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H. L. A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin Debate Research Paper


The focus of this paper will be centered on the argument supporting Hart’s law. Ronald Dowarkin had discredited Hart’s law argument on the ground that it is incomplete as well as having many reasoning errors and mistakes, which might render it philosophical irrelevant for appropriate legal study. It is the basis of such argument that prompted the analysis of this debate on the literary and scholarly text.


In essence, Dworkin’s theoretical arguments were based on the precincts that the legal experts and the jurors of the United States do not always have the capacity of legal discretions, especially on hard cases. In addition, Dworkin based his critique on the assumption that the legal contents in such cases are often decided on the basis of the moral norms.

These norms form the foundations upon which the prevailing legal practice is based. Though, these claims are relevant to both the philosophical and legal debates, they can be regarded to be controversial due to the fact that tensional issues often exist among them.

Therefore, in order to avoid potential philosophical and legal issues on the interpretation as well as the understanding of the entire theoretical debate, it is important to support the facts acknowledged in Hart’s theory about the law (Moles, 2011).

Analysis of Hart’s theoretical argument on the Law

Hart postulated the following, as quoted from his theoretical argument:

The concept of a rule as we have seen is as perplexing as that of law itself, so that definitions of law that start by identifying laws as a species of rule usually advance our understanding of law no further. For this something more fundamental is required than a form of definition…” (Moles, 2011, paragraph 1).

Though, Hart found it relevant and necessary that definitions are crucial in understanding the law, he pointed out that more fundamentals are needed so as to fully understand the legal concepts.

Under the same theoretical debate, it is clear to support the argument since Hart ascertained in his theory that criticisms should not be merely based on the definitions, but on the whole concept. In fact, it would be literary absurd to argue against Hart’s theoretical debate on the law, drawing from the definitions alone.

This form of argument might lead someone into making erroneous conclusions on the entire concept. It is important to analyze and understand the whole concept before making some quick conclusions about the theoretical work of another scholar. Therefore, it can be argued that Dworkin based his argument on the definitions of terms employed in Hart’s theory, but he failed to account for the understanding of the whole concept analyzed.

Following such arguments that had been advanced in the works of Dworkin, both the students of philosophy and law might be led into erroneous thinking that Hart’s theoretical literature was full of mistakes. Adopting such argument at the surface of it might stop someone towards the contribution of scholarly debates that provoke a lot of thinking and insight into a problem, which is being analyzed (Moles, 1987).

Moreover, it is evidenced from Hart’s theoretical debate that definitions are crucial in building theories, but it is not sufficient to discredit scholarly work on the basis of these terminologies alone. Though, the definitions are important in the theoretical knowledge, it is important to realize that Dworkin failed to incorporate the complexity of ideas and rules in analyzing Hart’s work. It can as well be argued that he merely assumed them in the analysis.

On the contrary, Harts explored the use of both the ideas and rules to help in the understanding of the whole concept. Therefore, it is true to say that Hart’s theoretical debate was more in-depth than that of Dworkin since the latter mainly based his argument on the definition of terms to discredit the former’s literary work.

It would be definitely wrong for any student of philosophy and law who is studying to understand and discern the truth on this theoretical knowledge to adopt Dworkin’s argument against the work of Hart. This might prevent one from knowing the absolute truth about the whole problem. In any field of knowledge, it is important for a student to understand a problem by analyzing all its underlying concepts (Moles, 2006).

It can as well be argued that Dworkin’s argument on Hart’s theory was superficial on the ground that the former had dwelt mainly on the inadequacy of definitions without necessarily making references to the concept of rule, which was widely explored by the latter. It was witnessed from the work of Hart that he had misinterpreted the work of Austin as a result of superficial arguments concerning the law.

Such insufficient accounts on the law that lacked adequate details led to erroneous reasoning, which served as deterrents to the progressive development of the legal system. Such retrogressive developments on the understanding of the legal systems ought to be discouraged at all costs.

Indeed, such foundation of erroneous argument that leads to making wrong conclusions, which ought to be discouraged in any scholarly debate (Dworkin, 1978). In essence, adopting such arguments would be mean propagating and advancing erroneous thinking and wrong deductions, which were evidenced from the work of Dworkin.

The development of rule was very crucial in the literary analysis of Hart’s work. In fact, it is such critical analysis that resulted into the rejection of Austin’s work. Hart argued in his theoretical and critical arguments that the ideas on rules were crucial and necessary for the development of strong scholarly work on law. In order to support the basis of his theoretical knowledge, Hart argued and categorically stated that:

“The root cause of failure is that the elements out of which the theory was constructed,… do not include, and cannot by their combination yield, the idea of a rule, without which we cannot hope to elucidate even the most elementary forms of law” (Moles, 2011, paragraph 3).

Focusing on the above basis of argument by Hart, it is even clearer than thought before that the elements upon which the theory is based cannot be ignored in understanding the entire concept on this theoretical debate. The discussed elements were not incorporated by Dworkin when he took the bold step of criticizing the work of Hart.

Therefore, it is absolutely right to argue that Dworkin failed in understanding the ideas on rules since his work was lacking the assessments on the elements of theory as explored in the works of Hart. This is one of the components that might derive someone to support the work of Hart, which was ones disregarded to be incomplete.

