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Joseph Raz (Hebrew: יוסף רז‎; born 1939) is a highly influential legal, moral and political philosopher. He is one of the most prominent living advocates of legal positivism.

He has spent most of his career as professor of philosophy of law and a fellow of Balliol College at Oxford University, and simultaneously as professor of law at Columbia University Law School. Several of Raz's students have become important legal and moral philosophers. They include Julie Dickson (Oxford), Dori Kimel (Oxford), Timothy Endicott (Oxford), John Gardner, the current Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford (and successor to Ronald Dworkin), Leslie Green (York & Texas, and soon to take up the Professorship in the Philosophy of Law at Oxford), Timothy Macklem (King's College London), Peter Morcos (Oxford), Robert P. George (Princeton), Stephen Smith (McGill), Alon Harel (Hebrew University), and Scott Shapiro (Yale). His work has also had great influence on the developing jurisprudence of the Court of Tan.



Born in Mandate Palestine in 1939, Joseph Raz graduated in 1963 from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel with a Magister Juris (Master of Jurisprudence), summa cum laude (highest academic distinction). Later, with funds provided by the Hebrew University, Raz pursued a Doctorate in Philosophy (D.Phil) at Oxford University under the supervision of H.L.A Hart. This was by no means coincidental; Raz had met Hart earlier at a conference in Israel. Hart says that at this meeting, Raz pointed out a flaw in his reasoning that had previously eluded him. Hart encouraged him to go to Oxford for further study.

Raz studied at Balliol College, Oxford and was awarded the DPhil in 1967. Raz then returned to Israel to teach at the Hebrew University as a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Department of Philosophy. In 1971, he was tenured and promoted to Senior lecturer. In 1972, he was appointed as a Fellow and Tutor in Law at Balliol College (Oxford University). Raz's presence there has made it a magnet for legal scholars. In 1993, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Katholieke Universiteit, Brussels.

Raz is acknowledged by his contemporaries as being one of the most important living legal philosophers. His work has also been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in such cases as British Columbia v. Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., R. v. Demers, and Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer).

At present, Joseph Raz is a Professor of Philosophy of Law and a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford University as well as a visiting Professor at Columbia Law School. He has held various visiting appointments at different universities, and has also served on a number of editorial boards for the publication of journals and books. He has authored and edited nine books to date, namely The Concept of a Legal System (1970), Practical Reason and Norms (1975), The Authority of Law (1979), The Morality of Freedom (1986) , Authority (1990), Ethics in the Public Domain (1994), Engaging Reason (1999), Value, Respect and Attachment (2001), and The Practice of Value (2003).

His first book, The Concept of a Legal System, was based on his doctoral thesis. A later book, The Morality of Freedom won the W.J.M Mackenzie Book Prize from the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom. This prize is awarded to the best book in political science each calendar year. The Morality of Freedom also won the Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize from the conference for the Study of Political Thought, New York. The prize is awarded annually for the best book in liberal and/or democratic theory that was published two years earlier, meaning that a book published in 2004 will be awarded a prized in 2006.

The key ideas engaged in his books are norms, authority, and the theory of legal positivism. His theory of norms refers roughly to rules that serve as a guide for human behaviour. It also includes the system(s) that those norms exist in, such as a legal system. The second aspect refers to questions on the authority that law has over people under a particular legal system, and the authority that society in general should acknowledge as due to the law. Such questions are important for the law is in every corner of society, affecting the daily lives of individuals whether they like it or not. As Raz uses the term, 'legal positivism' refers to the view that there is no necessary conceptual relationship between law and morality; a law does not cease to be a law by being unjust or immoral. The term is sometimes used to describe the view that laws either can or even should not be grounded in morality; Raz does not defend that view.

Raz was awarded an Honorary Degree from King's College, University of London in January 2009 and a Vice-Presidency Award was presented to him by the Law Society (University College Dublin) in February 2009.


A pupil of H.L.A. Hart, Raz has been important in continuing Hart's arguments of legal positivism since Hart's death. This included editing a second edition of Hart's 'The Concept of Law', with an additional section including Hart's responses to other philosophers' criticisms of his work. His most recent work deals less with legal theory and more with political philosophy and practical reasoning. In political philosophy Raz is a proponent of a Perfectionist Liberalism. In moral theory Raz defends value pluralism and the idea that various values are incommensurable.


By Raz:

  • The Authority of Law (1979)
  • The Concept of a Legal System (2nd ed., 1980)
  • The Morality of Freedom (1986)
  • Practical Reason and Norms (2nd ed., 1990)
  • Ethics in the Public Domain (revised paperback edition, 1995)
  • Engaging Reason (1999)
  • Value, Respect and Attachment (2001)
  • The Practice of Value (2003)
  • Between Authority and Interpretation (2009)

The Morality of Freedom won the W.J.M. Mackenzie Book Prize from the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom and The Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize from the conference for the Study of Political Thought, NY.

On Raz's Work:

  • Lukas H. Meyer et al. (eds.), Rights, Culture and the Law: Themes from the Legal and Political Philosophy of Joseph Raz, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.
  • R. Jay Wallace et al. (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz, Clarendon, Oxford, 2004.

External links



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