In his own voice: H.L.A. Hart in conversation with David Sugarman

The Nightmare and the Noble Dream

On 9th November 1988 H.L.A. Hart recorded a wide-ranging interview with the legal historian David Sugarman. The interview spanned Hart’s childhood, education, and early career; his philosophical influences and colleagues; his visit to Harvard and exchange with Lon Fuller; his major works; his views on Ronald Dworkin and the nature of legal philosophy; his public work; and his views on legal scholarship, analytic philosophy, and legal education.

To celebrate the publication of the third edition of Hart’s most famous work, The Concept of Law, OUP has remastered and released, by kind permission of David Sugarman, the full audio recording of the interview for the first time.

Professor Sugarman has written some reflections on the interview for the OUP blog.

The interview is also accessible via the YouTube playlist.

The interview is broken down into nine parts, available for streaming and download below:

Part One: Childhood and Early Career

In the first part of the interview, Hart discusses his childhood, education, and early career at the London Bar, working for military intelligence during the Second World War, and return to academia. He discusses the influence of his legal work on his subsequent legal philosophy.

Listen to Part One

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Part Two: Major Philosophical Influences

In the second part of the interview, Hart discusses his return to Oxford after the Second World War. He discusses his relationship with J.L. Austin, their joint class on criminal responsibility, and Austin’s theory of performative utterances. The discussion also encompasses the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein; Peter Strawson; Anthony Woozley; A J Ayer; Gilbert Ryle; George Paul, Friedrich Waismann, and Isaiah Berlin.

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Part Three: Early Philosophical Work

In the third part of the interview, Hart discusses his early philosophical publications of the 1940s and 1950s, including The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights, Are There Any Natural Rights?, and his inaugural lecture Definition and Theory in Jurisprudence. He also gives an account of his election to the Oxford Chair of Jurisprudence, and the state of jurisprudence at the time of his election to the Chair, including the work of Arthur Goodhart; C.K. Allen; and G.C. Cheshire. He discusses his attitude to legal sociology, and his work with J.L. Austin on the nature of rules.

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Part Four: Harvard Visit and Exchange with Lon Fuller

In the fourth part of the interview Hart discusses his sabbatical year at Harvard University, and experience of American teaching and academia. He touches on the writing of Causation in the Law, and discusses at length his engagement with Lon Fuller, including their exchange in the Harvard Law Review. Other figures discussed include John Dickinson; Herbert Wechsler; Roscoe Pound; Henry Hart; Paul Freund; and Peter Winch. Finally, he discusses his attitude to jurisprudence textbooks, and establishing the Clarendon Law Series.

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The Concept of Law

Part Five: The Major Works

In the fifth part of the interview Hart discusses his major works: Causation in the Law, The Concept of Law, Law, Liberty, and Morality, Punishment and Responsibility, and his work on the legal philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. In doing so, he touches on his views on the relationship between law and morality; the motivations for writing The Concept of Law and Law, Liberty, and Morality; British social developments in the 1960s and under Margaret Thatcher; and the importance of Bentham to jurisprudence.

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Part Six: Ronald Dworkin and the Nature of Legal Philosophy

In the sixth part of the interview Hart discusses the work of Robert Nozick, and Ronald Dworkin, in particular his disagreement with Dworkin on the nature of legal philosophy. He responds to Dworkin’s ‘semantic sting’ argument, and clarifies his position on the role of evaluation in social theory. He concludes with his assessment of Dworkin as a ‘beautiful writer who got carried away’.

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Part Seven: Public Work

In the short seventh part of the interview Hart discusses his public work, including his work for the Monopolies Commission; and his work on student discipline for Oxford University.

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Part Eight: Analytic Philosophy and Legal Scholarship

In the eighth part of the interview Hart discusses the role of analytic philosophy in social theory; the supposed hostility of analytic philosophy to ‘grand theory’; whether his work has contributed to the narrowness of legal scholarship. He also discusses his description of The Concept of Law as ‘an essay in descriptive sociology’; sociological legal theory; critical legal studies; and continental philosophy.

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Part Nine: Political Views, Legal Education, and Legacy

In the final part of the interview, Hart discusses his political views; involvement with anti-tax avoidance seminars; his wife Jennifer Hart’s communism; changes in Oxford legal education; the legal profession’s attitude to academia; and his contribution to legal philosophy.

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