The times were ripe for Hart's venture. The leading philosophical
approach of the 1950s - 'ordinary language philosophy' - allowed for easy exchange
between lawyers and philosophers. A year before Hart's election, Queen's College
law tutor Tony Honoré and his philosophy tutor colleague Tony Woozley had
already spotted the potential for collaboration by running Oxford's first
recorded law-and-philosophy seminars, in which Hart had
participated, giving a talk on intention. We still have the original
reading list for that seminar series.
What was to
be Hart's most celebrated and influential book, The Concept of Law, began
life in this period as a series of undergraduate lectures covering
various past attempts to define the word 'law'. Hart thought that these attempts
were futile. The Concept of Law gradually took shape as an explanation of
'elucidatory' alternative to definition. That the book would succeed in doing so
much else of philosophical importance appears not to have struck Hart in
writing it: he regarded it as a student book about jurisprudence, rather than as
a pioneering work of jurisprudence.
Like most important scholars,
Hart's contribution to his subject was only partly a direct contribution made by
his own prolific writings. No less important was the indirect contribution he
made through the personal example he set for his colleagues and students. His
protegés included several of the figures who were later to develop and enrich
his legacy - notably Ronald Dworkin, Neil MacCormick, Joseph Raz, and John Finnis. For MacCormick,
Finnis, Hart's work started various lines of enquiry that called for further
exploration, involving abandonment of excess baggage that Hart had occasionally
carried from his 'ordinary language' roots, and requiring some backtracking from
blind alleys that Hart had turned down. For Dworkin, by contrast, Hart's work
presented itself mainly as a challenge or provocation, thus ultimately
triggering a quite different, but no less sensationally influential way of
marrying law and philosophy for the next generation.
Hart resigned the
Professorship of Jurisprudence in 1968, and (supported by the Nuffield
Foundation) turned his attention full-time to editorial work on Bentham's
manuscripts, a longstanding fascination. Dworkin, then a Law Professor at Yale,
was promptly elected to succeed him, once again on the strength of just a couple
of publications in the field. But while Hart's first ventures into legal
philosophy had only hinted at what was to follow, Dworkin's had started as
boldly as he meant to go on. These essays, which later reappeared as the first
few chapters of Taking Rights Seriously, already ventured a distinctive and
highly original way of thinking about law and politics that was to provide the
basis of Dworkin's wide-ranging work over the next thirty years, and was taken
up by many scholars, lawyers, judges, commentators, and policy-makers, and
inspired countless students.
While Hart - who died in 1992 - had been
something of a public philosopher on the UK stage, Dworkin went much further
both in the extent to which he integrated his most abstract work with his public
philosophy, and in the global reach of his evangelism for the subject. During
the 1970s, Oxford's association with the philosophy of law entered the
international academic consciousness, and the flow of overseas graduate students
that had already started in Hart's time turned into a flood. The combined draw
of Dworkin, Raz and Finnis, especially during the 1980s when all three had risen
to great international prominence, made Oxford the obvious choice for anyone
interested in the subject. Among research students of this period we can
count Jeremy Waldron, Leslie Green, Stephen Perry, David Dyzenhaus,
Andrei Marmor, John Gardner, Brian Bix, Andrew Simester, Nicos Stavropoulos, Timothy
Macklem and (entering the 1990s) Grant Lamond, Julie Dickson,
Dori Kimel, and Scott Hershovitz.
Raz's and Finnis's international distinction
was recognised during the 1980s with the award of personal chairs to each, a
recognition also extended to fellow legal philosopher Jim Harris in 1996. Jim
Harris sadly died in 2004. Raz and Finnis have both now retired from
their University positions but continue to be active scholars. Tony
Honoré, officially retired since 1988, also remains very active
in the subject and continues to teach on our graduate programmes.
the mid-1990s, with Dworkin's retirement on the horizon, Oxford
has made an unprecedented new investment in the subject, recruiting half a dozen
younger legal philosophers of emerging reputation to permanent positions.
successor as Professor of Jurisprudence, John Gardner, took up his post in 2000.
A Scot, and a former student of Honoré and Raz, his interests and philosophical
approach are closer to those of Hart than those of Dworkin.
In 2002 Dworkin and
Gardner co-convened the first peripatetic Oxford-London graduate jurisprudence
seminars, Dworkin being based part-time at University College London and
part-time at New York University. Similar Oxford-London seminars are now
convened by Nicos Stavropoulos, in collboration with colleagues at UCL. Meanwhile
theOxford graduate programme in philosophy of law has continued
to grow both in numbers and in activities, attracting a new generation
of research students from around the world. Recent DPhils include
Michelle Dempsey, François Tanguay-Renaud, and Maris Köpcke Tinturé.
anticipation of Raz's retirement, the decision was made in 2006 to transform his
personal chair into a second statutory chair, the Professorship of the
Philosophy of Law. Leslie Green, another Scot and another Raz student, was
elected to the chair in 2006 and took up his post in July 2007, moving to
Oxford from York University (Osgoode Hall Law School) in Toronto. At the same time a personal chair was
created for leading Oxford philosopher of law Timothy Endicott, who has
since become the first Dean of the Oxford Law Faculty. This is a
notable example of life imitating art. Asked in the early 1960s
by a visiting American professor 'Who's the Dean of this law school?',
John Morris, law tutor at Magdalen College, had to think on his
feet. 'Hart,' he concluded. 'Hart is the Dean.'
Lawson, The Oxford Law School 1850-1965 (Oxford: Clarendon Press
1968); Honoré, 'Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart 1907-1992' in Proc Brit
Acad 84 (1993), 295.