Course:Law3020/2014WT1/Group R/Separation Thesis

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Hart's Separation Thesis

The "separation thesis" is easily understood as the assertion that law and morality operate within two distinctly separate spheres. Essentially, legal rules exist independently from moral beliefs. However, laws are incapable of being 100% prospective, and a scenario will inevitably arise where it becomes unclear whether or not the law applies. These scenarios become known as the "hard" cases; cases where a legal decision needs to be made, and it becomes up to the judge's discretion to decide what precisely is the "core" meaning of the law. But, how does a judge decide what falls inside or outside the core meaning of the law? This gap is the penumbra, an area where it is unclear if the particular case falls within the core of the law in which it is being tried.

According to Hart, judges should fill the gap of the penumbra by considering the governing rules from which they arose: the basic principles of justice. If judges successfully follow these principles, the concluding judgement will be one of an "amoral" nature. Now, "amoral" is not to be confused with "immoral". An "amoral" decision is not a counter-moral conclusion, it is a decision divorced from morality; a decision founded entirely on the principles of law. Such a decision is possible under the "separation thesis" because of the belief that law is separate from morality.

Fuller's Critique of Hart's Separation Thesis

Fuller on the other hand asserts an impossibility of divorcing morality of law. The general idea of Fuller's critique of Hart's "separation thesis" is that laws themselves are inevitably encumbered with the instrumentations of morality. Laws are not made because of an objective need for order; laws are made because of an objective need for a subjectively "good" order. The very subjectivity of "good" is indicative of a moral valuation. This moral valuation is also the reason why laws have an inherent "inner morality", and why an "immoral law" presents a struggle for legal obedience.

Additionally, the concept of a law's defined "core" is a folly. Judge's cannot settle on a "core meaning" of a law, because laws themselves are always subjected to interpretation. Fuller asserts that the very need for "judicial interpretation" signifies the impossibility of a "core meaning". Furthermore, when judges do attempt to locate the "core" of a law when presented by a penumbral gap, they can, and often do, turn to morality to help fill in the gap to determine the "good" the law was attempting accomplish.

Reconciling the Conflict

Where the Penumbra Exists