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Jeremy Bentham and HLA Hart's 'Utilitarian Tradition in Jurisprudence'

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Hart identified a utilitarian tradition in jurisprudence, which he associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. This tradition consisted in three doctrines: the separation of law and morals; the analysis of legal concepts; and the imperative theory of law. I argue, contrary to Hart, that Bentham did not adopt a 'positivist' conception of law whether understood in terms of the separation of legal theory and morality or in terms of the separation of law and morals. Misinterpreting Bentham's approach to the analysis of language, Hart was wrong to assume that Bentham's jurisprudential project was a precursor to his own attempt to provide a morally neutral description of a legal system. It was this assumption that led to mistakes in Hart's editing of Of Laws in General. Bentham's utilitarian theory of law should be recognised as a distinct alternative to Common Law and Natural Law theories.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • Jurisprudence provides a forum for scholarly writing on the philosophy of law. While demanding the utmost intellectual honesty, clarity and scholarly rigour, its editorial policy is distinctively open-minded in relation to philosophical approach. A main purpose of the journal is to encourage scholarship which explores and transcends the categories and assumptions on which contemporary jurisprudential debates are conducted, and to stimulate reflection upon traditional questions concerning the nature of law, politics and society. The journal's unique reviews section will provide in-depth discussion and analysis of major developments in the field. Jurisprudence aims: " to encourage research exploring the relation between questions in the philosophy of law and debates in related branches of philosophy, including but not limited to political philosophy, moral philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of mind; " to support study of the intellectual history of the philosophy of law, both for its own sake and in order to shed light on contemporary jurisprudential questions; " to encourage careful research illuminating relations between jurisprudential questions and theoretical debates in anthropology, sociology, cultural and literary studies. Replies and correspondence pieces will be generally discouraged, although may be acceptable if the intention is to deepen and extend an original line of thought, and not merely to reiterate or amplify an earlier argument.


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