Legal positivism

A theory about the nature of law, commonly thought to be characterized by two major tenets: (1) that there is no necessary connection between law and morality; and (2) that legal validity is determined ultimately by reference to certain basic social facts, e.g., the command of the sovereign (John Austin), the Grundnorm (Hans Kelsen), or the rule of recognition (Hart). These different descriptions of the basic law-determining facts lead to different claims about the normative character of law, with classical positivists (e.g., John Austin) insisting that law is essentially coercive, and modern positivists (e.g., Hans Kelsen) maintaining that it is normative. The traditional opponent of the legal positivist is the natural law theorist, who holds that no sharp distinction can be drawn between law and morality, thus challenging positivism's first tenet. Whether that tenet follows from positivism's second tenet is a question of current interest and leads inevitably to the classical question of political theory: Under what conditions might legal obligations, even if determined by social facts, create genuine political obligations (e.g., the obligation to obey the law)?

Fathom Knowledge Network Incorporated Reproduced with permission from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Copyright - 2000 Columbia University Press. All Rights Reserved.
Cambridge encyclopedia of Philosophy