1902 Encyclopedia > John Austin

John Austin
English legal philosopher
(1790-1859)




JOHN AUSTIN, one of the ablest English writers on jurisprudence, was born on the 3d March 1790. At an early age he entered the army, and passed five years in military service. He then retired, applied himself to the study of law, and was called to the bar in 1814. His powers, though admirably adapted for grasping the funda-mental principles of law, were not of a nature to render him successful in legal practice. His health, too, was delicate, and in 1825 he resigned active employment at the bar. In the following year, however, he was appointed to the chair of jurisprudence in the newly-founded London university. He immediately crossed over to Germany to prepare himself for his new duties, and at Bonn became acquainted with some of the most eminent German jurists. His lectures were at first attended by a number and a class of students quite beyond his anticipations. Among his hearers were such men as Lord Romilly, Sir G. C. Lewis, and J. S. Mill From Mill's notes some of the lectures were afterwards published, and he has given an admirable account of Austin in his Dissertations (vol. iii.) But it soon became apparent that there would be no steady demand for training in the science of law, which, though useful, was not of immediate utility in practice. Under these circum-stances Austin, who was almost too conscientious in regard to his own work, thought it right to resign the chair in 1832. An attempt to institute lectures at the Inner Temple also failed, and, as his health was delicate, he retired to Boulogne, where he remained for nearly two years. In 1837 he acted as royal commissioner in Malta, and discharged the duties of that office most efficiently. The next ten years were spent in travelling on the Con-tinent, as the state of his health hardly permitted him to reside in England. The Revolution of 1848 drove him from Paris, and on his return to England he settled at Weybridge, in Surrey, where he remained till his death in December 1859. Austin wrote one or two pamphlets, but the chief work he published was his Province of Jurispru-dence Determined (1832), a treatise on the relation between ethics and law, which gives a clear analysis of the notion of obligation, and an admirable statement of utilitarianism, the ethical theory adopted by the author. After his death, his widow, Mrs Sarah Austin, published his Lectures on Juris-prudence; or, The Philosophy of Positive Law. These, com-bined with the Province, have been edited, under the same title, by Mr R. Campbell, and reached in 1875 a fifth edition.







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