John Austin

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Related to John Austin: Jeremy Bentham, Legal positivism, Hans Kelsen

Austin, John,

1790–1859, English jurist. He served (1826–32) as professor of jurisprudence at the Univ. of London, and his lectures were published (with additional material) as The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832, repr. 1967, 3 vol.) and Lectures on Jurisprudence (1869, 5th ed. 1911). These books presented a comprehensive analysis of the principles underlying all legal systems. Austin argued that law was the expression of the will of the sovereign authority and was not to be confused with the dictates of religion and ethics. Austin's work—in part stemming from that of Jeremy BenthamBentham, Jeremy,
1748–1832, English philosopher, jurist, political theorist, and founder of utilitarianism. Educated at Oxford, he was trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced; he devoted himself to the scientific analysis of morals and
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—had a strong influence on many later legal theorists, including John Stuart MillMill, John Stuart,
1806–73, British philosopher and economist. A precocious child, he was educated privately by his father, James Mill. In 1823, abandoning the study of law, he became a clerk in the British East India Company, where he rose to become head of the examiner's
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. His wife, Sarah Taylor Austin, was a well-known translator.


See J. Brown, ed., The Austinian Theory of Law (1906).

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Murphy teases out a fundamental continuity in the history of positive law by examining the works of Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, and John Austin. The thread is the fundamental ambiguity about whether law is positive because it is deliberately imposed--in contrast to customary law--or because it lacks moral necessity--in contrast to natural law.
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1783: Forger John Austin was the last person to die by public hanging at Tyburn (now Marble Arch in London).