Joseph Raz

Joseph Raz

The eminent legal philosopher Joseph Raz passed away on Monday at the age of 83.

“Joseph Raz was born in 1939 in Mandate Palestine. Encouraged in his youthful intellectual pursuits by his father, an electrician, he grew up in a house with no books except his own. Raz studied law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he impressed the great Oxford legal philosopher, H.L.A. Hart, with perceptive criticisms of an invited lecture that Hart had delivered. Raz subsequently came to Oxford to work under Hart’s supervision, completing his doctorate in 1967. He then took up a tutorial fellowship in law at Balliol College in 1972, and went on to hold a personal chair in the philosophy of law (1985-2006), and then a research professorship (2006-2009). In the latter part of his career he also held posts at Columbia Law School and King’s College London.

“The author of works including The Concept of a Legal System (1970), Practical Reason and Norms (1975), and The Authority of Law (1979), Raz was one of the three or four leading legal philosophers of the last hundred years. Along with John Rawls, he was one of the two most significant political philosophers in the liberal tradition since John Stuart Mill. Together with H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, and John Finnis, Raz firmly established Oxford’s pre-eminence in legal philosophy for over half a century. In legal philosophy, Raz succeeded Hart as the torch-bearer of legal positivism. One bone of contention in the multi-faceted quarrel between legal positivists and natural lawyers is whether moral judgments are necessary in determining the existence and content of laws. According to the original version of legal positivism championed by Raz, the existence and content of legal norms is always exclusively a matter of social fact – e.g., of what has been laid down by legislatures or judicial decisions - rather than moral evaluation.”

Read the full obituary on the University of Oxford’s website.

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