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Professor Joseph Raz, 1939-2022

The Dickson Poon School of Law is greatly saddened to share the news of the death of our esteemed colleague, Professor Joseph Raz.

Joseph Raz 780x440
Professor Joseph Raz

Professor Raz was one of the most influential legal, political and moral philosophers of our time. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his family.

Joseph Raz began his academic career in 1967, as a member of the Law and Philosophy faculties at The Hebrew University. In 1972 he became Fellow and Tutor in Law at Balliol College, Oxford and in 1985 he became Professor of Philosophy of Law at Oxford. He was appointed a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School in 2002. In 2011, he joined The Dickson Poon School of Law as a Research Professor.

Professor Raz’s contribution to legal theory is unparalleled over the past half century. His published works in this area include The Concept of a Legal System (1970), Practical Reason and Norms (1975), The Authority of Law (1979) and Between Authority and Interpretation (2009). In these works, Raz defended a form of legal positivism (i.e. the view that we can discover the content of positive law without first forming a view about the merits of the law) detaching legal positivism from the subjectivism about value so often associated with it and defending it against the criticisms of figures like Ronald Dworkin.

Raz’s writings on legal philosophy had a profound influence in the discipline, setting the terms for many of its central debates, most notably with his analysis of the notion of a legal norm and his account of political authority. Some of these ideas were developed in his masterpiece The Morality of Freedom (1986), whose influence went far beyond the boundaries of legal philosophy. Here Raz develops a highly original version of perfectionist liberalism (the view that the aim of the liberal state is to promote the flourishing of its members), while at the same time offering an innovative account of the notion of moral rights and an influential analysis of the notion of well-being.

Raz was one of the leading, perhaps the leading figure in the ‘reasons revolution’ which has overtaken analytical philosophy in the last 30 years and the theory of reason and value became the main focus on his philosophical work in the last phase of his career. Raz maintained that understanding the notion of a reason, which he first treated in Practical Reason and Norms, was the key to a whole series of philosophical problems such as those discussed in his Normativity and Responsibility (2011). Raz also made major contributions to the theory of value, for example, in the papers collected in his The Practice of Value (2003), which brings together the Tanner Lectures on Human Values he gave in 2000–2001, and his Engaging Reason: On the Theory of Value and Action (1999). His last book, The Roots of Normativity (2022) was published a few weeks before his death.

At King’s Raz was a significant figure in the evolution of The Yeoh Tiong Lay (YTL) Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law, one of the world’s leading centres for the study of legal and political philosophy.

Professor Massimo Renzo, the Yeoh Professor of Politics, Philosophy & Law, and Director of the YTL Centre said: “Joseph Raz is one of the most distinguished and original philosophers of our time. The influence of his work in legal philosophy is so pervasive that it would be hard to even imagine what the discipline would look like without it. His work in political philosophy and moral philosophy is no less important. Together with John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and Tim Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other, The Morality of Freedom has set the terms of the debate in political philosophy for the past four decades. And his work on practical reason and value theory has played a seminal role in generating a number of exciting debates that we’re still only beginning to grapple with. This huge intellectual contribution was matched by his generosity and dedication both as a teacher and as a colleague. The long list of students and colleagues who continue to show a profound attachment to him and his work are a testament not only to the depth of his ideas, but also to his kindness and humanity.”

Professor Lorenzo Zucca, Professor of Law and Philosophy, said: “Professor Raz was a towering giant and one of the most accomplished legal, moral, and political philosophers in the world. His intellectual stature was combined with unbelievable generosity: he would always have time to engage in conversation to sharpen thoughts and ideas. His love for philosophical argument was contagious and exhilarating, his stamina and strength in pursuing the truth was exemplary. His legacy is enormous: his works on the authority of law, on the morality of freedom, and on practical reason will shape the way we think about fundamental social practices for a long time to come. He lives through his ideas, and made us all better thinkers and more thoughtful human beings.”

Joseph Raz died on May 2, 2022, in Charing Cross Hospital after suffering a heart attack a few days earlier. He leaves behind his long-term partner Dr Penelope Bulloch and his son, Noam Raz.

He will be greatly missed by his many students and by all who had the pleasure of working alongside him.