In addition, Dworkin had disowned the theoretical argument on the law, citing some serious allegations that the theory had several mistakes, which render it inadequate for strong scholarly debate as well as its adoption for practical purposes (Hart, 2005).

Hart stated the exposition of his personal knowledge on the theory by claiming the following:

“but we shall make the general claim that in the combination of these two types of rule there lies what Austin wrongly claimed to have found in the notion of coercive orders, namely, ‘the key to the science of jurisprudence’… What we shall attempt to show, in this and the succeeding chapters, is that most of the features of law which have proved most perplexing and have both provoked and eluded the search for definition can best be rendered clear, if these two types of rule and the interplay between them are understood. We accord this union of elements a central place because of their explanatory power in elucidating the concepts that constitute the framework of legal thought” (Moles, 2011, paragraph 4).

In this theoretical debated, Hart acknowledged that the unionization of elements is very crucial in understanding the entire concept. He also acknowledged the fact that many scholars are often faced with the up-hill tasks of understanding the ideas on rules as evidenced on law problems. Such controversial tasks on the understanding of the ideas of rules make it impossible to comprehend the whole concept, which is a rather confusing idea (Mann, 2009).

Though, Hart had acknowledged all these shortcomings in his theoretical debate, it is rather unfortunate that Dworkin recognized little of these claims. It is the lack of such in-depth analysis on the whole concept, which led Dworkin to believe that Hart’s work was incomplete and marred with several mistakes.

However, an in-depth assessment on the same concept has proved Dworkin’s theoretical argument to be incomplete and unfounded on the basic precincts of truth. It can as well be argued that Dworkin’s study on Hart’s theoretical knowledge on law was not well thought and researched. After, a thorough evaluation of the whole debate, every scholar might tend to adopt and support the theoretical knowledge advanced by Hart (Beehler, 1978).

It is important to understand that the work of Hart on the concept behind a rule was rather confusing as supported in his literary work. However, this should not form the basis of Dworkin’s debate against the entire concept as advanced by the theoretical knowledge on the law. Every scholar who reads the work of Hart comes to realize that the proposed rules might come from different ways, and they might at the same time relate differently to those actions, which they are pegged on.

This is due to the fact that these rules are legally coined from deliberate acts of the law (Moles, 1992). On the other hand, the other rules are non-deliberate as explored in the works of Hart. In addition, some of these rules are regarded as mandatory while others merely describe certain procedures.

One central argument, which has been found from the works of Hart, is one that supports the unification of various rules towards the stable sustainability of the whole legal systems. This is done through the use of established principles to help in the unification process. Such developments in the law process are not only relevant in understanding of the concept under study, but are also necessary in harmonizing the different sets of rules.

Under the same concept of legal arguments, Hart proposed for the adoption of both the primary and secondary rules, which are very necessary in discussion on the law. Indeed, these two rules are significant in understanding the concept of law. However, it is rather unfortunate that Dworkin failed to incorporate all these elements in analyzing the work of Hart, thus discrediting it as insufficient due to several mistakes in its content (Moles, 2004).

In Hart’s thesis, he mainly focused his argument on the concept of a ‘rule’. Though, the rule concept was the main foundation of his argument, it is important to understand that the author acknowledged the problems, which are associated with it. This is not a sufficient ground to discredit his work as seen from the theoretical debate of Dworkin.

It is possible to argue that the presentations made by Dworkin on Hart’s work suffered substantive defects, which should not be adopted for any scholarly debate. Such defects were attributed to his focus on the definitions alone since he did not analyze the concept in its entirety (Arnold, 1979).

Conclusion and recommendation

In sum, Hart’s theoretical work on the law provides more insightful information than what is claimed by Dworkin. This is due to the fact that Dworkin mainly based his argument against Hart’s theory, citing the insufficiency of definitions. He also claimed that Hart’s work was incomplete and full of mistakes.

This is not the true position of the whole situation, since Hart made an in-depth analysis on the whole concept, drawing focus on both the primary and secondary rules, which are relevant in the analysis. He recommended that the two rules must be harmonized in understanding the law. Hart also acknowledged the associated problems. Therefore, it is important to support Hart’s theoretical argument.


Arnold, C. (1979). Institutional Aspects of Law. Journal of Modern Law Review, 1(1), 678-679.

Beehler, R. (1978). The Concept of Law and the Obligation to Obey. American Journal of Jurisprudence, 23 (1), 120-122.

Dworkin, R. (1978). Taking Rights Seriously.Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Hart, L. (2005). The Concept of Law. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Mann, T. (2009). Flawed Forensics: The Splatt case and Stewart Cockburn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moles, R. (1987). Definition and Rule in Legal Theory. Oxford: Blackwells Publishers.

Moles, R. (1992). The Decline and Fall of Dworkin’s Empire in Reading Dworkin Critically. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moles, R. (2004). A state of Injustice. Melbourne: Lothian Books Publishers.

Moles, R. ( 2006).Losing Their Grip: the Case of Henry Keogh. Oxford: Elvis Press.

Moles, R. (2011). Definition and Rule in Legal Theory – A Critique of HLA Hart and the Positivist Tradition. Retrieved from

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Ware, P. (2019) 'H. L. A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin Debate'. IvyPanda, 19 June.

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