Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart

Biography of Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart

Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart (18 July 1907 – 19 December 1992) was an influential legal philosopher of the 20th century. He was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University and the Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford. His most famous work is The Concept of Law (1961).

Hart was born in 1907, the son of a prosperous Jewish tailor of German and Polish origin. Educated at Cheltenham College, Bradford Grammar School and at New College, Oxford, Hart took an outstanding First in Classical Greats in 1929.

He became a Barrister and practised successfully at the Chancery Bar from 1932 to 1940 and was good friends with Richard (later Lord) Wilberforce. He received a Harmsworth Scholarship to the Middle Temple and also wrote literary journalism for the periodical John O'London's Weekly.

During World War II, Hart worked with MI5, a division of British military intelligence, where he renewed Oxford friendships including working with the philosophers Gilbert Ryle and Stuart Hampshire. He did not return to his legal practice after the War, preferring instead to accept the offer of a teaching fellowship (in philosophy, not Law) at New College, Oxford. Hart cites J. L. Austin as particularly influential during this time.

In 1952, he was elected Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford. He retired from the Chair in 1969 and was succeeded by Ronald Dworkin. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1959 to 1960.

Hart married Jenifer Williams, a senior civil servant in the Home Office and, later, Oxford historian at St Anne's College (specializing in the history of the police). Jenifer Hart, a 'sleeper' member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, later came under suspicion of having passed information to the Soviets. The Harts had four children, including a son who was disabled. The marriage contained "incompatible personalities", and Hart confessed to his daughter that "[t]he trouble with this marriage is that one of us doesn't like sex and the other doesn't like food." Jenifer Hart was believed by her contemporaries to have had an affair of long duration with Isaiah Berlin, a close friend of Hart's. Jenifer published her memoirs under the title Ask Me No More in 1998.

There is a description of their household by the writer on religion Karen Armstrong, who lodged with them for a time, in her book The Spiral Staircase.

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