Austin on command and obligation Notes for January 25

Main points

We spent a lot of time talking about Austin’s claim that laws are commands. We ended by mentioning his view of obligation. We’ll start with that on Wednesday.

Laws as commands

Austin held that laws are commands and that commands, in turn, always involve the threat of sanctions. We talked about Hart’s reasons for denying that being a command is a necessary condition of being a law. (These were rather condensed in our textbook as it includes only Hart’s summary of his arguments from previous chapters.)

Hart had two cases: laws that apply to the lawmakers and laws that enable people to do things, such as making contracts. Neither fit the model of commands addressed to inferiors and backed by sanctions, according to Hart.

Jamie disputed that. He maintained that when the legal system fails to enforce a contract, that counts as a sanction against the parties to the contract. So if I fail to follow the laws of contracts, I am sanctioned very much as if I am sanctioned for failing to follow the criminal law.

This page was written by Michael Green for Philosophy of Law, Philosophy 34, Spring 2010. It was posted January 25, 2010.
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