Hart, Concept of Law,  p. 94). Among the secondary rules is a “rule of recognition,” which specifies “some feature or features possession of which by a suggested rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 94). Continue reading

Hart’s Concept of Law (2): Commands and Consent

In a previous post on H.L.A. Hart’s Concept of Law, I had taken issue with the idea, expressed by Hart, that the criminal code consists of “commands” or “imperatives.” I don’t think it does, and regard both Hart’s discussion and much discussion based on it, as fundamentally confused as a result. This was the topic of a Zoom conversation we had last Sunday, and then an email missive I sent out and promised to post. I was originally going to make it a comment on my last post, but it’s too long, so I’ve made it a post of its own. I’ve cleaned it up slightly, but not (I think) in ways that anticipate the criticisms that were made of it in the email discussion. Continue reading

H.L.A. Hart’s “The Concept of Law” (1)

As I mentioned in the preceding post, the MTSP discussion has moved from discussing George Sher’s Desert (my choice) to HLA Hart’s The Concept of Law (Roderick’s). Since I’m not even close to done summarizing and commenting on Sher, I’m obviously not going to commit to writing a series of essays on Hart. But I don’t want our discussions to disappear into the Zoom void, either, so I thought I’d just mention some of the themes of the discussion, using this post as a placeholder for any further discussion that might take place (whether among the Zoom discussants or anyone else who wants to join in).

At Roderick’s suggestion, we read the first two chapters of The Concept of Law–the first on “persistent questions” that arise in defining the concept of “law,” the second on “laws, commands, and orders.” Unfortunately, each one of us had a different edition of the book, which made “citation” difficult, but for this post, I’ll be using the Second Edition. As I see it, three basic issues came up. Continue reading