John Austin (legal philosopher)

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For other people with the same name, see John Austin (disambiguation).
John Austin
John Austin.jpg
Born (1790-03-03)3 March 1790
Creeting Mill, Suffolk
Died 1 December 1859(1859-12-01) (aged 69)
Weybridge, Surrey
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Legal positivism
Main interests
Legal philosophy

John Austin (3 March 1790, Creeting Mill, Suffolk – 1 December 1859, Weybridge, Surrey) was a noted British jurist and published extensively concerning the philosophy of law and jurisprudence.[1]

Austin served with the British Army in Sicily and Malta, but sold his officer's commission to study law. He became a member of the Bar during 1818. He discontinued his law practice soon after, devoted himself to the study of law as a science, and became Professor of Jurisprudence in the University of London (now University College London) 1826-33. Thereafter he served on various Royal Commissions.

His publications had a profound influence on English jurisprudence. They include The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832), and Lectures on Jurisprudence.[2]

On 24 August 1819, Austin married Sarah Taylor, who also became an author, at St George Colegate, Norwich.[3]

He also introduced command theory and sovereignty theory.[citation needed]

Theory of legal positivism[edit]

The three basic points of Austin's theory of law are that:

  • the law is command issued by the uncommanded commander—the sovereign;
  • such commands are backed by threats of sanctions; and
  • a sovereign is one who is habitually obeyed
  • law is command and sanction of sovereign

Austin's view of 'a sovereign' was challenged by Henry Maine in "Early Institutions" where he argues that in some Empires of the Orient there is nothing to correspond with "determinate superior" or sovereign.[4]

Austin was greatly influenced in his utilitarian approach to law by Jeremy Bentham.


  1. ^  Macdonell, John (1885). "Austin, John (1790-1859)". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 02. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ Austin, John (1869). Campbell, Robert, ed. Lectures on Jurisprudence, or, The Philosophy of Positive Law 1 (3rd ed.). London: John Murray. Retrieved 2012-12-14. 
  3. ^  Macdonell, John (1885). "Austin, Sarah". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 02. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  4. ^ Maine, Henry Sumner (1875). Lectures on the Early History of Institutions (1st ed.). New York: Henry Holt. pp. 342–400. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 

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