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Patrick Devlin’s The Enforcement of Morals revisited: absolutism and ambivalence

Lacey, Nicola (2022) Patrick Devlin’s The Enforcement of Morals revisited: absolutism and ambivalence. LSE Law, Society and Economy Working Papers, 1/2022. London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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Identification Number: 10.2139/ssrn.4062258


In the mid-1960s, the so-called ‘Hart-Devlin debate’ was generally regarded by criminal law theorists as having resulted in an unambiguous victory for Hart. Yet in a special issue of Criminal Law and Philosophy in 2013, marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of H.L.A. Hart’s Law, Liberty and Morality, well over half of the contributors regarded Devlin as having had the better of the argument. In this paper, I revisit Patrick Devlin’s The Enforcement of Morals, assessing the importance of the context in which it was written, and evaluating its legacy for criminal law scholarship today. I argue that, notwithstanding its flaws, Devlin’s text marked a bellwether in the development of the field. I also raise questions, however, about how far the text should remain a key focus in the ongoing discussion of whether and in what ways criminal law should enforce morality.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: Law
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2022 11:24
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2022 14:36

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