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Philosophy of Law: Hart and His Critics


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Law.


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.


The timetable is available on the following website:

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course load

Total course (10 ec x 28 hours): 280 hours:

  • Attendance of seminars (13 x 3 hours): 39 hours

  • Time spent on self-study: 100 hours

  • Time spent on weekly assignments: 42 hours

  • Time spent final essay: 83 hours (including research and rewrite)

Assessment method


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

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

  • Peer review of final essay (prerequisite for participation in examinations)

Class attendance is mandatory. Students cannot miss more than two seminars. Without sufficient attendance students will be excluded from submitting a final paper or taking the resit.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests. A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


One resit will be offered, consisting of the final paper. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term or final tests. The mark for the resit replaces any partial result. 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 course after the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


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.

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. (2nd ed. or later)

  • 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.

  • Shapiro, Scott. 2011. Legality. Harvard University Press.

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


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. T. Meijers, MSc