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Professor Joseph Raz, 1939-2022: An appreciation

Professor Joseph Raz, one of the most influential legal, political and moral philosophers of our time, sadly died on 2 May 2022.

Professor Raz joined The Dickson Poon School of Law in 2011 as a Research Professor, and also held positions at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Oxford and Columbia University.

Colleagues from his time at King’s have offered the following reflections.

Dr Christoph Kletzer, Reader in Law and Interim Vice Dean for International and External Relations: "Joseph has not only been a true giant of philosophy but also a kind and warm-hearted member of our academic community here at The Dickson Poon School of Law. His passing is desperately sad news for all of us. I still vividly remember my nervous anticipation when I first had to present a paper at a workshop here at King's with him in the audience. Whilst his comments were deeply perceptive and, as usual, went straight to the crux of the matter, they've always been benevolent and presented in the spirit of deepening our collective understanding. To say he will be dearly missed is a gross understatement."

Dr Ori Herstein, Reader in Law: “Joseph Raz was a beacon of academic rigour. His very presence seemed to raise the quality of any academic setting, helping to make King’s a leading centre of legal philosophy. In fact, my main reason for accepting a position with King’s was the fact that Joseph was a member of staff. Before then, having Joseph as my doctoral supervisor was an extraordinary privilege, setting for me the bar for what I ought to always expect and demand of myself. Later at King’s, Joseph kindly showed the same regard to my own PhD students. Over the years, Joseph become a mentor and friend, always supportive and generous with his advice and attention. Like so many others, I will sorely miss him.”

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Professor Joseph Raz (left) with, left to right, Dr Sarah Fine, Professor Tim Macklem, Professor John Tasioulas and Dr Christoph Kletzer.

Professor Irit Samet, Professor of Law: “The older I grow, the more I realise the extent to which Joseph was a supervisor like no other. I was not a typical student of Joseph’s, having chosen to write about metaphysics, medieval philosophy and moral psychology. I now know that I had the rare freedom to go wherever my intellectual curiosity led me only because I had Joseph’s backing. I knew that as long as I engaged seriously with the material, he would be there for me: probing, suggesting alternative ways of thinking, referring me to books and scholars that were not on the menu of mainstream D.Phil students in the law school. And while he was in one sense a very hands-on supervisor on both intellectual and pastoral levels (which in my naivete I took for granted) he never ever imposed his own view of the issues I chose to discuss. In fact, unless I could find it in his writing, I often couldn’t really tell what was his view on the issues that engaged me. As he repeatedly said, it’s how you get to your conclusion that is of real interest to me, the conclusion itself much less so. And so, like all his students, I always have a little Joseph voice sitting behind the writing hand, urging me to think and rethink my argument, never pose a strawman as a foil and be totally clear about my assumptions. This voice made my work infinitely better than it would otherwise have been. I can hear it speaking when I read the work of other students of his, my brothers and sisters in the Raz family. I still smile when remembering the joy I felt when I set with him on the last chapter of my D.Phil, two weeks before I gave birth to my first child, and he said to me (for the first time, of course), ‘That was a good chapter.' And the memory of him gently holding her as a new-born now brings a tear. He will live forever in our heart.”

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Professor Joseph Raz (centre) with Professor Tim Scanlon and Dr Ulrike Heuer.

Professor Massimo Renzo, the Yeoh Professor of Politics, Philosophy & Law, and Director of the YTL Centre: “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: “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.”

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Professor Joseph Raz (right) attends an event at The Dickson Poon School of Law.

Professor John Tasioulas, the inaugural Yeoh Professor of Politics, Philosophy and Law and now Professor of Ethics and Legal Philosophy at the University of Oxford: “Joseph was a deeply inspiring and much-loved colleague who honoured us all by being a truly engaged participant in the intellectual culture of legal philosophy at King’s College London.”

Professor Tasioulas has also written an obituary on the University of Oxford website.

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Joseph Raz

Joseph Raz

Research Professor of Law

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