Jurisprudence 1 (1):121-136 (2010)

Stefan Sciaraffa
McMaster University
In a quartet of books, Neil MacCormick develops in great detail his institutional theory of law. According to this theory, law is an institutional normative order. As we shall see, save for one key difference, MacCormick's institutional theory of a legal system closely parallels Hart's positivist theory. Though his theory of a legal system looks very much like Hart's positivist theory, he concludes that a central positivist tenet is false. He argues that, contra positivism, moral considerations are necessarily determinants of a legal system's laws; for, on his account, radically unjust norms necessarily are not law. Thus, MacCormick theory presents us with a surprising juxtaposition - in his words, a post-positivist synthesis of positivism and natural law theory. In this essay, I examine whether it is possible to reach a natural law conclusion on the basis of what is traditionally taken to be a positivist foundation. I argue that MacCormick's and Julie Dickson's attempts (on MacCormick's behalf) to do this are not promising. However, I also argue that MacCormick's theory of law has resources for a more promising approach to this argument, and I attempt to mine these resources
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DOI 10.5235/204033210791557281
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