The Path Not Taken: H.L.A. Hart’s Harvard Essay on Discretion

Harvard Law Review 127 (2):636-651 (2013)
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In this brief introduction, I shall rather reflect, from a biographer’s viewpoint, on the significance of Discretion for our understanding of the trajectory of Hart’s ideas and on the significance of his year at Harvard. I shall then move on to consider the intriguing question of why Hart did not subsequently publish or build on some of the key insights in the paper itself. Here I highlight the fact that, almost uniquely in Hart’s work, Discretion features a notable emphasis on the significance of institutional factors in our understanding of the nature of legal decisionmaking; and I argue that Hart’s failure fully to develop this insight in the essay, or to build on it in his subsequent work, derives from the fact that such a development would have necessitated a diversion from the philosophical issues that were his core intellectual concern, and moreover would have presented certain dangers to his conception of legal positivism. I shall conclude by considering what contribution the essay makes to our overall interpretation and evaluation of Hart’s legal philosophy.

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Nicola Lacey
London School of Economics


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