Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Philosophy and Religion

First Advisor

Robert Westmoreland

Relational Format



The purpose of this thesis is to explore two legal theorists' conceptions of law and adjudication and then to use those conceptions to analyze which conception better illuminates the nature of international law. Hart thinks that a mature legal system is composed of primary and secondary rules. For Hart, whether a legal system exists is a matter of value-neutral social fact; a legal system is unified by formal criteria of validity that constitute the fundamental rule of the system. Law in no way relies on moral principles. Hart's theory for international law culminates in viewing international law as decidedly law, but an underdeveloped form of it. Dworkin views law as best explained and justified by introducing the idea that integrity, as a moral principle, gives the best explanation of what unifies a legal system and how judges decide cases. Dworkin conceives of legal claims as being inherently interpretive moral claims, and deciding what the law is in a hard case requires reference to irreducibly moral principles. I will attempt to advance my thesis that after applying both of these conceptions to the field of international law, Dworkin's theory better explains how law is both a social and institutional fact and a normative enterprise. His theory better explains how international law is justified in its normative aims through the principle of salience, and further gives a future, evolved vision for international law which would enable it to acquire a more effective place in the international community. Dworkin's addition of moral principles (and his model of sovereign states recognizing principles that have moral weight) to a set of rules serves to explain and justify international law as law in the fullest sense, and gives it a more powerful and significant place in the global community.

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