Legal Positivism

Legal Positivism as a school is widely acknowledged to have been the outgrowth of a reaction to Natural Law. It is currently believed to have started in the early 1800's.

Proponents of Positive Law reject the concept of innate, inherent or divinely appointed moral behavior. They theorize that law is the direct outgrowth of the will of the lawmaker. As the majority of support for this school emerges from the time of Imperial Britain, the monrch is recognized as supreme. Thus law derives from the lawgiver and his authority, real or perceived.

The argument is advanced that this authority need not be restricted to a single person. It is the authoity of the monarch which is perpetuated; likewise law is perpetuated insofar as the currently invested lawgiver wishes to support the law. In this context, then, there is no unenforceable law, since law is given validity according to teh support of the lawgiver. In example of this theory, laws regarding State religious observance (i.e. the imposition of fines for non-attendance at Protestant churches in England) were enforced and enforceable, even though one could easily argue that they had no moral ground or backing.

Definitions and Works of Positive Law Adherents

Legal Positivism: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Selecting Legal Theories on Cultural Grounds: An African Defense of Legal Positivism

Austin, John Biographical Information
Bentham, Jeremy Biographical Information
  Selected Works
  Additional Works
Dworkin, Ronald Biographical Information

A Critique of Dworkin's Moral Reading of the Constitution


Symposium on Dworkin

Hart, H.L.A

Biographical Information


The Concept of Law (not online, but a source where it can be purchased)

Kelsen, Hans

Biographical Information


Book review: International Peace through International Law

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This page last updated 29 April 2002 by John Stradling

Copyright John Stradling 2002. All rights reserved.