John Austin

(1790—1859) legal philosopher

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British philosopher of law. Born in London, after a brief career in the army Austin was called to the Bar in 1818. With his wife, Sarah Taylor, he was closely associated with Bentham and his circle. When the university of London was founded in 1826 he was offered the chair of jurisprudence, and his first series of lectures became his masterwork, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832). In this year, however, he gave up the chair for financial reasons. Austin is known as the first and most rigorous exponent of an imperativist conception of law. Law is the command of the sovereign backed by sanctions; the sovereign is the person or institution whom the people have the habit of obeying. The model has been relentlessly attacked, for instance for failing to account for the persistence of legal authority and for the role of the law in providing a framework that enables people to do things. But it properly focuses upon the difference between law as it is and law as it should be (about which Austin was a utilitarian), and it brings to the forefront the central and permanent question of the underlying relationship between law and political power.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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