John Gardner at Home

Tribute from Eric Miller, on the posthumous award of the Hart-Dworkin Prize in Legal Philosophy by the AALS

The Hart-Dworkin Award in Legal Philosophy is given annually to a scholar who has made significant and lasting contributions to the philosophical understanding of law. This year, the AALS Jurisprudence Section conferred the Hart-Dworkin Award on John Gardner, who sadly died last year at the young age of 54. In conferring the award posthumously, it is worth acknowledging why Gardner was so deserving of this honor.

John Gardner, before he stepped down in 2016, to become a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, was, for sixteen years, Professor of Jurisprudence at University College, Oxford (a chair previously held by both H.L.A Hart and Ronald Dworkin before him). Gardner was quite comfortable standing in the footsteps of H.L.A. Hart, and happy to tangle with the legacy of Ronald Dworkin, as well as extending Joseph Raz's insights into the structures of practical reason and rationality.

In terms of pure philosophical accomplishment, he clearly matched his predecessors. Much of his work was quite original, in particular his development of the concept of responsibility and his account of social roles. He took a remarkably clear and robust account of the structure and importance of practical reasoning, and extended this broadly Razian and Aristotelian framework into engagements with competing (and particularly Kantian) worldviews. On other occasions he worked to disentangle some of the difficulties and dead ends in Hart's work, putting it on a firmer footing whilst remaining true to Hart's enlightened liberalism.

Although quite comfortable engaging in the recent effort to make analytic philosophy speak to particular areas of law, Gardner was also passionate about the project of general jurisprudence, and the role that legal positivism could play in clearing the way for deeper thought about the law and its place in public and private life. He used positivism but also his deep engagement with morality to provide important new insights into anti-discrimination law, criminal law, and tort law, among other disciplines. He made important contributions to the philosophy of the common law, and adjudication, and the rule of law, and his interventions in all these areas were singularly driven by philosophical clarity, moral insight, and a humanism that was deeply conscious of the impact of the law on those subject to its governance.

Like Hart, Gardner was a wonderfully generous and nurturing person. Whilst his engagement with students and colleagues in academic discussion could be intellectually demanding, he never set out to score points, but to place the discussion on surer ground. His intellectual generosity was matched by his personal generosity, as can be attested to the outpouring of affection of former students and colleagues who deeply mourn his loss.

There could not be a more appropriate recipient of the Hart-Dworkin Award. It is deeply gratifying to Gardner's many admirers that the AALS Jurisprudence Section recognized his broad and deep contribution to the subject.