Non-Positivism and Encountering a Weakened Necessity of the Separation between Law and Morality – Reflections on the Debate between Robert Alexy and Joseph Raz

Archiv Für Rechts- Und Sozialphilosophie, Beiheft 158:305-334 (2019)
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Nearly thirty years ago, Robert Alexy in his book The Concept and Validity of Law as well as in other early articles raised non-positivistic arguments in the Continental European tradition against legal positivism in general, which was assumed to be held by, among others, John Austin, Hans Kelsen and H.L.A. Hart. The core thesis of legal positivism that was being discussed among contemporary German jurists, just as with their Anglo- American counterparts, is the claim that there is no necessary connection between law and morality. Robert Alexy has argued, however, that the law, besides consisting conceptually of elements of authoritative issuance and social efficacy, necessarily lays a claim to substantial correctness, which is derived from analytical arguments. Furthermore, if this claim to substantial correctness necessarily requires the incorporation of moral elements into law, then the ‘necessary connection thesis’, as defended by non-positivism, can be justified. Some of the most significant objections to this sort of claim, stemming from the Anglo-American world, are those introduced by Joseph Raz. In his ‘Reply’ to Robert Alexy, Raz raises at least three interesting criticisms, including, first, the ambiguity of ‘legal theory in the positivistic tradition’, second, the indeterminate formulations of the ‘separation thesis’, and, third, the necessary claim of law to legitimate authority as a moral claim. As a point of departure, I will argue that Raz’s three criticisms are misleading. For they do not enhance our understanding of the genuine compatibility or incompatibility between legal positivism and non-positivism. Despite the frequently reformulated theses of legal positivism and the various kinds of opponents responding thereto, the essential divergence between legal positivism and non-positivism was and remains the answer to the question of the relation between law and morality. Furthermore, I will clarify that in the strictest sense there can be three and only three logically possible positions concerning the relation between law and morality: the connection between them is either necessary, or impossible (i. e. they are necessarily separate), or contingent (i. e. they are neither necessarily connected nor necessarily separate). The first position is non-positivistic, while the latter two positions are, indeed, both positivistic, but in different forms: one may be called ‘exclusive’ legal positivism, the other ‘inclusive’ legal positivism. I will continue by showing that these three positions stand to one another in the relation of contraries, not contradictories, and that, taken together, they exhaust the logically possible positions concerning the relation between law and morality, never mind the tradition or authority from which these positions are derived. Raz mentions, however, many changeable formulations of the separation thesis, which even leads him to acknowledge ‘necessary connections between law and morality’. One who is trying to understand legal positivism would no doubt be puzzled by this claim. Nevertheless, I will argue that this is an alternative strategy of legal positivism, and it points to naturalistically oriented view. Although this necessary separation between law and morality, understood naturalistically, strikes one as strengthening the separation, in the end it leads to a weakened notion of necessity. This weakened necessary separation thesis, however, cannot be justified through the so-called claim of the law to legitimate authority, defended by Raz, for it is difficult to answer the question of whether a normally justified but factual authority can gain legitimate authority. Finally, the necessary connection between law and morality in a strong sense can still be justified by the claim of law to correctness, as per Alexy’s argument.



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Wei Feng
China University of Political Science and Law

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