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Joseph Raz

Joseph Raz - 20090224.jpg
Raz in 2009
Joseph Zaltsman

(1939-03-21)21 March 1939
Died2 May 2022(2022-05-02) (aged 83)
London, England
Alma materHebrew University of Jerusalem (MJur)
Balliol College, Oxford (DPhil)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolLegal positivism
Perfectionist liberalism
Main interests
Legal and political philosophy
Notable ideas
Perfectionist liberalism

Joseph Raz FBA (/rɑːz/; Hebrew: יוסף רז; born Zaltsman; 21 March 1939 – 2 May 2022) was an Israeli legal, moral and political philosopher. He was an advocate of legal positivism and is known for his conception of perfectionist liberalism. Raz spent most of his career as a professor of philosophy of law at the University of Oxford associated with Balliol College and was latterly a part-time professor of law at Columbia University Law School and a part-time professor at King's College London.[1] He received the Tang Prize in Rule of Law in 2018.

Life and career

Joseph Zaltsman was born on 21 March 1939 in Haifa (then in Mandatory Palestine) to Sonya and Shmuel Zaltsman.[2] He graduated in 1963 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a Magister Juris, summa cum laude. Also in 1963, he changed his surname to Raz.[2] Later, with funds provided by the Hebrew University, Raz pursued a doctorate at the University of Oxford under the supervision of H. L. A. Hart. Raz had met Hart earlier at a conference in Israel, impressing him by pointing 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 and completed his Doctor of Philosophy in 1967.

After completing his PhD, Raz 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 given tenure and promoted to senior lecturer. In 1972, he returned to Balliol as a fellow and tutor in law, becoming a professor of philosophy of law, Oxford University, from 1985 to 2006, and then a research professor from 2006 to 2009. In 2002, he also became a professor at Columbia Law School in New York and starting in 2011 was a research professor of law at King's College London.[1][3]

Raz died on 2 May 2022 at Charing Cross Hospital in his sleep. The Oxford Law Faculty called him "one of the last remaining giants of jurisprudence and philosophy".[4][5]

Philosophical work

Political philosophy

Raz's first book, The Concept of a Legal System, was based on his doctoral thesis. A later book, The Morality of Freedom, won two prizes: the 1987 W. J. M. Mackenzie Book Prize from the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom, awarded to the best book in political science each calendar year; and the 1988 Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize from the Conference for the Study of Political Thought, New York, awarded annually for the best book in liberal and/or democratic theory that had been published two years earlier. The book develops a conception of perfectionist liberalism.

In defending his conception of perfectionist liberalism, Raz argues that political institutions are justified by virtue of their contribution to persons' well-being. He argues that a person's well-being depends on ability to pursue personal goals.[6] However, in Raz's view, well-being does not occur upon achievement of any self-set goal. Rather, in David McCabe's words, "successful pursuit of objectively valuable goals" produces well-being according to Raz.[7]

Raz's argument for perfectionist liberalism follows from this view of well-being combined with two other premises. First, that human goals—and, therefore, human well-being—are conceived through, and depend on, what McCabe calls "social forms". Social forms are ways of being and acting that are developed socially and make sense only in the context of a given society. For example, one can only understand the social roles of a physician, friend, or parent by considering the rights and obligations that attach to that role in a social context.[8]

The second premise of the argument is that people need autonomy to occupy many social forms in liberal societies and achieve the goals that these social forms set out. Thus, a person must be autonomous to achieve the goals set by the social forms in a liberal society. Combined with Raz's view that political institutions are justified by virtue of their contribution to well-being and his argument that well-being, for humans, depends on social forms, his claim about autonomy shows that autonomy is necessary for well-being wherever social forms require autonomy. If liberal societies' social forms require autonomy, then liberal societies should support autonomy.[9]

Philosophy of law

A pupil of H. L. A. Hart, Raz was important in continuing the development of legal positivism both before and since Hart's death. Raz was also co-editor of a second edition of Hart's The Concept of Law with a postscript including Hart's responses to other philosophers' criticisms of his work.

Raz argued for a distinctive understanding of legal commands as exclusionary reasons for action and for the "service conception" of authority, according to which those subject to an authority "can benefit by its decisions only if they can establish their existence and content in ways which do not depend on raising the very same issues which the authority is there to settle".[10] This, in turn, supports Raz's argument for legal positivism—in particular "the sources thesis", "the idea that an adequate test for the existence and content of law must be based only on social facts, and not on moral arguments".[10]


Raz was acknowledged by his contemporaries as being one of the most important legal philosophers of his generation. He authored and edited twelve books, 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), The Practice of Value (2003), Between Authority and Interpretation (2009), From Normativity to Responsibility (2011) and The Roots of Normativity (2022). His most recent work deals less with legal theory and more with political philosophy and practical reasoning. In moral theory, Raz defended value pluralism and the idea that various values are incommensurable.

Raz's work has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in such cases as British Columbia v Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd and Sauvé v Canada (Chief Electoral Officer).

Several of Raz's students became legal and moral philosophers, including two current professors in jurisprudence at Oxford, Leslie Green and Timothy Endicott, and the former professor of jurisprudence John Gardner.

Honors and awards

Raz was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1987[11] and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1992.[12] He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Catholic University of Brussels, 1993, by King's College London, 2009, and by Hebrew University, 2014. In 2005 he received the International Prize for Legal Research 'Hector Fix-Zamudio' from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and in 2009 a Vice-Presidency Award from the Law Society of University College Dublin. In 2018 he received the Tang Prize in Rule of Law from Taiwan.[13]

In 2000–2001, he gave the Tanner Lectures on Human Values on "The Practice of Value" at the University of California, Berkeley.[14]


See also


  1. ^ a b "josephnraz". Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b May, Hal; Trosky, Susan M., eds. (1989). "Raz, Joseph 1939–". Contemporary Authors. Vol. 125. Gale. p. 381. ISBN 0-8103-1950-0. ISSN 0010-7468. OCLC 36105927.
  3. ^ Weinberg, Justin (2 May 2022). "Joseph Raz (1939-2022)". Daily Nous. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  4. ^ "In Memoriam: Joseph Raz". Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. 2 May 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Joseph Raz 1939-2002". Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. 4 May 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  6. ^ McCabe 2001, pp. 496–497.
  7. ^ McCabe 2001, p. 498.
  8. ^ McCabe 2001, pp. 497–498.
  9. ^ McCabe 2001, pp. 499–500.
  10. ^ a b Green, Leslie (1 January 2012). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 3 February 2017 – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. ^ "Professor Joseph Raz FBA", The British Academy, retrieved 3 September 2020
  12. ^ "cv – josephnraz". Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  13. ^ "Tang Prize in Rule of Law, 2018",, retrieved 3 September 2020
  14. ^ "Past Lectures". The Tanner Lectures on Human Values at University of California Berkeley. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2014.