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Philosophy of Law: Hart and his Critics


Admission requirements

This course is restricted to students enrolled in MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Law.
This specialist course is mandatory for above mentioned students.


H.L.A. Hart is thought by many to have the greatest legal theorist of the 20th century. His reputation rests largely upon what he accomplished in one book, The Concept of Law, first published in 1961. In this seminar we will explore the doctrines that Hart put forward in that book and other writings, with specific reference to the criticisms. They attracted, some of which attained a celebrity of their own, such as the “Hart-Fuller debate”, the “Hart-Devlin debate”, the “Hart-Dworkin debate”.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce the student to the work of one of the most important legal theorists of the 20th century, H.L.H. Hart, as well as the major debates that he inspired.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of :

  • the legal doctrines of Hart, Fuller, Devlin, Dworkin and Raz.;

  • the following concepts: legal positivism, natural law, rules, authority, sovereignty of the law, legal interpretation, rule of law.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • recognize the (type of) arguments of Hart and his critics;

  • argue independently about these arguments, especially in writing.


See Timetables MA Philosophy 2015-2016

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 14 × 28 hours = 280 hours.

  • Attendance of seminars: 42 hours

  • Time spent on self-study: 116 hours

  • Time spent on weekly assignments: 42 hours

  • Time spent on final essay: 80 hours (including research and rewrite).

Assessment method

  • Weekly written assignments (30% of the final mark)

  • Final research essay (70% of the final mark)

  • Comments on first draft of paper by fellow student (prerequisite for participation in examinations)


One resit will be offered, covering the final paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Any student who did not complete at least 80% of the weekly assignments, cannot take the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used to make available all the readings, assignments and results. However, students are expected to get their own copy of H.L.H. Hart, The concept of law. Make sure you have the second edition or later.

Reading list

  • Coleman, J. (1982). “Negative and positive positivism.” Journal of Legal Studies 11: 139-164.

  • Devlin, P. A. (1965). The Enforcement of Morals, Oxford University Press.

  • Dworkin, G. (1999). “Devlin was right: Law and the enforcement of morality.” William and Mary Law Review 40(3): 927-946.

  • Dworkin, R. M. (1978). Taking Rights Seriously, Duckworth.

  • Finnis, J. (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

  • Fuller, L. L. (1958). “Positivism and fidelity to law- a reply to professor Hart.” Harvard Law Review 71(4): 630-672.

  • Hart, H. L. A. (1961). The concept of law. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • Hart, H. L. A. (1958). “Positivism and the separation of law and morals.” Harvard Law Review 71(4): 593-629.

  • Hart, H. L. A. (1955). “Are there any natural rights?” Philosophical Review 64(2): 175-191.

  • Kramer, M. (1998). “Scrupulousness without scruples: A critique of Lon Fuller and his defenders.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 18(2): 235-264.

  • Perry, S. (2001). “Hart’s Methodological Positivism”. In Coleman, J. et al. (eds.). Hart’s Postscipt: essays on the postscript to The Concept of Law. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • Raz, J. (1985). “Authority, law and morality.” Monist 68(3): 295-324.

  • Simmons, A. J. (1979). Moral Principles and Political Obligations, Princeton University Press.

NB: All readings will be made available through Blackboard with the exception of H.L.H. Hart, The Concept of Law (OUP). The list will be expanded with some additional secondary literature. These too will be made available through Blackboard.


Please register for this course via Study administration system uSis
See also Registration for lectures and tests

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. B.J.E. Verbeek