Taking the Minimum Content Seriously: Hart's Liberalism and Moral Values

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In contrast to existing approaches, this essay examines H.L.A. Hart’s legal philosophy as a single, coherent body of work. Read in this way, key tensions emerge between Hart’s claims about reasons for moral values and his liberal worldview. Hart’s meta-ethics treats moral values as contingent. Yet liberalism, as a political goal, requires the existence of some lasting moral values. It is possible for Hart’s legal philosophy to support lasting values for the critique of substantive law if we build upon the meta-ethical position that Hart tacitly adopts. This approach exposes a more fundamental tension between Hart’s claims about moral values and his strict distinction between questions of what law is and claims about what the content of law ought to be. This final tension cannot be resolved; it presents us with an important choice between Hart’s liberalism and his general approach to questions in legal philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477
JournalThe Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2012


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